Service without a Smile

That must sum up the Southern French restaurant experience. Almost everywhere I went on my last trip to the South of France it seemed that the customer, native or not, was a nuisance. From a country of great gastronomy and pride of such amazing raw local ingredients and their recipes this is the Gallic Achilles’ heel.

Food was consistently good and served in time, professional to the point and that’s where it stopped. I’ll never forget earlier on in my career taking a coach load of Café Rouge managers to France (some who had never been before) to experience true French Café Society where they were overwhelmed by the food and consistently laughed at the pure arrogance front of house.

The good news is that they are better drivers and more pleasant in a car than in black & white. I drove down on the bike (the beastie RT1150 BMW tourer) and loved the way cars just pulled over or maybe it’s because I looked like the Gendarmerie! I drove via the shuttle from Calais to Orleans and then down to Perpignan. After a couple of days rest I rode with Claude to Cavaliers via Marseille and on to St Tropez returning the next day on the windy and beautiful route de Crete descending down into Cassis for lunch for more great food and more condescending service.

Albeit a long drive it was actually easier and more stress free than flying.

Even in Paris cars moved aside to let me pass, completely the opposite of London. Raving about the decency of French drivers I soon learned once in the playground of the French Lycee whilst dropping off the kids that the decency only comes from years of brutal kicking from French motorbike couriers that has ‘trained’ the Parisian driver. Perhaps I should start that here…………watch out!

Weekly Consumption

I’d love to say I eat a balanced diet and am certainly passionate about food so I decided to keep a diary just for a couple of weeks to analyse my weekly intake. Balance overall seems good with plenty of fresh fish, fruit & veg; however my Achilles heel is the habit of missing that all too important meal; breakfast as I rush around in the morning although I’m improving on the occasional sin of skipping lunch when busy. Something for me to work on for the next fortnight!

Week One


Breakfast – coffee and bacon & egg mc muffin (I was annoyed my 7 year old talked me into it but was feeling better when I realised he was drinking organic milk, my egg was free range and my coffee from rainforest alliance)
Lunch – salad of sweet corn, black bean, truffle potato, mange tout, roasted peppers (courtesy of whole food market) and mineral water
Snack – too many green & black chocolate biscuits with my tea
Dinner – spaghetti bolognaise with organic minced sirloin and fresh tomato sauce served on brown nettle pasta, glass Bordeaux, dessert of american style pancakes (Max’s asterix cookbook) lime & sugar.


Breakfast – none (busy start)
Lunch – cous cous salad with kidney beans, natural yoghurt and a peach and mineral water.
Snack – too many Spanish almonds
Dinner – pan fried halibut, fresh samphire, butternut squash, glass of rose.


Breakfast – none (oops missed out again)
Lunch – An orange sticky non alcoholic drink for aperitif followed by a great Bento box with soft shell crab, sushi, edamame beans and an asahi beer (at Cocoon in Regent Street)
Snack – none
Dinner – rotisserie pork belly with petite pois a la francais, apple juice & mineral water (at Bumpkin in Notting Hill) followed by a late night snack of an asian platter consisting of dim sum, duck roll, salmon sticks and veggie roll and a black asahi (bit of a theme here! At Eclipse in Notting Hill)


Breakfast – a cappuccino
Lunch – an apple (busy day!)
Snack – a fresh mint tea
Dinner – rocket, bean and artichoke salad, still mineral water and yoghurt and muesli (at Riverside Terrace Cafe, Southbank)


Breakfast – black coffee, 2 slices granary toast and margarine
Lunch – sweet and sour pork, sweet potato falafel & hummus with flatbread, lemon, ginger and mint drink (at Leon, Knightsbridge)
Snack – afternoon tea and chocolate éclair (Patisserie Valerie, Bayswater)
Dinner – free range rib eye steak simply grilled on BBQ, tomato salad & corn salad, glass of Bordeaux, simply cut apple & pear for dessert


Breakfast – tea, granary toast with organic strawberry jam.
Lunch – ham & cheese baguette and diet coke (Garden Café in Regents Park)
Snack – park poker; real sausage n onion in a roll – naughty at 3.30pm (Honest Sausage in Regents Park)
Dinner – cold mezze; hummus, green beans, aubergine dip and afghan pumpkin (take away from Shish at Willesden Green) along with Italian Coppa and glass of hoegaarden white beer..


