December 2010 Archives

New Year Resolutions - Are they Bad for your Health?

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by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

So as another year passes and as the stench of brussel sprouts starts to fade, our thoughts inevitably turn to those things which we feel we should change for the next coming year. Little things like our job, our car, our wife or even big things like our "lifestyle".

Lifestyle changes are definitely all the rage at present with companies like Groupon (www.groupon.co.uk) offering a whole range of discounts with a seemingly connected theme. You start with a slap-up meal of fillet of wildebeest or some other lesser known cut at a remote and unknown Brazilian restaurant (£12), closely followed by colonic irrigation (£35) - which kind of defeats the slap-up meal, I would have thought. You then move on to having your teeth whitened (£25), a Brazilian blow-dry (£99), your legs (and vagazzle area) thoroughly waxed (I think those Brazilians are gradually taking over the world, one body part at a time) (£30), then you have a spa where thousands of tiny fish feast on your skin (I thought that only ever happened in James Bond movies) (£45), followed by a hot stone massage (£25), a bungee jump (not sure how that helps weight loss unless both your legs are wrenched off as you fall, thus losing much fat and weight immediately) (£25), and then it's all topped off with a wrinkle-reduction session (£50) to make you look like something from Madame Tussauds. Perfect.

As children we had none of that. We eagerly looked forward to Christmas and didn't give a hoot about New Year. My 6 year old nephew was so excited to find a huge bicycle-shaped present under the Christmas tree this year. My sister and her husband had tried for hours, without success, to find a method of concealing the shape of the said item to make it more of a surprise. Not to worry. At 5am on Christmas day, when most self-respecting 6 year olds should be fast asleep, he galloped into the lounge at full speed and began with the biggest present first, as you would, tearing the paper off to reveal the gleaming, stabiliser-adorned bicycle they had lovingly selected for him. As they watched through bleary eyes, they saw him circle the bike, look under it, and inspect every nook and cranny before exclaiming "Where does it connect to the Computer?!". So there you have it. It's a changing world and we had all better change this year, lest we be left behind in the bicycle age whilst all around us have moved with the times and embraced new technology.

If Jesus came back today he would have a big shock. Instead of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh it would be Control, Alt and Delete.

Speaking of which, my Blackberry has a new feature. Well, probably several thousand of them but most are not visible or remotely useful. This one, however, is very visible. It's an automatic profanity checker. The idea is that you prepare your email then as you press Send, it checks what you have put and if there are any naughty words in the message, it alerts you before it goes and says "Are you sure you want to send it?". Now, far be it from me to use those types of words in an email but it seems that I do - a lot. In fact, I am thinking of switching the *beep* thing off because it is *beep* slowing me down. What's interesting is the words it considers profane. The obvious "f*ck" is a complete non-starter although, interestingly "f*cker" is absolutely fine! So I'm using that instead.

Presumably, the idea is to stop you sending an email in haste to your boss on the night after the firm's Christmas party which contains any words you rather wish it didn't, when you wake up sober to find your P45 on the doormat the following day. Clever stuff.

And so, this brings me to the probably the most exciting innovation to arrive this year. A company called Rodial have launched a product called Boob Job which promises a fuller bust. I assume it's for ladies (but indirectly also for men) as I personally have no need of any more filling in my bust region although as MD of London Fine Dining Group perhaps we could rub it onto chickens to make their breasts plumper? For £125 it promises an 8.4% increase in cup size. And that's pretty specific. But don't even think of questioning the manufacturer's claims or you might find yourself on the end of a nice plump Writ for libel as one brave plastic surgeon did .

Speaking for mankind, if I may, I am all for it, and please do feel free to email me any photos to prove that it does what it says on the tin!

How to Make your Banana More Juicy!

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How to Make your Banana More Juicy!


By Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


As restaurateurs, we are always looking for ways to deliver a better dining experience to our customers.

 

Although most of us fall some way short of installing iPods in sea-shells so customers can listen to the sea whilst they eat seafood, I suspect that some of us might be prepared to try out the latest idea sweeping Japan - playing music to fruit.

