Nevio Pellicci


I was at a friend's house on Saturday evening and they mentioned the recent passing away of Nevio Pellicci, proprietor of the Pellicci family cafe at 332 Bethnal Green Road. The funeral took place on Friday and there were around 300 crowding out the church, singing his praises, saying their goodbyes, adjusting their eyes as the light dimmed, for there's a stretch of London just a little darker without him. I'm sorry I missed it. It was, as they say, a proper East End send-off with giant floral tributes, horse drawn carriage, hats off...

Pellicci's is a long-running East End institution. An Italian cafe founded in 1900. Nevio was born upstairs in 1925 and worked in the cafe all his life. The place is well known for its period marquetry interior and magnolia Vitriolite exterior. It's also known for its fine breakfasts, delicious home cooking, generous portions, reasonable prices and the fact the Kray Twins used to eat there. And Stephen Berkoff. Back in the day. What I have always cherished it for (besides the lasagne, steak pie and what-have-you) is the the generosity of its staff. It's a place you want to go back to. And you do. The quality of the chat - the ambient sounds of orders taken, jokes made, snatches of conversation from other tables, confidences, betrayals, the characters, the opera - these vital elements sorely lacking in most London restaurants. With his death, something of this city's fabric vanishes, this isn't a voice you will be hearing again.

I was first taken to Pellicci's in about 1986 or so. I won't pretend I was a regular. I've never lived that close - although I'm now significantly closer - but if I can find an excuse to meet someone in the area, it will be the place I suggest. My friend Pearcey who took me had just moved to Whitechapel, part of that initial wave of artists and creative types into the the East End. One of my favourite stories about Pearcey, a jeweller, is that he once made a body cast of Kylie Minogue for a crystal dress he was constructing. The process first involved smearing Kylie's naked entirety in vaseline... But, hang on, I'm supposed to be writing about Pellicci's.

The cafe is one of places I always take people who ask me to show them London. A decent breakfast or an early lunch and then walk through the City, along the river or canal, a spot of mudlarking, out east, Cable Street, whatever. Forget the Palace or Tate Modern. Nevio would be there in the morning when I visited. He was always immaculate. He once offered me advice on how to tie a cravat. He was, as they say again, a proper gentleman. Of the old school. Not from the world of push and shove, hostile takeovers, covert surveillance. I find it hard to describe the precise art of the cafe proprietor, for along with his son and other family members there, he made it appear quite effortless. It can't be copied, although I'd suggest that many places would be vastly improved if they tried. Say hello, wave goodbye, extend a welcome, how-are-you, patter, human warmth, hospitality without industry. There's not much of it about. Pellicci's is Pellicci's. It's not seeking to expand its business operation, open other branches, self-replicate, sell off the franchise. It is sufficient by itself.

Rest assured, the cafe is not closing. Mother's still in the kitchen at the back, the son and others out the front, I'll be heading along there soon enough to offer my slight condolences among the many others, drink tea, eat steak pie and chips, savour the moments.

I'm not feeling that eloquent about Nevio Pellicci, but there's plenty more to read, see and hear in various other places:

A well-deserved obituary in The Times

A tribute page at Classic Cafes

A short film by Ali Taylor:


Fine Figures Of Society

There's plenty I should be doing at the moment. For one, I've got a lodger moving into this house tomorrow and there's a lengthy game of Tetris ahead to shuffle various belonging in and out of cupboards, bookshelves and the like. Well, I am sure that it will get done at some point or another. Late yesterday evening, I found myself thinking about the island of Sark. This is what I wrote about it.


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Whilst I am still working on a consciously discouraging short story, there are other things to distract me:

1. Tidying this house. No small work, particularly when it gets down to the level of properly filing bank statements, working through unmarked cds and tapes, etc...

2. Translating a Buddhist manga into English. An actual piece of work.

3. Cooking ox cheeks. I can't see how else you'd manage to cook ox cheeks unless you had a fair amount of time at home. By my reckoning, they should be ready to eat on Friday evening after requisite periods of salting, marinating, two separate cooking stages and a decent rest after.

4. Enjoying a DVD of O Lucky Man.

5. Feeling less than thrilled with the initial line-up confirmed for Scott Walker's Drifting and Tilting evening at the Barbican in November. I appreciate that Scott had some lousy experiences playing live back in the day, but since he's now able to pick his own band, production team and so on, not to mention that no one (although I'm sure there'll be some drunk wag in the audience) is going to shout out for The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", I think someone should give him a stern talking to and tell him to do the singing. Instead, he's just producing and choosing the line up of vocalists that will be singing pieces from these two albums.

Jarvis Cocker was an obvious shoe-in. But the rest?

a. Damon Albarn. Oh dear. Does nothing for me. A good bums-on-seats option, mind.
b. Dot Allison. Never meant much to me at the time (One Dove) and still doesn't. Sounds rather sheeny-folky now. According to her Myspace, the new album is "her No Other" (Gene Clark buries himself in a mound of cocaine while wearing a dress. With mixed results tending toward the epic and overblown). Hmm.
c. Gavin Friday. I can see this one.
d. Michael Henry. Who? Possibly this one. Probably not this one. I don't know.
e. Nigel Richards. Understudied for Marianne Faithfull in The Black Rider... Okay, should be this one then.

