Archive for November, 2012

The other day I mentioned that after donating a copy of my novel, House of Dreams, to Crouch End cafe Harris and Hoole, some fucker had stolen it.

Well it’s back on the shelves! Faith in human nature, restored – boo yah!

A couple of days ago I received the first abusive email via my website. This was not the first abusive email I have ever received of course, that would be insane. I have had all kinds of  bile and invective thrown at me over the years by a whole bunch of people for a whole bunch of reasons, who hasn’t? As a literary agent I guess that I get these more than most.

But this was different. This time it wasn’t on behalf of one of my clients, it was down to my own work,

This time it was specifically because of my novel, God Steals Gin.

I won’t reprint the whole email, but the gist was that my book was a pile of crap and I was a cunt for writing it. Actually that was pretty much it. Not a lot to go on.

At first I was a little hurt. But then after a few minutes I decided this was actually pretty cool. Someone had been incensed enough by my writing to take the time to contact me and tell me it sucked.  I don’t suppose the little fucktard had read the book or anything, but still, a reaction like that’s got to show I’m doing something right.

I’m guessing Franzen, Eggers, Self and co. get this kind of thing a lot.

For 48 hours only, and starting right now, Sunday 25 Nov 6pm, you can get a free e-book copy of my buddy Callum’s novel House of Dreams at Smashwords. Just go to the Smashwords site and enter coupon code EQ53D at the checkout. What you waiting for?

And watch this space. My own foray out from under the shroud of the lit agent and into the murky world of the novelist is looming on the horizon. God Steals Gin, a fast-paced, wholly ridiculous, 100% true and deeply offensive novel, will be out soon.

And of course I’d love to know what you think of it.

I posted my initial thoughts on Crouch End newbie, Harris and Hoole the other day, which were not unfavourable,  and having since returned several times feel it’s due for a more considered review.

First up, I still like the place and mostly this remains down to the décor, with the bare bricks and brushed steel, urban industrial thing it’s got going on and which I think they kind of went for at this place, but with much less success. The coffee, which for me works much better in a long coffee like a latte than in a macch is pretty good and they draw a lovely pattern with the foam, look:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the coffee, but in truth I’m no expert, you know like some people who get all autistic about different blends, roasts, barometric pressure of drip and whatnot. If it tastes good I’m fine, and the H and H coffee is good. I’ve come to realise since starting this blog, that the space, furniture and general feel of a place are just as important.

I’ve tried their panini, which looks like this:

and was good, fresh and nothing special but better than ‘bucks, and as you can see comes with a coffee cup full of crisps(!) My six year old son took one bite of the crisps and spat them out on the floor (yes, literally), but then I think he was expecting ready salted and he got salt and vinegar. The crisps were fine, he just doesn’t like to be surprised when it comes to food.

I think giving you one of those little drug-dealer circa 1994 pagers is a bit stupid and I’m guessing they’ll drop that pretty soon. I’ve also found out that they’re part-owned by Tesco, which I’m not really sure how I feel about.

But here’s the big issue.

As I mentioned in my last post, seeing that they have bookshelves, I donated a brand new copy of my novel, House of Dreams, for customers to flick through and then hopefully go and buy here, or maybe here. And then what did I find when I returned the following week?  It was gone! Nowhere to be seen. Now I’m guessing that someone stole it. Which has me all conflicted. A bit fucking cheeky, but I’m glad someone liked it enough to nab it. If anyone can solve the mystery and tell me who took it and get them to return it to H and H, I’ll give you your own free copy.

A quick post to give my first impression of yet another new cafe for N8, Harris and Hoole.

Occupying the space of global financial shitstorm victim, Clinton Cards, and up and running barely had they shifted the last of the musical flashing hats out the back exit, Harris and Hoole have landed with free coffee, free wifi* and a chic NYC aesthetic.

The place is all exposed brickwork, grey tiles and stainless steel, and I must say it looks great. Plus, they have lots of space and although they’ve gone for the ubiquitous mismatched jumble of chairs and tables, they haven’t just bought the lot from an old church; the chairs are actually mismatched but new… and comfortable. They even have a kind of loungy type space at the back, and bookshelves, so I’m guessing lounging and reading is actively encouraged. And if you look carefully you might see a donated copy of House of Dreams.

The coffee

alas is the lemony, slightly sour kind, which although not to my taste, does at least taste of something. The food looks pretty basic, brownies, muffins and the like, which I will try on another visit.

The other minus point is the annoying Starbucks habit of asking for your name when they take your order. I now like to give a different name every time when ever they pull that shit on me, seeing how far I can push it: Mike Hunt is a favourite… “coffee here for Mike Hunt” (try saying it out loud).

*I’m guessing the free coffee is temporary just for the first day or so (unless they’ve developed a bizarre new business model), so get there now. And the wifi is free and doesn’t require a password, although funnily the signal strength is better by connecting to Starbucks next door!

Let me start be stating that I’m no candy-ass dilettante when it comes to food challenges in general and chilli-based ones in particular.