 

And although you might be carted off to the nearest funny farm instead of the fruit farm, for being nutty as a fruit cake (ok - 'nuf fruit jokes now, Ed), it's not the first time it has been tried. An Italian vineyard owner is rumoured to have been playing Italian Opera to his grapes for years claiming that it makes them sweeter and juicier. But now, the time has come for the humble banana to enter the musical arena. I am making no obvious jokes about Bananarama who were probably 20 years ahead of their time (although, alas, not in the flared trouser and hair-style department).

 

Yes, apparently, if you play Mozart to a banana, you get a juicier, sweeter banana, and presumably one who appreciates the finer things in life. I am now trying to visualise how this Mozart concert would be staged. Do the bananas stay on the trees whilst a van with a huge pair of speakers on top (for surely the music must be broadcast in Digital Stereo) drives around the base of the trees with music blaring out at full volume? Or are the bananas cut down in their sour and non-juicy condition only to be sweetened up and made more juicy by being exposed to Mozart's Serenade No. 1 in D major as they lay in the sun? We need to know more.

 

I have also begun to wonder whether this novel technique might also work on humans. Perhaps if we were to play the appropriate type of music in our restaurants, not only would the food taste better but the staff might be sweeter and juicier too. Where will it end? Will supermarket shelves have to display normal bananas, free-trade bananas, organic bananas and musically enhanced bananas in different sections? And will there still be enough shelf space left for other musically enhanced fruit and vegetables?

 

The last time I heard the word "juicy" and "fruit" in the same sentence was last weekend when my wife and I were travelling (or, more accurately, "parked" in a 30 mile queue) on the M40 between Birmingham and Oxford. Whilst the BBC broadcasted helpful news bulletins about not leaving home unless absolutely necessary and only then when in possession of blankets, shovels, torches, food, water and sleeping bags, my wife had fortunately taken the very sensible precaution of bringing none of the aforementioned life-saving items but had instead taken the precaution of bringing an extra juicy-fruit flavoured lip-gloss, just in case.

 

I am not sure when Scott set out for the Antarctic whether lip-gloss was on his list of essentials (or whether the other men would have preferred raspberry to juicy-fruit flavour for their bedtime kiss) but I am pretty sure he made it there and back without any lip shimmer although he did have a tinge of blue when he returned, attributed to frost bite at the time (although it could have been juicy-blueberry for all we know).

 

 

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Waiter... there's a Cock on my table!

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Waiter ... there's a Cock on my table!


by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


Has anyone else noticed the current tendency of restaurants to use the table at which you intend to eat as a horizontal advertising hoarding?


There was a time when the only things on the table, apart from your elbows (if you were very naughty) were salt, pepper and vinegar (ok - so I spent a lot of time in Fish & Chip shops - it was research, honestly).


Now I suppose there are those cynics who might say that Fine Dining has changed the landscape forever. In some restaurants, you are not even allowed to put your own napkin on your own lap any longer. A man with silver tongs has to pick it up for you and carefully deposit it onto your lap without touching it with his hands as you watch helplessly hoping he doesn't slip with the tongs and ruin your married life. It's a challenge you can see the waiters enjoy immensely.


And much the same happens if you have to go to the powder room. As you rise, a specially trained waiter will be lurking around the corner to spring into action and twizzle your napkin into the shape of a goose or some other amusing pattern so that when you return from whence you came your freshly twizzled napkin will be waiting for you on the table (if you are lucky enough to be allowed to touch it).


So what other etiquette awaits you? Well, there's the wine glass shuffle. It goes like this. When you arrive there will be at least one wine glass per person on the table. Someone will ask you, politely, if you want wine with your meal (sometimes before you have even chosen your meal from the menu, which is a little forward) and then if you answer incorrectly, hey presto, all the wine glasses disappear from your table. Clever. Sometimes it's fun to say no and then change your mind later. That always has them in a spin as they try to work out how to bring the aforementioned glasses back without looking as miffed as they did when they removed them 5 minutes earlier when they thought you were only having tap-water.


Then there's the wine glass multiple choice quiz game. Which shape glass will you get? The same as last time? There seems to be a fascination for unusual shapes of decanter and wine glasses. I blame Ikea. There used to only be a couple of variations on a theme: white, red, sherry, brandy etc. but now there are glasses shaped like tulips, decanters shaped like the wing of a dove and probably one in the shape of a goose, to match the napkin, for all I know.


So once you have your goose-shaped napkin, and tulip shaped wine glass, look around you and play a little game of I-spy. What else can you see on your table?


