It was very hot here in England last week. By late afternoon, the stuffiness indoors was too much to take.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. That’s exactly what Jessica and I did. The time had come for us to avail of someone else’s kitchen. For the first time in many months, we ventured out for an evening meal. We could take advantage of the government discount scheme with the very unfortunate slogan, “eat out to help out.” (I can’t believe that no one in that meeting said something.)
Just to be clear, we wanted to dine outdoors. The numbers are looking good in Brighton right now, but we’re both still very cautious about venturing into indoor spaces, given everything we know now about COVID-19 transmission.
Fortunately for us, there’s a new spot on the seafront called Shelter Hall Raw. It’s a collective of multiple local food outlets and it has ample outdoor seating.
We found a nice table for two outside. Then we didn’t flag down a waiter.
Instead, we followed the instructions on the table. I say instructions, but it was a bit simpler than that. It was a URL: shelterhall.co.uk (there was also a QR code next to the URL that I could’ve just pointed my camera at, but I’ve developed such a case of QR code blindness that I blanked that out initially).
Just to be clear, under the current circumstances, this is the only way to place an order at this establishment. The only (brief) interaction you’ll have with another persn is when someone brings your order.
It worked a treat.
We had frosty beverages chosen from the excellent selection of local beers. We also had fried chicken sandwiches from Lost Boys chicken, purveyors of the best wings in town.
The whole experience was a testament to what the web can do. You browse the website. You make your choice on the website. You pay on the website (you can create an account but you don’t have to).
Thinking about it, I can see why they chose the web over a native app. Online ordering is the only way to place your order at this place. Telling people “You have to go to this website” …that seems reasonable. But telling people “You have to download this app” …that’s too much friction.
It hasn’t been a great week for the web. Layoffs at Mozilla. Google taking aim at URLs. It felt good to see experience an instance of the web really shining.
It was my birthday recently. I’m a firm believer in the idea that birthday celebrations should last for more than 24 hours. A week is the absolute minimum.
For the day itself, I did indeed indulge in a most luxurious evening out with Jessica at The Little Fish Market in Hove (on the street where we used to live!). The chef, Duncan Ray, is an absolute genius and his love for all things fish-related shines through in his magnificent dishes.
But to keep the celebrations going, we also went on a weekend away to Galway, where I used to live decades ago. It was a quick trip but we packed in a lot. I joked at one point that it felt like one of those travel articles headlined with “36 hours in someplace.” I ran the numbers and it turned out we were in Galway for 41 hours, but I still thought it would be fun to recount events in the imperative style of one of those articles…
Saturday, February 29th
The 3:30pm train from Dublin will get you into Galway just before 6pm. The train station is right on the doorstep of Loam, the Michelin-starred restaurant where you’ve made your reservation. Enjoy a seven course menu of local and seasonal produce. Despite the quality of the dishes, you may find the overall experience is a little cool, and the service a touch over-rehearsed.
You’ll be released sometime between 8:30pm and 9pm. Stroll through Eyre Square and down Shop Street to the Jury’s Inn, your hotel. It’s nothing luxurious but it’s functional and the location is perfect. It’s close to everything without being in the middle of the noisy weekend action. The only noise you should hear is the rushing of the incredibly fast Corrib river outside your window.
Around 9:30pm, pop ‘round to Dominick Street to enjoy a cocktail in the America Village Apothecary. It’s only open two nights a week, and it’s a showcase of botanicals gathered in Connemara. Have them make you a tasty conconction and then spend time playing guess-that-smell with their specimen jars.
By 10:30pm you should be on your way round the corner to The Crane Bar on Sea Road. Go in the side entrance and head straight upstairs where the music session will be just getting started. Marvel at how chilled out it is for a Saturday night, order a pint, and sit and listen to some lovely jigs’n’reels. Don’t forget to occassionally pester one of the musicians by asking “What was that last tune called? Lovely set!”
Sunday, March 1st
Skip the hotel breakfast. Instead, get your day started with a coffee from Coffeewerk + Press. Get that coffee to go and walk over to Ard Bia at Nimmos, right at the Spanish Arch. Get there before it opens at 10am. There will already be a line. Once you’re in, order one of the grand brunch options and a nice big pot of tea. The black pudding hash will set you up nicely.
While the weather is far clearer and sunnier than you were expecting, take the opportunity to walk off that hearty brunch with a stroll along the sea front. That’ll blow out the cobwebs.
When the cold gets too much, head back towards town and duck into Charlie Byrne’s, the independent bookshop. Spend some time in there browsing the shelves and don’t leave without buying something to remember it by.
By 1pm or so, it’s time for some lunch. This is the perfect opportunity to try the sushi at Wa Cafe near the harbour. They have an extensive range of irrestistable nigiri, so just go ahead and get one of everything. The standouts are the local oyster, mackerel, and salmon.
From there, head to Tigh Cóilí for the 2pm session. Have a Guinness and enjoy the tunes.
Spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around town. You can walk through the market at St. Nicholas Church, and check out the little Claddagh ring museum at Thomas Dillon’s—the place where you got your wedding rings at the close of the twentieth century.
If you need a pick-me-up, get another coffee from Coffeewerk + Press, but this time grab a spot at the window upstairs so you can watch the world go by outside.
By 6pm, you’ll have a hankering for some more seafood. Head over to Hooked on Henry Street. Order a plate of oysters, and a cup of seafood chowder. If they’ve got ceviche, try that too.
Walk back along the canal and stop in to The Salt House to sample a flight of beers from Galway Bay Brewery. There’ll probably be some live music.
With your appetite suitably whetted, head on over to Cava Bodega for some classic tapas. Be sure to have the scallops with black pudding.
The evening session at Tigh Cóilí starts at 8:30pm on a Sunday so you can probably still catch it. You’ll hear some top-class playing from the likes of Mick Conneely and friends.
And when that’s done, there’s still time to catch the session over at The Crane.
Monday, March 2nd
After a nice lie-in, check out of the hotel and head to McCambridge’s on Shop Street for some breakfast upstairs. A nice bowl of porridge will set you up nicely for the journey back to Dublin.
If you catch the 11am train, you’ll arrive in Dublin by 1:30pm—just enough time to stop off in The Winding Stair for some excellent lunch before heading on to the airport.
Aer Lingus flies daily from Gatwick to Dublin. Dublin’s Heuston Station has multiple trains per day going to Galway.
Going from Iceland to Greece in a day gave me a mild bit of currency exchange culture shock. Iceland is crazy expensive, especially given the self-immolation of the pound right now. Greece is remarkably cheap. You can eat like a king for unreasonably reasonable prices.
For me, food is one of the great pleasures in life. Trying new kinds of food is one of my primary motivators for travelling. It’s fascinating to me to see the differences—and similarities—across cultures. In many ways, food is like a universal language, but a language that we all speak in different dialects.
It’s a similar story with music. There’s a fundamental universality in music across cultures, but there’s also a vast gulf of differences.
On my first night in Reykjavik, I wound up at an Irish music session. I know, I know—I sound like such a cliché, going to a foreign country and immediately seeking out something familiar. But I had been invited along by a kind soul who got in touch through The Session after I posted my travel plans there. Luckily for me, there was a brand new session starting that very evening. I didn’t have an instrument, but someone very kindly lent me their banjo and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time playing along with the jigs and reels.
I mostly stuck to Le Guin’s world-building rules for Winter, which were “no large meat-animals … and no mammalian products, milk, butter or cheese; the only high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods are the various kinds of eggs, fish, nuts and Hainish grains.” I did, however, add some hot-climate items found in Manhattan’s Chinatown for their space-age looks and good flavors (dragonfruit, pomelo, galangal, chilis, and kaffir limes).
I love, love, love Sam’s comparison’s between cooking and front-end development.
We should embrace the tools we have access to and appreciate our ability to learn, but also realize that maybe a gas stove or a certain design tools might not be for everyone. We have to find what works for our cooking or designing/coding style or the project/meal at hand.
I did a fair bit of travelling in 2017, which I always enjoy. I particularly enjoy it when Jessica comes with me and we get to sample the cuisine of other countries.
Portugal will always be a culinary hotspot for me, particularly Porto (“tripas à moda do Porto” is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted). When I was teaching at the New Digital School in Porto back in February, I took full advantage of the culinary landscape. A seafood rice (and goose barnacles) at O Gaveto in Matosinhos was a particular highlight.
The most unexpected thing I ate in Porto was when I wandered off for lunch on my own one day. I ended up in a little place where, when I walked in, it was kind of like that bit in the Western when the music stops and everyone turns to look. This was clearly a place for locals. The owner didn’t speak any English. I didn’t speak any Portuguese. But we figured it out. She mimed something sandwich-like and said a word I wasn’t familiar with: bifana. Okay, I said. Then she mimed the universal action for drinking, so I said “agua.” She looked at with a very confused expression. “Agua!? Não. Cerveja!” Who am I to argue? Anyway, she produced this thing which was basically some wet meat in a bun. It didn’t look very appetising. But this was the kind of situation where I couldn’t back out of eating it. So I took a bite and …it was delicious! Like, really, really delicious.
Later in February, we went to Pittsburgh to visit Cindy and Matt. We were there for my birthday, so Cindy prepared the most amazing meal. She reproduced a dish from the French Laundry—sous-vide lobster on orzo. It was divine!
Later in the year, we went to Singapore for the first time. The culture of hawker centres makes it the ideal place for trying lots of different foods. There were some real revelations in there.
We visited lots of other great places like Reykjavík, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Nuremberg. But as well as sampling the cuisine of distant locations, I had some very fine food right here in Brighton, home to Trollburger, purveyors of the best burger you’ll ever eat.
