Day 171 and 172: Liverpool and Chester

I went to one of the most popular and well reviewed cafes in Liverpool and I ordered an English breakfast.

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It was shit and I was shattered. Then I remembered that I’ve never had a good English breakfast in my life. Usually the only vaguely positive about them is massiveness. There’s nothing preventing them from being good, they just haven’t been.

I thought about it all day. Why are they always shit? Why do I order them? How does it relate to English food?

I thought about the terrible reputation England has for food. Everywhere I go people keep telling me how shit it is. I can’t remember how many arguments I’ve had with people who’ve never been to England – they say ‘it’s bland and dry’ and I say ‘England is more than just fish and chips you ignoramus’. I talk about England’s long and relatively untold history of food, about all the interesting shit people ate pre industrialisation and I tell them about the huge influence of immigrant communities on the national cuisine.

But now I’m in England and looking back at what I’ve eaten I feel like a total hypocrite. I haven’t been able to find any restaurant serving traditional historic English food, none of the Anglicised-ethnic food has been any good and I’ve had several pies, stodgy breakfasts and fish and chips, most of which have been shite. Why do I keep keep doing that?

Maybe I’m trying too hard to find English food. England has a very long history of multiculturalism and defining its national cuisine is very complicated. Maybe I should look for the best food regardless of where it’s from. But that hasn’t been particularly easy either. Maybe, very simply, England doesn’t have a good food culture. Shit fish and chips, pies and stodgy breakfasts are a good example of that. Neither of those things are inherently poor quality, they’re just peps red and cooked poorly. It’s easy to conceive of a good serving of fish and chips – chunks of king fish battered with bits of fish fat, lemon zest and dill served with hand cut chips double fried in duck fat and sprinkled with cinnamon. But as far as I know that doesn’t exist, nor does anything like it. The shite kind, the flakey shark defrosted and deep fried, is the one that’s become the icon of English cuisine.

I had an epiphany a few weeks ago. I was in the google offices in Paris and I was drinking an espresso I’d made myself with the office grinder. It was amazing. I’m not trying to throw myself flowers, I’m no gun barista by any means but this was a damn good espresso. It was so good I suddenly realised all the coffees I’d been drinking for months had been awful. I went back to the grinder to check where the beans were from – Australia. They’d been grown and roasted by a boutique coffee producer in Queensland.

The only other time I’ve felt the same way about a coffee was a few days ago in Liverpool. Oh man it was fucking good. Deep, velvety, chocolately and all those other farty descriptors I feel awkward using. When the waitress came to clear my cup I told her what I thought.

“Thanks, where are you from anyway?” She asked.

“Australia? Did you recognise my accent?”

“Yeah the barista is Australian.”

Typical.

I had no idea how good Australia’s coffee was until I left. I’d never realised about how serious our coffee culture is. It’s not uncommon for cafes to measure every method of the coffee production with ruthless scientific precision – how thin the beans are ground, the time spent . It’s not just the top though, the average is incredibly. Italy and France are way behind, they’re average. Most of the ‘best’ coffees I had in Italy would be average at home. If you want good coffee go to Australia or New Zealand.

Liverpool fashion is hilarious and scary.

1. The other day I was sitting in pub happily watching Manchester United play badly when I was joined by three women in their late fifties or early sixties. They were the three most ornamented human beings I’ve ever seen. They’re fingers were covered in massive gaudy rings with fat jewels and golden frames, their ears were adorned with canopies of flashy dangly things and their clothes had more flashy bits and bobs than an airplane cockpit. All three had dyed straightened hair, a stratigraphy of fake tan and so much make up you’d need a chisel to remove it all.
2. Near where I was staying and in the city centre and anywhere really, all the guys wear matching tracksuits, have shaved heads, bum bags and sneakers. I don’t know about anywhere else but people in Australia who wear that like stabbing people.
3. There was a music festival on the weekend. Almost all the girls attending were wearing some combination of boob tubes, crop tops, short shorts, mini skirts, heels, platforms and singlets. My favourite outfit of which included platform white high heels with diamanté edges, a denim nappy shaped piece of cloth covering only her vagina with cowboy like tassels hanging down over her thighs, a loose fitting cropped singlet which exhibited stomach, side boob, under boob and nipple creases, a lacy white see through cape which came down over her arms and back, a floral headdress, an outback dessert-sand shade of fake tan and enough make up to make her age swing ten years in either way. It was 12C and raining that day.

Day 163 – 167: London

Once I had a whole year of winter. I went from country to country around the world, swapping hemispheres at exactly the wrong time to feel any warmth. During this time I lived through Sweden’s worst winter in 33 years, experienced -52C temperatures in the arctic and spent a night in San Fransisco. Something happened to my bones that year. The cold was so severe and so constant it seeped into their very core and that pain that they felt, it’s never left. The memory is etched into their very existance. Now every time I feel cold, I feel it more. Right in centre of my bones – like a skeletal alarm clock warning me against my future sorrow.