Sometimes, restaurants just can't resist the temptation to sell you something or make you busy whilst you are captive. It might be a gift voucher for Mother's Day (in December), a tempting trip somewhere far hotter than the place you are now, a chance to enter a competition to win a free meal by completing a customer comment card (but watch out, there is no such thing as a free meal) or even a chance to donate a small sum to help the homeless, which can be conveniently added to your restaurant bill.


So while your taste buds anticipate your meal's arrival, your brain can be occupied shopping or filling in cards (if you can find a pen which works). But wait a minute, is that a Cock on my table, a diner was overheard exclaiming in one Central London restaurant (not one of ours). As other diners turned and stared all was revealed. A cock had indeed been placed upon that very table for some unknown purpose other than it had a culinary twist, having been constructed entirely of used silver-plated forks and spoons bent into the shape of a cock (feathered variety).


At this rate, you might be thinking, there won't be any room left on the table for my actual meal, when it arrives, what with the comment cards, the homeless charitable donation card, the holiday offer, the gift-card offer, the Christmas closing dates card and the card which tells you what other restaurants you might like to visit, within the same group as the one you are now dining in (we plead guilty m'lud, on that count).


In future, perhaps, thoughtful establishments will ask a diner, prior to being seated, "Would Sir like the plain table or the table with accessories and amusements?".



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When is a Hedge not a Hedge?

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When is a Hedge not a Hedge?


by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


Firstly, for all those of you who were expecting Charlie Dimmock to appear from behind a wall revealing her magnificent aspidistra, prepare to be disappointed.


This is not a tale of horticultural proportions but of banks and their mysterious inner workings.


Many years ago, in between regular doses of chicken soup and chopped liver, I remember my mother telling me a joke about a bank, and, as it's probably the ONLY joke about a bank that exists, I still remember the gist of it.


(the name of the customer and bank have been changed to protect society).


Bank Manager: Morning Morry. How are Hetty and the boys?


Morry: Fine thanks.


Bank Manager: So what can I do for you today?


Morry: I need to borrow £1,000, please.


Bank Manager: How much?! You are one of the richest men in Hampstead.


Morry: I know. It's for a special project.


Bank Manager: Well this is a bit embarrassing. I can do it for you but I have to ask about security.


Morry: I have CCTV on all my entrances and a safe in the kitchen next to the oven.


Bank Manager: No, I mean. Security for the loan.


Morry: Well does it matter that the loan will only be for 2 weeks?


Bank Manager: Sorry. Makes no difference.


Morry: OK. How about I leave you my Bentley as security. (throws keys on desk).


Bank Manager: That's very understanding of you. I am sorry.


... 2 weeks later ...


Bank Manager: Morry. How are you?


Morry: Fine. How's my car?


Bank Manager: Safely parked under the Bank. Nobody has been near it.


Morry: Good. Now I want to repay that loan.


Bank Manager: OK. I'll get the paperwork.

(reaches for calculator).

I am sorry but there will be some interest to pay.

At 3% above base, for 2 weeks, I make it £1.34p.


Morry: Here's £1.50. Keep the change!


Bank Manager: (handing car keys back)

Morry. I just had to ask you what that loan was for, out of curiosity.


Morry: Well I'll tell you.

When I called Heathrow and asked them how much it would be to park my car

in secure parking for 14 days whilst we went on holiday, they said £200.

So now you can see why I needed the loan. Thanks for looking after the car.


And so the moral of the tale, other than not to drive a Bentley, is that sometimes all is not what it seems in the world of banking.


Forget the smoke and mirrors illusions of the Magic Circle or honourable ethics of Masonic rituals. Banks make their own rules which can make your money disappear faster than Derren Brown.


And so we return the fascinating subject of hedges. The monetary kind.


Now we all know about hedge-fund managers and their excessive, Champagne-fuelled, bonus-celebrating entertaining. ( ...some of it at our restaurants - thank you).


But what we don't know is how they make all that money in the first place.


Well it works like this:


(Don't worry, for the faint-hearted and those who bailed out of maths classes when they produced log tables and slide-rules, I am not going to actually explain how hedging works because that's a mystery yet to be discovered).