I have taken part in three food competitions in the past: pasta, fish fingers and whole green chillies and I have won every one. Easily. The fish-fingers in particular felt like a breeze. As my fellow competitors all dropped out somewhere around the thirty finger mark, I was not only happy to go on, I was still genuinely hungry.

I also regularly make my own chilli sauce using habeneros, and most times curse myself after it’s made for not giving it sufficient fire.

It was therefore with a certain level of confidence that I took on the Chooks of Muswell Hill, Inferno challenge.

It’s simple: 8 chicken wings in their ghost chilli sauce, in 5 mins. Plus an obligatory 5 min afterburn, a waiting period after finishing the wings in which no other drinks, food etc. are permitted. Success will win you a t-shirt, the wings for free and your photo on the wall of fame.

Chooks is a newcomer to the N10 restaurant scene, serving US style fried chicken, wings, whole, half or quarter chickens etc. The menu is simple, the chicken is good and although they bizarrely only offer coffee in one form, ie just Americano (no macch!) it’s actually a good cup of joe. And the fries are killer.

The staff are also charming and seem to like their jobs which must say something about the whole set up.

So back to the Inferno challenge. Before I was permitted to begin I had to sign a waiver which although I can’t recall the exact words (I think large parts of the experience have been wiped from my memory due to a combination of repression and capsaicin generated neural scarring), it was along the lines of “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you moron? Whatever. Sign this and it’s all on you.

That done, they brought me the wings. Here they are:

The first surprise was that 8 wings is actually a lot. They cut each one in two so there are 16 pieces of chicken to dispatch, which in 5 minutes would be a tough call regardless of the chilli. So I dived in. My first response was ” nice flavour, fruity“, which I think is just because I’ve watched people doing these challenges on TV and that’s the usual comment they all make,  I guess because saying “fucking balls these are hot!” is just a bit obvious. There’s no doubt that these little bastards were hot – really, really hot. It takes a minute or two to kick in, but kick in it does, like sucking down a cupful of napalm. There’s no way to dress it up, it quickly became a deeply unpleasant experience. The smell of the sauce made me want to vomit (which, the smell, it took me a full 36 hours to fully eradicate from under my fingernails to the point where I no longer wretched any time my hand passed within half a metre of my face), my nose ran with streams of caustic phlegm and my hands began to shake. In the end though, I could possibly have eaten the lot given another few minutes. With 1 minute to go and still a little less than half the wings to eat, I gave up.

Which, despite some initial disappointment, turned out to be a good thing.

Because the worst was yet to come.

Now apparently, there is a fairly well-established set of preparations one should make before attempting one of these kinds of challenges  involving lining one’s stomach with milk, crackers and butter (something to do with the fat absorbing the chilli), all of which protect against the toxic effects of a shit-ton of chilli hitting the sensitive insides of your digestive tract. You might think I’d have checked this out BEFORE I began.

I don’t wish to go into any more detail about the next 2 DAYS, other than to describe the whole thing as deeply unfortunate.

Let my pain be a warning to you, at least then I may not have suffered in vain.

It hurts me to write this post, it really does. I am not only having to write my second crappy review in a row (by which I mean review of crappy place, not badly written, obv!), but it is also of a Crouch End Favourite that holds fond memories for me. But there you go.

When my daughter was born I would spend many a Sunday morning at The Honeycomb Cafe drinking coffee, eating their delicious panini and sucking up the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread from the bakery at the back of the shop. The wait staff were professional and friendly and they were cool about baby vomit and what have you. I haven’t been to The Honeycomb for a few years and I’m sorry to report that things have changed.

Firstly, they don’t appear to have menus. Anywhere. Not on the tables, not on the wall… I mean cafes all pretty much sell the same stuff, sure, but still. You kind of feel a little lost without something in writing.

Then, they  screwed up my (pretty goddamn simple) request to 86 the chocolate on my cappuccino, then obviously remembered and tried to wipe the chocolate off leaving this rather interesting pattern:

I ordered a cheese and tomato panini for old time’s sake, and it was just like I remembered it, good, and with a nice little Greek salad on the side, here it is:

looks nice, right?

WRONG!

And so here it is, the one truly unforgivable sin that any cafe can commit… the avocado was ROCK HARD. Now tell me I’m not exaggerating, that shit is just not right, homes! Someone in that kitchen needs the sack tout de fucking suite.

The other thing that burned me (and admittedly I was now in a poor mood following the avocado fiasco), was that the waitress tried to clear my unfinished coffee and plate away 3 times before I was anywhere near finished. I’ve mentioned before this does not sit well. It also reminded me of the time I was having lunch with my mum in Carluccio’s and the well-meaning but fucking irritating wait staff kept trying to pour our wine despite my repeated instructions to leave it the fuck alone. I know they’re doing it so you drink more, buy another bottle, get a bigger bill and consequently leave a bigger tip, but this got to the point where I honestly thought it had gone beyond that and thatwas an intent behind it that made me think these fucks were looking at me and thinking “damn that dude looks like he needs a drink!”

They, nor the Honeycomb got a tip from me.