Well, that's boutique pop concerts for you. I can remember going to a recent staging of Serge Gainsbourg's Melody Nelson that had orchestrator Jean-Claude Vannier conducting. Starring Jarvis Cocker, obviously. Badly Drawn Boy couldn't sing, got lots of applause. Brigitte Fontaine, who can, seemed to scare the audience and no one seemed to know who she was. Chances are that the unknowns Richards and Henry will steal the show and Albarn's voice won't be up to par.

Various other acts tbc. There's not many Scott has worked with. Ute Lemper? I suppose someone did email David Bowie. PLEASE no Radiohead! It needs something to stop it descending into another self-congratulatory night of back-slapping and who's been invited to the after-party(?). Not you. Suggestions? Tiny Tim and Klaus Nomi aren't returning their calls.


No Crunch

I awake and start repeating the words Arbroath Smokie to myself. It was good. This fishy idyll is broken by the sound of Bob Geldof using the phrase tangibly felt. Someone said palpably felt yesterday. A friend texts from work. Can't make it out tonight, shit hitting the fan, something wrong with the books, heads about to roll. In board meetings worldwide, executives identify the excess fat. Cut it out. Slim down operations. Reduce waste. My dear, were you under the illusion that capitalism was your friend? Here, take this 700 billion, take 700 billion more. Handfuls of cash thrown at a lover. Now piss off and don't ever come back. I trusted you...

I don't understand it. Economics is alchemy. Dark arts. Snake oil. Sleight of hand. Where did all the money go? Can't you get it back? Johnny's stolen all the biscuits out of the jar! Well, let's make sure it's full next time he puts his hand in as well. Err, Dad, can't we just beat the shit out of him instead? Apparently not. Is there not some alternative? No, there isn't. Shut up. Put up. We know what we are doing. We only need 700 billion to keep it all afloat. A colourful balloon above a world of dust. Never mind.

In other news, okonomiyaki news that is, I visited one of London's other Japanese pancake makers last Sunday. I'm quite consciously writing this in an unlocked entry as I was sufficiently offended by the product in question. There's a covered market area off Brick Lane called Sunday Upmarket. It's mostly crafty stalls and food sellers. Koinobori (it's the name for carp-shaped streamers) sell okonomiyaki and fried rice balls. There's also a stretch of food sellers outside and they've opened a second stall there as well.

My friend and I started with the takoyaki from a nearby stall. Average. Slightly stinting on the octopus, a bit undercooked, not much flavour, certainly lacking punch, but still recognisably takoyaki. The okonomiyaki from Koinobori really does not deserve the name. It's kyabetsuyaki (cabbage pancake) at best:

In summation, Koinobori was: badly chopped cabbage and too much of it, not nearly batter, no egg, paltry toppings, stingy on saucing, undercooked. The dish was not much more than warm, wet cabbage and quite flavourless. My friend said it was disgusting and I agreed, although I ate a few more mouthfuls to establish the benchmark. The sauce was described as "Osaka Sauce". Maybe it was, but the cooking area was dominated by some large bottles of Bulldog tonkatsu sauce. Well, for a start, Bulldog is an Tokyo brand of sauce. Tokyo taste is not Osaka taste. Secondly, and here's sand in your face, Bulldog famously bought out Osaka sauce manufacturer Ikari when the latter was exposed for financial fraud.

Should you wish to relieve yourself of £4 and receive little pleasure in return, I can recommend it without reservation.


Mango Whizz

I can remember a (legendary?) form of amphetamine sulphate in Reading at the start of the 80's that claimed to originate from the Gillette factory. It was coloured blue, like the disposable razors. I've seen other colours over the years, but never encountered Mango Whizz until I watched the opening episode of The Restaurant.

Let's get this straight from the start. I like the idea of Mango Whizz. The Restaurant is a kinder cousin of The Apprentice. Alan Sugar is replaced by Raymond "Le Manoir" Blanc. Various couples (friends, spouses, lovers, etc) want to open a restaurant. Blanc gives them each an establishment to run. Over the weeks, various challenges ahead, they're whittled down to one and the winners actually do get to run a restaurant free from the strictures (and support structures) of reality tv. Car crash television. Laugh at the little man or woman. Laugh along with them sometimes. An hour passes. Time to take the dog out. It's sufficient entertainment, but like food, sufficient doesn't necessarily hit the spot. I don't think anyone is watching in the expectation of picking up helpful cooking tips.

Anyway, Mango Whizz. For the first episode, the nine teams were competing for eight restaurants. Divided into three teams, they then split a starter, main course and dessert between them. Annette and Kashelle, mother and daughter from South Yorkshire and planning on an establishment called Caribbean Delights, got the dessert option and made the said whizz. Ingredients: a tin of mango pulp, lime, sugar. There might have been some cream. I can't remember. Blend it together and stick in freezer. Annette comments: "If it sets, it's a sorbet. If not, it's a mousse." Total cooking time: about three minutes.