You go to your bank for a loan. They tell you the interest rate. You say fine. They say "But what if the interest rate goes up?". You say, "Ok, I'll pay the higher rate". They say "But what if you can't. You need to hedge." You look puzzled. They point you in the direction of the highest building in Canary Wharf where the rent per square foot is probably 10 times the rent of the bank you are now standing in and say "Our Global Markets team have a product for this (and if they don't they will soon invent one). If you take the square root of LIBOR, add in the cap, allow for the collar, multiply it by my wife's bra size in centimetres, add that to the base rate, then allow for amortisation at half the rate of the RPI, all will become clear". You nod (disbelievingly). They explain "Instead of paying 3%, the rate will actually be 6% but then you won't ever pay more than that so you can plan ahead". You say "But the rate was never going to get to 6% anyway". They say "Exactly. It never will because you are fully hedged".


And so you leave the bank, slightly more perplexed than whence you came, with your 3% above base loan costing you 6% above base, knowing you will be able to sleep contently for the next 5 years in the knowledge that you are only paying 3% more than you would have paid - but not a penny more. Ever.


And who do you think makes money on the difference between the rate you finally pay and the rate you would have paid without the hedging? The very same bank who insisted you took out the hedging as a condition of them lending you the money!


So remember - they make the rules, and the ball. And we're not talking cricket.



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Trufflegate (The Apprentice)

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Fine Dining meets The Apprentice - "Trufflegate"


By Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


Admitting you watch The Apprentice can seriously damage your street cred' (but maybe less than admitting that you watch "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" or "Neighbours").


Now, I have sometimes been likened to Alan Sugar, or to give him his correct title, Lord Sugar of Clapton.


Often dubbed "Britain's Scariest Boss", The Good Lord and I share certain attributes: a tough East-End upbringing, a liking for chicken soup and a certain direct manner of speech in the boardroom (and practically everywhere else, too). In fact, the only thing separating us is a beard and about £100m.


So it was with a certain measure of amusement that in last night's episode I witnessed the two teams attempting to locate and purchase 50g of White Truffle from Alba, required by the Lord's shopping list.


Having tried all the usual (and unusual) places, their trail led them to none other than Zafferano in Knightsbridge, our Michelin-starred Italian restaurant famed for their Truffle Menu.


What awaited Laura and Stella were the wily charms of Enzo Cassini (think Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood), himself no stranger to controversy (December 2007 - "£20,000 for a Magnum of Pétrus 1961 sent back as a fake by the customer - but eventually proved not to have been a fake" affair).


Armed with a selection of the knobbly fungi, he proceeded to weigh them until they settled upon a lovely specimen weighing in, in the white corner, at a slightly overweight 56g, which he proceeded to offer them for the princely sum of £270.


Now, Stella should have definitely known better. She works in investment banking where she is allegedly a wizard with the calculator - but maybe it was Enzo's charm with the ladies (let's say no more about that) or perhaps the smell of the fresh bread, pasta and truffles but in any event nobody on the girly side of the fence realised that at £2,000 per kg, you should only be paying about £100 for 50g of truffle.


Laura, seizing the moment, countered Enzo's opening bid of £270 with "£200 for cash" thus sealing the girls' fate as they could go no lower and eventually lost the challenge by less than the £100 "overpayment".


Leaving aside Mr Cassini's zest for increased profit margin (good boy), is this likely to be twisted by the press and appear as yet another example of fine dining restaurants ripping off the public and thus deserving to get ripped off in return by modern day Robin Hoods like Janis Nords - the nosh and run diner (L'Oranger - November 2010)?


"Trufflegate", as the incident has already been branded, is now fuelling a renewed interest in truffles, except for the girls team, who, unlike the boys team, who were rewarded with a trip to gay Paris (are you even allowed to say that, anymore?), are more likely to end up with mushrooms on toast.


One thing's for sure. As long as there's a truffle, there will be an Enzo.


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Would Sir like Truffle with that?

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Would Sir Like Truffle With That?


By Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


So it's that time of year again - no not Christmas, although you might have been forgiven for thinking so if you just happened to be in Selfridges in October and saw sleigh bells, reindeer and glitter on sale.


No, it's the White Truffle Season.


Now, there's a fair amount of secrecy about white truffles. And why wouldn't there be when, basically, whether you buy yours from a suspicious looking Italian gentlemen who drives a Lamborghini or eBay, they are basically the same mushroom which that seller found for free. Yes, that's right - free.


