I'm currently in the mood for a good old rant. And Jiminy Cricket you're about to get it, big time. It all started like this: on Wednesday we were having some friends over to dinner, and I had the bright idea of serving them my raw herring, keta salmon "caviar" (roe) and dill canapés beforehand.
Waitrose Belgravia stocked bog-standard mock "caviar". It would have done the job, but I had a very real craving for the keta stuff. For some bizarre reason (which escapes me now) I seemed to recall dimly that none other than Sainsbury's Nine Elms stocked keta "caviar" (that's the delicious orange coloured salmon roe, often used by the Japanese and usually priced at about £6.50 for a small jar) in their deli or "Foods of the World" section.
So off I went, happily hopping and skipping down the South Lambeth Road, my naive optimism glowing with a capital "O". And how wrong I was to be.
I spent a frustrating ten to fifteen minutes trawling the aisles, and walking round in circles: couldn't find anything remotely caviar or roe-related, let alone of the keta or even mock varieties. Finally found a member of staff. Could barely speak English: didn't know what "caviar" was, couldn't give a toss, to be frank. His friend behind the fish counter had to explain that the mysterious ingredient I was searching for was, in fact "fish eggs". Titters all round. It was a bit like the time (same branch) when I asked for White Spirit, and was taken over to the Gin section.
Eventually another member of staff waddled up, and shaking his head sadly, explained that he hadn't seen that sort of thing for some time now. Wasn't entirely sure, was he? Didn't think they stocked it.
And in case you think I'm being horribly unfair (or even dare-I-say it, snooty), this isn't some small out-of-the way branch. I'm talking about a big "flag-ship" store, located about a mile south of the Houses of Parliament, in an area which is about to go through a massive urban re-generation. It's the general apathy, lack of enthusiasm, and sloppy standards that I find so depressing. Utterly wet. Mealy mouthed. You could push them over.
One of the things I like about America is the generosity of spirit. Go into any small newsagent, and you will find virtually every and any magazine currently available and in publication laid out for sale; in serried rows, on wooden racks. It's all about choice and range: if that's what sir wants, we'll get it for you, no problem!
The American-owned Wholefoods in Kensington High Street has this excellent philosophy in abundance. The range of foods for sale there is superb. If you want that horseradish root, they'll stock it. If you suddenly feel like buying a Jersualem artichoke or an unusual Mexican chocolate, they'll have it. In American supermarkets, there are smiling and eager members of staff- in uniforms- God Forbid- to pack up your groceries in large brown paper bags, and wait for this- to carry your bags out to your car!
A great friend of mine, currently living in Bangkok, thinks that people here get an appalling deal when it comes to choice, price and service. Rip-off Britain. I'm beginning to understand what he's getting at. Keep reading.
Ever heard of Boodle's British Gin? If you live in Perfidious Albion, chances are that you haven't. Founded in 1845 apparently, named after the famous Gentleman's Club in St James's Street, and by repute, the tipple of choice of none other than a certain Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, KG, and Mister James Bond himself.
If you look it up on the internet, you'll find testament after testament from gin aficionados; waxing lyrical about Boodle's subtle taste, its smoothness, its wonderful properties as used in the Perfect Martini, for the making of.
According to the net, it's made here in Britain and distributed in the United Kingdom by the firm of James Burrough for Pernod Ricard. I've read this over and over again. Except that it's not. I've done my research and I can tell you now that Boodle's British Gin seems only to be available in America. So if you want to drink it in Britain, I've got some bad news for you- you can't. Many gin drinkers seem to think that it's possibly one of the best tasting British gins of all time; an absolute classic. Lovely packaging, too.
It's just not fair! I want to join the club and taste Boodle's British Gin!