Blanc did commend them on their choice of mango pulp (Alfonso). A dash more lime, perhaps. A tuile biscuit, pondered another judge. But the look said it all. The whizz was no go. The rest of the contestants had battled up to the last minute of their hour to make that one dish, or at least the editors had made it look that way, Annette had bunked off after five. Oh no! But why so bad? For me, the whizz displayed two key concepts in catering:

1. Don't waste time.
2. Nothing wrong with tinned food.

Annette did run a kitchen on Sundays and knew all too well that she could rustle up a load of whizz first thing and then get on with the rest of the preparation. She also knew that futzing around shopping for indifferent mangoes at the wrong time of year was a waste of her time. There was a reliable product that her customers liked and ate. Get on with it. I can perfectly appreciate that for Blanc and his judges this smelled a bit too much of reality, rather than the tv dream. If you're charging Manoir prices, you can afford to indulge yourself and the customer in all manner of ways. For all its offence, the whizz should have gone through. Annette and Kashelle were a lesson in culinary realpolitik and should have been commended and, yes, told to make a bit more of an effort next time, please.

Who went through instead? The judges' decision was played out as if it were down to the church-going black folk and the gay air stewards. These were two niche minority groups. Annette and Kashelle seemed very stable. Possibly dull. Certainly proletarian. Richard and Scott were a functional couple, but we were (were we? The voices are telling me so) anxious to burrow into the cracks. Their restaurant was to be called Sorbet and Seasons. They got the starter option and served pea and mint soup poured into a hollowed out loaf as a bowl. It was almost Futurist cooking. You couldn't tear into the bread around the outside for risk of hot soup gushing over your lap. I'd have added an elastic band or two and encouraged the judges to wear it as a hat for the day. It's not just food, Raymond, it's fashion too.

But whatever the failings of the bread-soup, they knew which buzz-words to use: locally sourced, seasonal, zzz... Too many of the contestants came out with these, but entirely failed to act upon them. For Annette and Kashelle, food was rather more of reality. It was the wrong show. Where was their preposterous ambition? Their self-delusion? Their ridiculous concept? The bourgeoisie could all sit at home and laugh "Ho! Ho! Tinned food? Oh dear me! How déclassé! What were they thinking?" and then head off to restaurants where they're served pretty much the same but just ignorant of the fact. Then blog about it in the morning.

I bought a video camera in Japan but I felt rather encumbered by it. It's a bit of weight to carry around and even more intrusive on your state of mind than a still camera. I should film this or that. No, I thought, in fact I shouldn't. Leave some things unseen. Unrecorded. However, as I ponder my own culinary ambitions and plans, I am sure that I will film some things in due course. So far, the only things that I like the idea of filming are exceptionally static objects. I'll be keeping my Mango Whizz moments out of sight of the braying classes.

Vacant Space


The "surprise resignation" of Fukuda Yasuo as Japanese PM isn't that much of a surprise. Who's next? You ask. Or rather you don't, since Japanese politics interests you about as much as it interests the Japanese electorate. Not much at all. Anyway, high temperatures and early morning coffee had me writing the following a few weeks ago.

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A Brief Address

Although many thousand miles distant, events in and around Georgia have not escaped my attentions.

Peoples of Abkhazia, Chechnya, Guria, Kartlia, Kakheti, Khevsuri, Mingrelia, Ossetia, Russia, Svaneti, etc, Georgia even. Whoever you are and whatever you want to call yourselves, return to your homes and start getting the grapes in. The harvest is not going to gather itself!

Fuck the plutocrats! Fuck the oligarchs! They don't give a damn for you. Please excuse my proto-Circassian.

Russians bombing the birthplace of Stalin? Wherever you are being encouraged to stand, that alone should make you realise just how stupid and ill-considered this war is. I fear it is going to become a lot more painful before winter returns you to your homes.

Who will make the wine that you drink upon your brother's grave?

Aomori: Two

Further Joys of Lake Towada

It's Tuesday evening in Osaka. Another hot day. Just over 36. No air conditioning downstairs, just a fan. I've taken to throwing glasses of water over the concrete floor in a vaguely artful fashion. I believe that evaporation might somehow cool the ambient temperature. I might be mistaken. But I believe!

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Aomori: One

So let me remember. Sorry to harp on about it, but the lack of a domestic internet connection is an intriguing condition. Time is otherwise spent. Facts forgotten, information wanted, idling... If it's important enough, it will work its way into a notebook for when I cycle down the road. So where I would normally spend a few hours reading about Aomori here and there, now there's just the blank page and memory.


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Agent Nabokov

I awake early. The ghosts are back, I say to myself idly a few hours before in the darkness. It's hardly surprising. I'm heading to Tokyo later in the morning. A few days in the capital and then north. There's a dream I want to write down, or rather there's something that arises from that dream. Should I just start writing now or, as I know I would, perhaps I'd prefer to go the toilet and have a cup of coffee in my hand when I do...?


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