Halloween at Portofino...

Great fun!
A "gentle" pumpkin carved by Noel. A couple of kids said it wasn't scary.

Costumes galore!

Joe had a black eye and a pizza, I think...

Soup of the day: Cream of Pumpkin! Don't say it too fast...

A Belgian Beauty...

Terry Hanlon, the once-gentle-HUFC-Hospitality-Main-Man has started a new Facebook group called Sprouts Out.
I have joined it as an undercover-agent-provocateur.
Not because I do not like Brussels sprouts, on the contrary I love them! I joined this extremist group to try and undermine Terry's malicious campaign to discredit the beautiful and versatile sprout.

I met and fell in love with this beautiful, well-rounded, firm vegetable when I first landed on these exotic isles, over 33 years ago.

There she sat, alone, all green and shy on my dustbin lid of a plate, surrounded by generous slices of roast beef, a pile of shrivelled peas, a few sad baby carrots and a giant Yorkshire pudding.

I wondered who and what she was. I had never seen anything like her back in Algeria. The host explained: something about Brussels.
My limited understanding of the English language back then led me to wonder why the chocolate-loving Belgians would sprout such a weird-looking vegetable.

I caught it with my fork after several attempts. It felt and tasted like a water-filled balloon. My first encounter with the sprout did not have a happy ending.
Yet, I am glad to say, our relationship did not fizzle out, instead it flourished when we began experimenting. Butter, toasted nuts, bacon, lemon, etc...

Nowadays a roast is not a roast without a few Brussels sprouts on the plate.
You see I have grown to love anything Belgian, especially sprouts and chocolates, with the exception of kids who wet themselves in public.

A Delighted Mascot...

A very special day for my 8-year old grandson, Alex. I got a call from Terry Hanlon, from the Hartlepool United marketing team. He asked if Alex was coming the match against Brighton because he had been chosen as Pools mascot for the day.

We arrived just before with one hour to go for the match.

Terry took us both to the players dressing room where Alex got his photo taken with every single player and each one of them signed his matchday programme.
After a light kickalong with Terry, where Alex won £1 in a competition where he had to hit the corner post.

The electonic scoreboard was unveiled for the first time and guess whose name was up in lights?

Alex then led out the players, walking along captain Sam Collins. He shook hands with the referee, linesmen and the Brighton players before taking his seat next to me under the complimentary smiles and pats-on-the-back of our neighbouring Pools fans.

The day was crowned with a one-nil win against Brighton courstesy of Kevin Kyle in the 12th minute.
Several times through the match Alex said to me:"Grampa, this is the best day of my life!"
Little does he know that I enjoyed it just as much as he did.

Using our loaf...

The price of bread has shot up in the last few months.
Many reasons for this: Last summer's floods, world wheat production, oil prices, etc...but to name a few.
Does this stop us from eating bread? No chance!
Bread is life. Well, for me, anyway.

During the French Revolution, it is alleged that when Marie-Antoinette was told that the French people had no bread to eat, she flippantly said:"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" "Let them eat cake!"
No, thank you! I'd rather have a slice of brown granary bread, you know, the one with all the healthy seeds and so on.

When I was a kid on the farm, I thought that brown bread was only what people ate when they couldn't afford "real" bread. Mind you, it didn't look as appetizing as today's Bloomers! Nowadays, it is very rare that I eat white bread apart from French baguettes.

A little while ago a friend of mine acquired a bread maker. He swears by it and says it is a piece of cake to use. You bang everything in, switch it on and a couple of hours later, you're can enjoy delicious, fresh bread.

I can think of many things that could be had instead of bread. Things such as pasta, couscous, rice, etc...
But can these replace bread?

Resto Rants....

I understand customers.
Honest, I really do.
After all, I am very often a customer myself. At the local supermarket, cinema, petrol station, or even another restaurant, I am a customer. So, if I say I understand customers, I really mean it. It’s not as if they’re from outer-space. Well, a few of them are, but we won’t go into that.
They’re more often than not, your next door neighbour, the supermarket checkout girls, etc… Maybe the odd restaurant inspector, every now and then.

As a restaurant customer and an industry insider, I really enjoy attentive service, a smiling waitress, one who listens to your order carefully and gets it right. “Medium rare? That’s how I like it, sir.”

But sometimes, an attentive wine waiter can spoil your meal. As your glass is topped up between sips you find that you’ve guzzled your fairly expensive wine well before you’ve finished your starter.
“Can I get you another bottle, sir?”
On one occasion lately, an over-zealous sommelier as they like to be called, grabbed the bottle off my hand as I tried to top up my glass.
“Does he think I am incapable of pouring myself a drop? Is there a special way of filling your glass?”

Oh, and the other thing that truly annoys me is the giant black pepper grinder! As introduced by cheap Italian trattorias in the 70’s. As if the carefully prepared food is going to be improved by a pinch of black pepper! Mind you, in some restaurants, it can be.
And this archaic practice has led customers to underrate your restaurant if you don’t happen to own a porn-sized grinder.
As always I say if you can’t beat them, join them.