I also have a thing for hot wings, so it’s very fortunate that The Joker, home to the best wings in Brighton, is just around the corner from the dance studio where Jessica goes for ballet. Regular wing nights became a thing in 2017.
I started a little routine in 2017 where I’d take a break from work in the middle of the afternoon, wander down to the seafront, and buy a single oyster. It only took a few minutes out of the day but it was a great little dose of perspective each time.
But when I think of my favourite meals of 2017, most of them were home-cooked.
Something to remember the next time someone describes an experience as “seamless” and means it to be positive:
This is the Amazon move: absolute obfuscation of labor and logistics behind a friendly buy button. The experience for a Sprig customer is super convenient, almost magical; the experience for a chef or courier…? We don’t know. We don’t get to know. We’re just here to press the button.
I feel bad, truly, for Amazon and Sprig and their many peers—SpoonRocket, Postmates, Munchery, and the rest. They build these complicated systems and then they have to hide them, because the way they treat humans is at best mildly depressing and at worst burn-it-down dystopian.
What would it be like if you didn’t have to hide the system?
It’s Summertime in England so Jessica and I are eating the bounty of the season. Now is the perfect time for lamb. Yesterday we went to the Open Market and picked up half a leg of lamb (butterflied) from Tottington Manor Farm. This evening, we marinated it with rosemary, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and lemon and then threw it on the barbecue.
While we ate, we listened to a podcast episode. This time it was a documentary about salt from my Huffduffer feed. It’s an entertaining listen. As well as covering the science and history of salt, there were some interesting titbits on salt-based folklore. There’s the obvious one of throwing spilt salt over your shoulder (in to the eyes of the devil, apparently) but there was also one that neither of us had heard of: that offering someone salt at the dinner table is bad luck and warrants the rebuttal “pass me salt, pass me sorrow!”
Well, you live and learn.
Then we started thinking about other salt-based traditions. I have something in the back of my mind about a new year’s eve tradition in Ireland involving throwing bread at the door and sprinkling salt in the doorway. Jessica remembered something about a tradition in eastern European countries involving bread and salt as a greeting. Sure enough, a quick web search turned up the Russian tradition: “Хлеб да соль!!” ( “Bread and salt!”).
This traditional greeting has been extended off our planet. During the historic Apollo-Soyuz docking, crackers and salt were used as an easy substitute. But now when cosmonauts arrive at the International Space Station, they are greeted with specially-made portions of bread and salt.
We finished listening to the podcast. We finished eating our lamb—liberally seasoned with Oregonian salt from Jacobson. Then we went outside and looked up at the ISS flying overhead. When Oleg, Gennady, and Mikhail arrive back on Earth, they will be offered the traditional greeting of bread and salt.
All the speakers are in town, safely ensconced in their hotel. To welcome them to Brighton and to get them relaxed for tomorrow, we all went out for a magnificent meal this evening. I hired out the pop-up restaurant Isaac At. What better way to welcome people to Sussex than to sample local seasonal food (and drinks) prepared by an immensely talented team. It was really great—great food, great company; just right.
Now I will attempt to get a night’s sleep before tomorrow’s overload of responsive brilliance.
I ate well today. We celebrated Boxman’s birthday with lunch at the Yeoman, a most excellent purveyor of pub food.
Then this evening, Jessica and I went on a double date with Richard and Wendy to the magnificent 64 Degrees. It was a special evening of English food and English wines, in collaboration with local wine guru Henry Butler.
I get home from a day in London, working on-site with a client. I’ve spent the day trying to crack a tricky responsive navigation issue, still hammering away at it on the train back to Brighton.
Once I’m home I crack open a beer—an Arundel pale ale. Jessica is making a fantastic meal of basque chicken (while simultaneously making some chicken stock). We sit down to eat this wonderful dish accompanied by a green salad and a bottle of Rhone wine.
As I was making my way homeward through the North Laine last week I noticed that a building around the corner from The Skiff had changed somewhat. I saw kitchen equipment where previously no kitchen equipment had been.
Turns out it’s a new pop-up restaurant called Isaac At. It’s only open on Friday and Saturdays, and you have to book online ahead of time. “Why not?” I thought to myself, and booked a table for myself and Jessica.
We just got back and I’m happy to report that it was most excellent—five courses made from local ingredients, beautifully presented.
I’m staying with my brother-in-law Jeb in Seattle’s Green Lake neighbourhood. Right around the corner from his house, there’s a great little sandwich place called The Butcher & The Baker.
Yes, the mandatory ampersand is there setting off all the hipster alarm bells but, y’know, I’ve been thinking… if the label “hipster” means good food, good coffee, good beer, good music, or good bicycles, well I’m okay with that.
In the case of The Butcher & The Baker, the food is very good indeed. They could probably slap adjectives like “hand-crafted” or “artisinal” on everything they produce.