Breakfast – golden nugget cereal with milk!
Lunch -papa burger; fresh tuna burger and corn salad with pitta chips.
Snack – tea and half a cookie (Putney Park Café)
Dinner – papillion pasta and olive oil, hand cut Italian ham, glass of rose, simply cut peaches for dessert

Week Two


Breakfast – Southern Alp museli and soya milk
Lunch – Cottage pie (minced meat/potatoes) and fresh strawberries and yoghurt, orange squash
Snack – None
Dinner – Sushi and jasmine tea


Breakfast – Toast with seeded and jam, cup of tea
Lunch – Salmon salad with fresh herbs
Snack – Buffalo milk fudge
Dinner – hand cut ham, bread, lavish cheese board, green salad and glass or two of red burgundy


Breakfast – None (busy again)
Lunch – Chicken wrap & super food salad at Leon, fresh lemonade.
Snack – Box raisins
Dinner – Duchy sausages, grilled marinated chicken, grilled aubergine and courgette on BBQ with rose


Breakfast – Cappuccino
Lunch – Chicken & fatoush salad (at Shish in Old Street) with an espresso
Snack – a few dried mango slices
Dinner – brown rice risotto with girolle mushrooms and asparagus (raw ingredients from whole foods market in Kensington) and filtered water


Breakfast – Southern Alps muesli & soya milk
Lunch – nothing (missed out/busy!)
Snack – an apple
Dinner – bread, pepper and green bean salad and duck rolls and bottle of champagne


Breakfast – coffee, toast and jam
Lunch – GBK cheeseburger with salad (heroically replaced chips for salad) and a beer
Snack – radishes
Dinner – BBQ lamb, cheese stuffed peppers, sausages, strawberries & ice cream washed down with rose and several Dutch schnapps (friends)


Breakfast – Golden Nugget Cereal and milk
Lunch – Wild & Brown rice salad with butternut squash, glass rose
Snack – Chocolate Éclair (M&S)
Dinner – Macaroni Cheese, tomato salad, white burgundy to drink

BBC Master Chef

BBC Master Chef

A group I am working with consulting on food & wines amongst other things are the hosts for an episode in the acclaimed TV show that gathers an average 5.7 million viewers.

I have generally tried to shy away from the TV celebrity chef bit but it was the only way to get this restaurant involved and they deserve the success.

Shish is a modern concept based on street food found along the 5000 mile long Silk Road that once took Marco Polo 2 years to cross and an industrial jet now just two hours! The concept is similar in style to the Real Greek & Wagamamas and absolutely everything is made fresh daily from the ice cream to the bread and all of the marinades and starters (or mezze)

Mystery dining scores that averaged 64% in 2006 now sit around 96% average in 2007 reflecting the work in improving the food along with focus on beverage and service approach. Much deserved success to the managers and chefs of this exciting concept that has potential to grow initially in London.

For Master Chef three contestants were given a classic dish each to cook for a packed restaurant. No easy task and made more difficult by the fact that these were amateur cooks who had never worked in a restaurant before and there is a vast difference from cooking for 4 – 6 at home to 100+ covers in one hour at lunch!

They all did amazingly well with first contestant cooking a Silk Road taster plate that consisted of poached salmon on a red pepper salad, pan fried chilli beef on Asian pickled vegetables, steamed Dushanbe lamb dumplings with warm pumpkin salad and seared haloumi on a tomato and onion salad.

The second contestant cooked a Nile Perch with a roasted tomato and red pepper salsa and served with a herb salad and steamed rice with pumpkin, pine nuts and sunflower seeds.

The third contestant cooked a lamb dish consisting of an English lamb cutlet, leg and kofta served with cous cous with onions, lentils & pine nuts garnished with barberries. the cous cous was served with a vegetable broth to keep it moist.

Showing on BBC in the Winter.

Stunning Tasting at the London International Wine Fair

We sometimes forget how lucky we are when at the London Int. Wine Fair I joined in a vertical tasting of 11 vintages of Coleraine spanning from 1982 to 2006.

Its occasions like that that I remember why I joined the leisure industry in the first place.

These amazing wines are Hawkes Bays answer to Petrus and richly deserved.

Tasting was organised at the fair by Brintex and the circle of wine writers and Hugh Johnson complimented wine maker Peter Cowley and C.E.O. John Buck saying that they had “created something so sensational in depth” and just showed the incredible quality of wine to be found in New Zealand

Stephen Spurrier was also raving on about the wines along with the MW possy of Jim Budd, Rosemary George, Stephen Skelton and others.

The fair itself was pretty good and business like with the soul truly returning to the event, it’s always hectic but I think that’s me more than anything else.

Certainly beats being an accountant although I feel like one most days………….

Postcard from Dubai

Dubai was fascinatingly different and not as surreal and cultureless as one might imagine. The architecture was stunning and street food very good and amazing value. Steering clear of the hotels and keeping to the street markets and back streets we found great grilled foods and home made falaffel & humous. We stayed in Sharjah next to Diera, of course the two dry states – as true francophiles we sorely missed a glass of wine with our meals, feeling the DT’s we polished off a bottle of rosé hours after our return!
There were many old friends working in Dubai from the UK but few stayed more than a year. Tourism and business is well facilitated but the traffic infastructure is already struggling with travel only possible by car. The pollution is appalling and there are just no pavements to walk around…….I have never seen so many Hummers in such a small space of time.
I only wished UK builders would work as fast – we overlooked a highway being built and as you might have guessed by the time we left it was completed and open.
The ski dome was incredible, I am scared to think of the environmental consequences but the snow was amazing and you had to touch it to believe it. But with no sun you had to limit this perfect skiing to just a few hours, but to ski in Dubai was an amazing experience.