You might find that hard to believe when, by the time the aforementioned fungi reaches your plate, it is costing upwards of £10 per shaving.


As MD of London Fine Dining Group, I get invited to participate is some unusual activities, and some usual ones too. Champagne tastings, wine tastings, cheese tastings, are all very well but after all the tasting, you just want a proper meal. So it was with some considerable excitement that, the General Manager of Zafferano, our Michelin-starred restaurant in Knightsbridge, Enzo Cassini whispered to me that he had organised a secret and exclusive visit to Alba in Northern Italy to go truffle hunting with one of our suppliers.


Having learned that truffles were sniffed out by pigs (I seem to remember a picture of a pig and truffle during O-Level French lessons, just after the one about the Eiffel Tower and just before the one about the bicycle and the man with a stripey t-shirt and onions over his shoulder), I was fully expecting to be led, blindfolded, to a field where a highly trained pig would be let off his lead, or whatever pigs are attached to, and watch from the comfort of a centrally-heated Range Rover, listening to Vivaldi, whilst the animal did his stuff like a sniffer dog at Heathrow airport, returning to the car with a mouth full of the valuable commodity. No such luck.


Early one misty morning, we were transferred, like hostages held for ransom, between vehicles and drivers, who only found out the next rendezvous point via mobile telephone as they drove, until we arrived at a deserted forest. Reminded that this was public property, and so asked not to look conspicuous, we were then instructed to put on wellington boots and introduced to the truffle hunting animal - a dog. This dog would not have looked out of place in an advertisement for Battersea Dogs (and Cats) Home - when exactly did the cats creep in there?


This dog, which considering his "occupation", has to be the uninsurable equivalent of David Beckham in footballing terms, was shown a piece of bread from the handler's pocket which had been kept next to some white truffle so that it assumed the scent. The dog then raced off at the speed of a greyhound (which he might very well have been at one point earlier in his "career") towards the forest, sniffing around trees, stopping to pee, as you would if you were a dog, and also to dig what he thought might be potentially truffley areas.


Not an exact science, the dog has to be hotly pursued by its handler, a man in this late 70's who nevertheless outran both of us and the dog at times for fear that the dog would actually locate a truffle and promptly eat it.


Once the dog stops and starts to dig, the handler has to get to that same spot, pull the dog away and then dig with his own hands to see if indeed a truffle can be found at that spot - or more often not.


It was explained to us that truffles are really a kind of tree "cancer" which affects the roots of only certain trees.


You therefore cannot predict which roots will have a truffle attached by looking at the visible part of the tree. And to make matters more complicated, each type of tree wood produces a slightly different looking and tasting truffle.


After an hour or two up to our ankles in mud like schoolboys on a cross-country run, I began to see why someone might pay someone else £2,000 per kilo to locate, dig up and fetch back the truffles.


Far from the leather-lined, wood-panelled comfort of the expected Range Rover, we were actually camped in a 20 year old Fiat which smelled more of dog than truffle and was almost certainly worth less than one piece of the truffle it was soon to transport.


With the land being public property, the raw material comes free (if you can find it) but the location has to be jealously guarded lest other truffle lovers help themselves to the free substance.


After a couple of hours, we decided to head back to Alba. By then, the dog had found 2 truffles - and eaten one of them before any of us could reach him - so we ended up with 1 truffle to sell (worth about 500 Euros).


Back at the hotel, we enjoyed scrambled eggs with truffle, fillet steak with truffle, truffle ice-cream, cheese with truffle honey and various other truffle-orientated snacks. In fact, by morning, we were checking the shower gel and toothpaste for evidence of truffle as the smell and taste had pervaded the very atmosphere we breathed.


So back in London, at this time of year, I find myself signing huge cheques payable to truffle suppliers for tiny parcels of the rare substance our diners love to consume.


Whole menus are now designed in our restaurants, particularly the Italian ones, but also the French, devoted to truffles intended to be shaved over pasta, eggs, meat, ice-cream, or infused in sauces and concoctions.


If only we could come up with a way to cultivate and grow a truffle in Regents Park, I would be happy to personally train a London Fine Dining Group super-pooch to harvest the crop and save ourselves a fortune every year.