This trip was supposed to be the opposite of that. A whole year of summer. 30C, 40C I don’t care. Warm those bones up world! But now I’m in England and I’m freezing my ass off again. Yes it is summer but that means fuck all here. Every day I’ve been here it’s been rainy, windy and there’s some freaky arctic wind shit going on. I can’t handle it. I see people walking around in shorts and t shirts and I’m wearing a windproof jacket with three layers underneath. It’s horrible. I feel like an obese manatee trapped in a sleeping bag full of ice.

Last time I was in London I was really disappointed with what I ate. Like always, I put a lot of effort into finding good cheap food but had almost no success. Strange right? London is one of the most multi cultural happening cities in the world. There should be innovative, crazy, interesting shit everywhere. I refuse to believe it has anything but that.

I feel like I’m on a mission now to prove it.

Last time I was here I relied mainly on timeout and food blogs to dig up the juice. That didn’t work out so this time I’m going solely on suggestions of people I who lived here and people I trust. Don’t expect any conclusions though, I’m going to wait till the end for that.

What I’ve had so far:

1. Nordic bakery

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If I made a list of my favourite cuisines Nordic would be languishing in the bowels with Saharan and Orcish but I went anyway because the friend who suggested it understands life.

I got a pickled fish roll and a cinnamon scroll. I ate a lot of this kind of stuff while I was living in Sweden, with pickled fish being a particular favourite of mine. This version was a pretty decent one. All the roll fillings were flavoursome and evenly balanced but the bread was dry. The scroll on the other hand was as good as I’ve ever had. It was the white dwarf of cinnamon scrolls – as if all the nearby cinnamon based pastries had been sucked into a hyper gravitational baking oven where the pressure and heat had merged them into one super condensed, super flavoursome mass.

The scroll and the roll were £7. If it was £5 I woulda been swimming.

2. Mishkin’s

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It was described as non-kosher, comfort Jewish food. I was really excited by that because I don’t anything about Jewish food and that sounded particularly innovative. It wasn’t. The menu was 90% burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and milkshakes – like any other moderately fancy diner but with better marketing.

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We got a Reuben sandwich, some fattoush with lamb neck and hummus, and a milkshake. The Reuben was delicious, salty and crammed with enough meat to make it look like the mouth of a tonguey animal. The fattoush was strangely average. I don’t know why the two waiters gunned so hard for us to eat it. The hummus was dry, the lamb neck, usually a succulent fatty cut of meat, was chewy and kebaby and the fattoush itself was skimpy. I could make a better lunch plate. The milkshake on the other hand was incredible. It was half amaretto and half chocolate. A kind of sludgy motherfucker with a strong flavour and the occasional but generous biscuit chunk.

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This was another recommendation from the waiter. Some gooey, boozy bananas bathing in caramel sludge with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – exactly as simple and good as it sounds.

£31 for the lot.

3. Shake Shack

I only got a milkshake here. The flavour was lemon meringue. There were bits of lemon zest floating around and it was thick enough to tire my cheek muscles. It was fucking good but, like everything else I’d had, fucking expensive.

4. Bonedaddies

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In Japan ramen is fast food. It’s cheap, quick and you can get it anytime you want. That doesn’t mean it’s bad quality, quite the opposite, it’s just cheap. No one is willing to pay a lot of money for it and why should they, it costs fuck all to make.

Bonedaddies serves ramen bowls at £10 – the most expensive ramen I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it was far from the best. It was definitely good, probably very good, but if I’m going to pay that much I want it to be more than that. I want it to blow my mind.

5. Various pies

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Disappointing.

A note about my price complaints:
I understand London is an expensive city. When I complain about the cost of something I’m not blindly complaining because the pound has a horrendous exchange rate with everything. I’m thinking about the cost in relation to wages and other products in London. For example in Sydney my favourite bowl of ramen costs $8 – that’s half the Australian minimum hourly wage. Bonedaddies’ ramen was £10 but the minimum hourly wage in England is £7.50.

Strangely, I’ve hardly met any Australians on my trip. Usually they’re every where – like backpacking missionaries drunkenly flitting in and out of hostels, bars and old churches. But this time nothing – well that is until I came to London.

My first night here I stayed with two guys from the Central Coast . . . eerrr Cenny coast I mean. This is what happened when I met them:

I knock on the door. Door opens to a guy in sports shorts holding a beer.

“How’s it garn cun?*” He says with a broad smile. He shakes my hand and gives me a beer.

I’ve never felt so far and close to home at the same time.

Since then the only meaningful conversations I’ve had with any non-Australians, besides at the football, have been with a few kiwis and a yank.

*translation – “How’s it going cunt?”