Snow, Romance and Essential Oils

London at 7.15 am found the Danciger family in the garden making a snowman helped by Romain & Gaulthier, kids of Pascaline & Yannick visiting us from the Reunion Island. Pascaline was one of our early managers in the Café Rouge days and Yannick was the chef at the legendary Bouchon Bordelais. Yannick after opening a couple of restaurants in this French island close to Mauritius took a year off to study plants & chemistry and has now developed a range of culinary oils that are revolutionary to the industry. (more on that story later)
Croissants in hand the entourage continued their snowball fights on the way to the bus stop where after a 30 minute ride we watched the melting snow before departing into three groups heading to school, work and tourists.
For me a breakfast supplier meeting was followed by a visit to the Bibendum annual tasting a unique and friendly affair and seriously well thought out tasting areas with some great wines and producers. A trip to our head office for a meeting with my vanishing chairman was followed by a tour of some fab restaurants.
That evening in our local gastro pub found Yannick on his knees proposing to Pascaline (after more than 10 years together) with the ring sitting in her dessert.
Later that night in the former home of our snowman we lit a fire, opened a vintage bottle of Bollinger, lit some cigars and looked at the immaculately clear blue skies. A typical day in the ‘small’ brother household.

Visit from Pére Lalande

Better than Santa Claus; Pére Lalande (Papy) visits us with Mamie from Perpignan in the South of France.

Papy comes bundled with presents from his garden and surrounding countryside. In true seasonality we received clementines from ‘le voisin’, noisettes from the local square and Cépes mushrooms from a secret location in a nearby forest.

A kilo jar (bocale) of dried trompettes de la mort was awesome. These little black mushrooms unfortunately called in English ‘trumpets of the dead’ dried by the tramontane wind and hot languedoc sun are simply delicious. They are earmarked with a cream sauce for Christmas day to go with the turkey!

We also received a jar of fig jam from his garden, some olives from his grove and hand prepared anchovies salted and kept in olive oil ~ a hard job to do filleting those little fish, a true labour of love.

The cheeses (camembert, reblochon, roquefort, crotin and gruyere) from the local fromagerie and he had made some rillette paté that he made using just pork, pork fat and salt & pepper; not an e-number in site!

Of course every visit has the humble sauccisson and lemons from his tree’s.

A true gastranomic Santa and perfectly timed to enjoy during the festive season.

á la prochain fois Papy et joyeuse noel………….

“Provenance to Plate”

I was asked to chair the FDA’s recent conference in Birmingham on food provenance recently which was a pleasure since its a subject matter very close to my heart.

I chewed the fat on stage about provenance, sustainable fishing, the Jamie Oliver school effect, catering colleges and the state of food in Britain with michelin starred chef Nigel Haworth from Northcote Manor who was a bright and focused chappie who certainly knew his onions! It was obvious Nigel was ‘hands on’ and a true ambassadorial asset to the industry.

Another star of the show was James Kightley of the explodingly successful soil association. James who is a committed enviromentalist like myself is doing wonders with this charity bringing some focus to the on trade that the retailers have been enjoying. Doesn’t just everybody have a waitrose (+ sainsbury’s) free organic bag!

There were airport caterers, ocean cruisers, retailers (supermarkets in plain speak) and a range of restaurateurs and publicans. It was fascinating to see the fast osmosis of caterers between the different large on-trade groups – that must keep the suppliers on roller skates and suitably amused.

I enjoyed meeting Michael Michaud of ‘Peppers by post’ who enthused about his capiscums. Equally entertaining were food historians Mike Smylie (The Kipperman) and Simon Cooper (Court of the Silver King) who were soliciting the virtues of the humble herring and salmon in their own travelling museum along with a pantomine presentation as rich as the omega oil in their fish.

There was a veritable feast of produce and friendly faces (a few not so!) elequently organised by publishers dewberry redpoint.

Biggest smile of the day came from John Feeney (a larger version of me if you can imagine that) and the equally oversized (what do they eat up north?) David Grainger the chairman of FDA.

Those who partied into the night would have sampled celebrity chef Paul Merril and Food from Britains regional menu. I was impressed by the Tenterdon pinot noir that was tasting very well and would give most Burgundian wine makers a run for their money. Perhaps they should follow the champegnois who are busily buying up thousands of hectares in our warming southern part of the country.

If you see a FDA conference advertised in the future – go. It was worth the 100+ mile drive for me.

Thoughts and comments from Jason Danciger