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I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

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I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus


By Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


Now we all know from that song title that it must have been written a while ago because, in the 21st century, no self-respecting Mommy or Mummy would go anywhere near Santa. Firstly, his synthetic beard probably should probably carry an allergy and fire-risk warning and, secondly, if he was even to come within a whisker of a mother, let alone her child, he would be transported to Guantanamo Grotto faster than you can say "Elf" (and that's a very short word).


When I was a child, I remember being taken to see Father Christmas.


We purchased a ticket for the sleigh ride and were then seated in a sleigh (short-wheel-base version, minus reindeer) which miraculously seemed to move and rock as it passed the same set of snow covered trees time and time again (as the paper upon which they were painted revolved backwards past the sleigh), before we finally arrived at the North Pole (a journey which, remarkably, seemed to take less time than the journey from home to the shop in which we boarded the sleigh).


Once at the North Pole, I remember thinking how similar the weather was to London, as I was expecting the weather outside to be frosty (cue for another song).


Well, Father Christmas must have heard the sleigh arriving because he was right there by the exit sitting on his big chair waiting for us. One by one, eager children were placed on his knee (no longer permitted in case Father Christmas is on the Sexual Offenders Register) and asked what they would like for Christmas. Not that the answer you gave made any difference to the present you would actually receive as that had already been decided upon and wrapped before you arrived, presumably upon the basis of his "List" which he had checked twice according to whether you were naughty or nice (cue for another song).


Now, I must have been naughty that year as I distinctly recall asking for a fire-engine and receiving a gun (and my sister got yet another Barbie, ready to be dismembered for her doll-spare-parts hospital).


Perhaps Santa had trouble hearing us through all that cotton wool disguised as a beard?


It was probably the 1960s equivalent of Kinder Surprise. Which like the Orange Surprise or Lemon Surprise served as dessert in Indian Restaurants is rarely a surprise at all. What would be more of a surprise would be to put the Lemon Sorbet into the Orange - now that would be a surprise. But Lemon Sorbet in a Lemon is, well, exactly what you would expect. And so it is with Kinder Surprise. A chocolate egg crammed full of tiny pieces of plastic which a nearby adult is challenged to assemble before the child has consumed all of the chocolate. At least it keeps Dads from eating the kids' chocolate.


All of which begs the question: who thinks up these festive song titles? Or even normal song titles, for that matter?


Who exactly does "wish it could be Christmas Every Day", for example? (except, perhaps, the shareholders of Amazon).


And who goes "Singing in the Rain"? (except the umbrella salesmen in Oxford Street).


Nobody is likely reach Number 1 in the charts with a song entitled "Let's all Sing and Dance about VAT going up to 20% after Christmas". It just wouldn't have the same uplifting effect, even if Noddy Holder did sing it.


Simon Cowell is probably working on a new show as we speak to capitalise on the forthcoming Royal Wedding called "Britain's Got Royal Talent" in which contestants from far and wide (mostly wide) will compete for a chance to sing at Kate and Wills's wedding in front of the largest assembled group of double-barrelled names. A liking for grouse and a nickname like Spiffy, Squiffy or Stinky would be an advantage, and that's only the judges.


When that person is finally chosen, whatever they sing, it will definitely go directly to Number 1, even if they sing the ingredients from the side of a Corn Flakes packet. That's Life (cue for another song).


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Sell Oil, Buy Gas!

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Sell Oil, Buy Gas!


by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group


As if it were not bad enough for restaurateurs struggling with the recession, the increase in National Minimum Wage (incidentally, people on NMW are still earning less per hour than a parking meter in Westminster), increased food prices and a VAT increase to 20% next year, we hear, today, that gas prices are now set to rise by 7% in December.


It's being blamed on the Gas Futures market. Sounds a likely story.


Whenever men in suits buy things they don't actually own, hoping they will go up (or down), invariably they go the other way. You might as well put your cash on Brown Boy running in the 3.30 at Newmarket.


Now, I have always harboured a fascination with currency trading and stock markets. You roll up for work around breakfast time, start with a Full English, do an hour of shouting or clicking on your mouse, then off to the wine bar. Back around 3pm, check the markets and back to Surrey in time for Neighbours.