“Black pepper, madam?”
“What? On my ice cream?”

Food for thought...

Kevin, Casa's head-chef sent me an email depicting lots of Chinese delicacies, including Lizards Tails, Dog Brain Soup, Scorpion Brochettes, etc...
I have total respect for people's (weird) tastes. After all, I like olives smothered with chili, roast beef dripping with blood, whole ungutted fish, so who am I to talk?
I hear that down in the deepest confines of the Algerian Sahara, deep-fried crickets are absolutely delicious. I have never tasted them but being open-minded I'd give them a try as long as there is a bottle of Tabasco nearby.

But I definitely draw the line at Seahorses...
I don't think I've ever seen a live one, but just do check out Finding Nemo... The Seahorses look so pretty and lovable...
I can't imagine them skewered, let alone barbequed.

Where do you draw the line?

Plucking more than chickens...

Around what seems like a million years ago, (Summer 1962 to be exact), my brother received a guitar as a present. It must have been after he passed the Baccalauréat on his way to university.
He left it at home, so I dabbled with it, not really knowing how to hold let alone how to play it. I used to lay it on the dining table and pluck the strings like a sitar.

Over the years, I have dreamed of learning to play this beautiful intrument. I tried on my own a few times, with books and videos... Not a chance! I couldn't grasp it.
At the last count I reckon I have had 3 or 4 teachers. Very patient ones.
Guitar playing requires constant practice. And that itself calls for a lot of patience. Something I lack.

My latest tutor is a well known local guitar player who practises his craft in various local restaurants, including Casa del Mar for a while. I plucked my guitar strings in front of him and he immediately knew that the only style I would be comfortable with was Spanish.
Since my brother brought back a few records from his 1965 Spain trip, I fell in love with that music. Flamenco pulls my strings like no other music.

There is one piece by Joachim Rodrigo called El concierto de Aranjuez which always makes me melt when I hear it.
It was even played in the film Brassed Off although it is affectionately referred to as Concerto de Orange Juice...

I have just learned how to put music on websites, and guess what, I have placed this piece on Casa's Menu Page so that you can listen to it while perusing our tapas...
It's not me playing by the way.
I wish...

My guitar having a rest...

Never too old to learn...

There are many who say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I say that you're never too old to learn new tricks or brush up on your old ones...
When earlier this year I was offered a training programme called Profit through Productivity, I jumped at the opportunity. I must say that I picked up many useful tips to help us run the restaurants better, especially in this shaky economic climate.
Our company is now being used as a case study to entice others to join the programme.

I should really be amazed at how busy all three restaurants still are despite the constant barrage by newspapers, radio and television of impeding gloom and doom, but... guess what?
I am not!
As I explained in an earlier post, when people have very little spare money, they usually go for the tried-and-tested, (should really be the tried-and-trusted)
Fingers crossed, we'll ride this recession like all the ones we've been through over the last 23 years.

Tapas to go... going well...

...Like hot cakes, in fact!

Many of the employees from nearby offices usually have a sandwich from the local shop but since Adam and his team introduced the Tapas 2 Go, their tastebuds have been tickled.

A few of the staff from our other restaurants have also become addicted to this easy, tasty treat after a busy shift.

The proof is in the eating, as they say and it seems that Adam has also fallen for the Tapas 2 Go... Both he and Hayley have become partial to them.

Most expensive food...

Caviar is just simply fish roe (eggs). Though the best comes from the Beluga Sturgeon, one can always make do with lumpfish or salmon caviars at around £5 a jar.

Beluga Caviar which comes from the Caspian sea can cost at least £2000 a kilo.
It is the most expensive food item in the world!
Sturgeons can weigh up to two tonnes and prized more for their eggs than their meat.
Caviar is usually served on a warm toast for very special occasions.

I personally have tried real Caviar only once and, though I liked it very much, I still do no see what the fuss is all about.
Can you?

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Great North Run...

A beautiful morning for an increasingly popular event. Twenty-eighth year! One of the most exciting half-marathons in the world!
Fifty-two thousands runners!
From the very professional looking for a record to the casual runner raising a few pounds for charity.
Everyone is a winner!

Last night, in all our three restaurants, we had many competitors filling up on carbohydrates to help them stay the course.
At Portofino, it is very easy to spot them. Their food order is pasta for starters, pasta for main-course and if they were allowed, it would be pasta for dessert.
And all that with a huge garlic bread!

At Krimo's they opted for proteins because they were totally fed-up with carbohydrates.

The Great North Run attracts people from all over the world. For a few days, the whole of the North East benefits from it. Hotels, restaurants and various other businesses see this weekend as one of the busiest of the year.
Great stories, great motivation...

Photos courtesy of the BBC