Tom Eats! A New Restaurant Critic


Charlotte-Ivers 3

I permitted myself a small smile when I heard that Marina O'Loughlin was packing it in as restaurant critic of the Sunday Times. Not, I hasten to add, that I disliked her work. It was just that when one door closes, opportunity knocks, if you get my drift.

The credentials for a replacement? Well, not too posh. That's a bit passé. Tom Parker Bowles? His stepdad is His Majesty the King. Or from too famous a a family. When Jay's mum died it was announced in the House of Commons. Coren's dad was a literary giant, the funniest man in print since S J Perelman. Though Coren keeps banging on about his immigrant family. Well, my grandpa was a miner - fits, doesn't it?

While I was obviously considered when Marina got the gig, I have to confess  my experience was then a tad on the short side. Now, having crafted little gems for you most weeks for eight years, I am told by many that I'm in the Jean Brodie phase of my career. Time for a regional star to step on to the national stage.

I have to tell you that some of the unexplained absences of late have involved house hunting. L has her eye on a bijou little two bedroom number overlooking Green Park, and accounts have been opened in the city's most fashionable furniture emporia. Poor India Knight struggled to fill my space with some inconsequential nonsense which no one read. That means that the readership stats will immediately soar. All good.

Jealous, moi?

Then Sunday's unveiling. Wait a minute. Wait a gruntfekkling minute! Who is Charlotte Ivers, the brazen hussy who has taken my job? She's 28, she comes from Cheltenham and she used to be a vegetarian. We'll see about this.

In cold fury, I struggle with the colour supplement, heading for page 44. She'll be trying too hard - always a mistake. She'll be woke and humourless. Her lack of experience will stick out like an undercooked baguette. Still, better read her, I suppose.

The headline reads,  Back to where it all began: an all-you-can-eat with my mum. The colon is quite impressive, a dying breed, I suppose. She takes us back to a buffet restaurant of her childhood, Real China. No nostalgia trip this. She regrets the brief teenage spell as a veggie, and laughs at her buffet choice of cucumber slices, curry sauce and egg fried rice, a sin which, she fears, may result in her being turned away by a Chinese Border guard.

In three short columns she encapsulates the development of restaurants in the UK in our lifetime. (They) tell us a story about ourselves: how we got to where we are and how we live now. Just by looking at the places we choose to sit down and hand over our debit cards, you can tell a remarkable tale of the way our country has changed over the past few decades.

For today's review, another buffet, this time a "world buffet." Why commit a cultural crime against one nation when you can make culinary war with the whole planet? The sum and substance of the review is contained in a single paragraph, even in the one sentence where Charlotte complains that the sushi tastes like being waterboarded by the Atlantic Ocean.

She tells us a little more about herself, her food passion and the progress to date. There is something very Grace Dent-ish about her, and that's no bad start. Will she do? She writes like a dream and she made me laugh. Charlotte Ivers, I hate you, but a culinary star is about to be born.


You may have noticed that this isn't a restaurant review. All I have to write just now is Japanese stuff, and the stats show that you're not that interested in eating places outwith the UK and Europe. Probably just as well given the extreme difficulties with my two possible reviews.

Hana Gumi, Kanazawa

Are We There Yet?

The hotel booked it for us and marked it on a map. Down the hill, first right, can't miss it. Well, as you can see from the picture, it wasn't a stand out. Hello, are you Hana Gumi?, is a unique start to a dinner. No English spoken. There was a QR code which disclosed a good looking set menu with a lot of authentic stuff. But not available unless you had preordered. L finds another app with some images. I remain in a huff. She orders a few things. Eventually, using Google App our waiter offers to put together a few dishes for me, similar to the unattainable menu. Great.

We sit at a counter in front of the kitchen - very common in Japan - and survey our surroundings. Eight or more chefs in perpetual motion, calmly taking on this task and that. Head chef who is just a little older is commendably laid back. A couple of dishes arrive as part of the cover charge. Something fishy, and another plate featuring cucumber and a sort of mayonnaise. Both very good. L's food begins to arrive. A salad with some sort of dried fish as a base, topped with different types of vegetable crisps. Then a terrific tempura featuring shrimps and crispy onions. Is my selection perchance the Emperor's New Menu?

Indeed it is not. A large and exquisite bowl of sashimi gleams in front of me. The following beef dish was unexceptional, but it was the curtain raiser for the scariest looking fish ever. How do you eat a whole fish with chopsticks? Actually, when it as well cooked (and seasoned) as this, the chunks of firm flesh came off very easily.

They don't have a website, so I can't give you the address, and I've lost the receipt, so I can't tell you how much, but it was memorable.

Honjin Hiranoya Bekkan, 1 - 5 Honmachi, Takayama-shi, Gifu-ken

Home Comforts

So, you thought I was losing it, eh. Well we have an address. In one sense this was a bum note in the holiday. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with tatami matted rooms, paper walls, sliding doors and communal baths. It's usually set in idyllic countryside. Wearing your yukatan you can enjoy the tranquillity of nature.

Well ours was on the fourth floor, and the communal baths were on the seventh, overlooking the town. Otherwise it was pretty authentic, futons on the floor at night and a decided lack of chairs. I was not looking forward to eating dinner (served in a separate private dining room) while perched on the floor. Surprise number one - a proper table and chairs. Surprise number two - what a menu.

Just a few snacks to get the tastebuds going. You know the sort of thing. Propagule with miso; bread with tofu paste and parsley; conger eel sushi; boiled shrimp; deep fried gingko nut, omelet (sic), sweet potato and rice.

That precedes another seven courses plus preserves and pickles. There's soup and sashimi; there's duck and chilled noodles; there's grilled fish and Hida steak. The ice cream and pumpkin purée  about gives you a much needed sugar rush to help you crawl to bed. A futon on the floor (which they lay out for you when you're at dinner) may not sound comfy, but after all that food a comatose state isn't far away. (And we had a variation of the same the following night).

As the price was included in our package I have no idea what it cost, but it was very good indeed.

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