But there must be more to it than that. Take currency. You and I go on holiday. We take our hard-earned pounds to a glass window and swap them for, say, US dollars at $1.56 to the £. But how many of you knew that there are actually 2 more decimal places to the right of that 1.56 exchange rate, which just get dropped off? The 4th digit to the right (1/10,000th of a $) is called a "pip". So you might have got 1.5699 which is almost a whole cent more (or the equivalent of about a bite of pretzel). OK, so 1c might not sound much in the context of your holiday money but it does when the world market transacts $4.3 trillion worth of exchanges - every day - no matter whether that's an American trillion or British trillion.


Currency traders buy and sell currency hoping to make profits when the market moves even by a few pips. And what makes it more interesting is that most of these people don't actually have any real currency to buy and sell. "What?!" I hear you exclaim. How can you sell something you don't own?


Imagine selling a car you don't own.


Seller: Wanna buy a motor, mate?


Buyer: What is it?


Seller: What kind would you like?


Buyer: You just offered to sell me a car.


Seller: I did.


Buyer: Then you must know what kind of car it is.


Seller: I can sell you whatever you like.


Buyer: So can I see it?


Seller: Well, no. Because I don't actually own it - yet.


Buyer: So you want me to buy a car, you don't own, and I can't see?


Seller: Yep.


Buyer: Sounds a bit risky.


Seller: Not at all. You see once you have bought it, I will go and buy it.


Buyer: Now you've lost me. Why can't I just go and buy it myself?


Seller: You could but then I would be out of a job, mate!


So back to the trading room, somewhere in the City.


When he thinks the market is falling (the £ is getting weaker against the $), a trader sells £ at $1.5699 hoping the rate will fall (i.e. you get less $ for your £). He might sell £1,000,000 (which he doesn't have) for $1,569,900 (which he never gets). He watches the rates drop to 1.5679 (a fall of 20 pips) then he buys back his £1,000,000 with $1,567,900 of the dollars he never had and keeps the real profit of $2,000. Clear as mud? It's called going "short" and it has absolutely nothing to do with Ronnie Corbett or Jimmy Crankie.


Now here is where it gets complicated. You can go "long" too - and if anyone else in class sniggers it will be detention for all of you.


When you go "long", you buy the currency hoping for the market to rise, then you sell it later (which sounds more like the normal world of trading).


In FOREX, as it's called (that is FOREX as in Foreign Exchange - not XXXX as in Australian Lager), you can, apparently, make (or lose) a fortune. And any profits are tax-free! Without even having to move to Monaco and buy a yacht.


A trader in a bar in the City once told me about the year he made £1m. In month 1, he said he earned £5,000, in month 2 £7,500, in month 3 £10,000 and so on until in month 11 his grandmother died and left him £1m. Easy.


So what makes it go up and down? Supply and demand. Push and Pull. Yin and Yang. Tom and Jerry. Whatever makes it go up and down, it does, and a great many people, excluding you and I, who know how to exploit it, go out and buy a new Porsche on the back of it.


Note, in all this, that the poor old punter still only gets $1.56 for his £1 as the other stuff all goes on at the other end where the mystery 2 digits fell off the calculator.


So let's try to apply this to world of restaurants.


If I knew that the price of Chopsticks was going to fall dramatically, I could sell 1,000,000 chopsticks at the high current price, and then buy them back in at the lower price before I needed to deliver the order to my customer - as long as my buyer is not likely to up sticks in the meanwhile or find out the market fell and refuse to pay the higher price. So it all relies on me being able to guarantee that I can buy otherwise I am chop suey.


So here's where real life moves away from FOREX. In FOREX there's always currency, and buyers and sellers (it's called Liquidity and has nothing to do with those long lunches).


So which items can I trade in the real world. Well, it appears, one of them is Gas. If you know which way gas prices are moving then you can use that to your advantage to gain a price advantage.


As we speak, I am visualising our head office accounts department being converted into a dealing room where eager young masterminds trade gas, cooking oil, truffles and foie gras in an effort to drive up our margins.


But what about if the price of turkeys suddenly plummets? As they soon might do on the news that Turkey Billionaire, Bernard "Bootiful" Mathews has died. And for an example of irony, try this: he died on Thanksgiving, when traditionally the feast consists of guess what? Turkey. Maybe the turkeys finally got their revenge?



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Eating Suggestion: Cut with Knife and Chew

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"Eating Suggestion: Cut with knife and chew"

by Paul Singer - MD, London Fine Dining Group

New York has always been the place to beat when it comes to madness.

Only this week, you may have read that a diner successfully sued a restaurant after attempting to swallow a whole artichoke (the clue about not trying to swallow it whole might be in the name artichoke), after blaming the restaurant for not issuing specific instructions as to how to eat it.

Now, the UK is set to follow the American lead with a suggestion that all menus should "provide calorific information, encourage movement and exercise, and support a reduction in alcohol consumption" to promote health.

We are already used to seeing photographs on food packaging of the item purportedly contained within, presented in a much more appealing way than it will actually look by the time you have defrosted and microwaved it, accompanied by the caveat "Serving Suggestion", no doubt suggested by the manufacturer's lawyers, for fear of being sued by disappointed customers.

So, in an effort to avoid being sued or offending vegetarians of a nervous disposition, and in an effort to promote healthy eating, here is the new, legally-approved, set lunch menu from a typical French Restaurant:

Set Lunch Menu - £25

(all terms used are fictitious and may not represent actual food supplied)
(can be eaten at Lunch or Dinner)
(a large print version of this menu is available)
 (but if you can read this why would you need it?)

Starter (but can also be consumed at the end)

Foie Gras with Brioche

(warning - may contain organs of a goose and have been produced in a manner you would rather not know about)

Sat Fat - 290g
Calories - 590kcal

Suggested method of eating - cut with knife, place on fork, chew and swallow
Recommended post consumption exercise - 5 laps of Regents Park at minimum 10 mph
Recommended wine - One thimble-full of something sweet and sickly - (pace yourself)

May contain nuts or have been prepared in an environment containing nuts (most of our kitchen staff are completely nuts)
Why is this text getting smaller and smaller?

Main Course

Fillet of Beef with Spinach and French Fries

(warning - Beef may not have been humanely slaughtered - roadkill - served bleedingly rare)
(warning - Fries may not be French and are cooked in reclaimed Castrol GTX)
(warning - Spinach may not be Spinach - the management reserve the right to substitute another green vegetable)

Sat Fat - 390g
Calories - 790kcal
Suggested method of eating - cut beef with knife, place on fork, chew well, chew some more and swallow
Recommended post consumption exercise - 10 hours of swimming (based on front crawl or butterfly)
Recommended wine - 20 ml of red wine - (to be sipped slowly - not gulped)


Dessert

Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream

(warning - may contain huge quantities of butter and sugar - not suitable for diabetic customers)
(warning - "Apples" are made from apple substitute flavoured with E345 and E120)
(warning - Ice cream may be colder than it appears. If you have sensitive teeth, you might squirm).
Sat Fat - 680g
Calories - 890kcal
Suggested method of eating - use spoon, chew well and swallow
Recommended post consumption exercise - Sorry. You are probably too stuffed to move now.
Recommended wine - something sweet and syrupy (Maximum dosage 2 thimbles to be taken at 2 hour intervals)

A 15% optional service charge will be added to your final bill. All prices include VAT at 20%.
Price is in UK £ sterling. Warning the value of the UK £ can go down as well as up.
Always read the menu before consumption.
If you have any allergies, what are you doing out of the house?
This restaurant is regulated by the Restaurant Regulation Authority.

In case of complaint, please write to us at this (unreadable) email address: complaints@restaurant.com

Eating out will be such fun. Remember to take your lawyer, dietician, doctor and personal trainer with you.

And after dinner, you might like to try the special coffee which a Brooklyn coffee shop launched this week. Called "Porn in a Cup", it consists of 10 shots of espresso in one cup and comes with this (genuine) health warning (due to the extremely high doses of caffeine present):  "Not suitable for people over 40 years of age"

That's me out then.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About

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...tales of Life, Love and Lunch by Paul Singer

Paul Singer is Group Legal Counsel at London Fine Dining Group.

He is a commercial lawyer, known affectionately by his former clients as "the Jack Russell" (not for his tendency to wet the floor, but for his tenacious attitude!).

He is a freelance Street Photographer (www.streetpix.co.uk), lives in Marylebone, and is happy to admit that he is as happy eating a Burger as Foie Gras.

Known for an ability to analyse the facts and get straight to the point, his blog and photos may shock as well as amuse.

 


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