Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When your world is full of strange arrangements / and gravity won't pull you through

Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews.

Of course after a few glasses of house Chianti I usually get some perverse notion in my head that I should perhaps think about writing good restaurant reviews. This thought evaporates as the Chianti lulls me to sleep an hour or two later.

something in Bangkok I’ve trusted restaurant reviews from time to time.

In Auckland, not once, but twice (tag: do not learn lessons easily) I’ve trusted reviews of the awful Soto, a sad overpriced excuse for a modern Japanese restaurant in St. Mary’s Bay. Both times I’ve been badly burnt by shitty service, unimaginative nu-Japanese fare that would only pass muster if the reviewer had never had the privilege of seeing modern Japanese done well..and even then would likely fall badly at the final test: the size of the bill when put next to the fare and appalling lack of anything approaching customer service. Don’t like. At All.

That it somehow wins awards underlines how little food reviewers are to be trusted.

In Bali I soon learned that restaurant reviews are largely bought there, and perhaps the very worst restaurant on the island (which is saying something in an island where good eateries..and there are some amazing places..are few and far between), the gruesome Telaga Naga, where the staff told us the chef had moved on years before, leaving a faded Chinese cook book that the local guy uses with bought in packet sauces, regularly gets the nod as best Chinese from rags like Hello Bali (yes 100% paid for, like all their reviews and that best lager in the world award that Steinlager got some years back too, ok?) despite the fact the island has some really good Chinese places.

We trusted reviews in NY and felt thoroughly scammed by the mediocrity of Freemans. I’d rather keep my rustic pricey pilgrims fare, washed down by pricey, average, new world wines, in those grueling feral British cottage cookery shows that I can turn off. Jug yer own hare elsewhere please. Urgh. Brigid said as we left, that if you were to try and make food like your mother did, at least track down a mother who can cook.

We went to Red here, this week. It gets good reviews. Seriously good reviews. It was fucking horrendous. Watery white sludge that looked like the sauce left over from my dad’s old tripe, loud James Blunt anthems played by the, might be a boy, receptionist; staff telling us what desert we wanted; vinyl table cloths; and, in a deserted three room restaurant, being placed next to the table of loud Germans who included the man with (Godwin be damned) a Hitler moustache in a white singlet.

And it was pricey.

No, fuck off Red.

It gets awards too.

Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews. Never trust restaurant reviews.

I trust friends. Grier recommended La Buca. He was right. We’ve taken his advice on dining a couple of times in Bangkok and it’s been pretty good, so the pointer towards an unnamed two storied building in Sukhumvit Soi 1 with home-style Italian was vague but worth the 70B taxi fare.

And it was worth getting dropped off at the beginning of the street just so we could walk up past the German sausage house (every city in Asia has a Germanic restaurant or two..the one in Sanur, Bali, had no windows, and was full vey pleasant, if loud, large German people smoking heavily away in your breathing space, and devouring kilometers of sausage and sauerkraut. Our German friends often asked to meet them there..we mostly, for reasons of health and taste, declined) down the road.

Was he a part of the decor..I don’t know..but there was a fat, unsmiling German man in full Prussian military regalia, cape included, sitting outside. It’s one of those odd Bangkok things. The city seems to attract the perverse, as well as the perverted. I tried to get a photo but thought better of rousing any Prussian military ire, given its history.

So, yes, La Buca, the Italian place was thoroughly wonderful, with great quaffing Italian house wines, pasta designed by the Italian chef / owner (who was as passionate about explaining each dish as only a Southern European can be..we spent a reasonable time dodging the wild gesticulations) that just pulled you through the door, and homebaked breads. We’re returning this week. Grier sent us in the direction of a hole in the wall Indian in Silom too, the sort of place that never makes the endless online or printed guide books, and for BKK there are as many unreliable eating out guides as their are puffed up, unreliable restaurants.

Of course there are the blogs.

And it was a recommendation, from a blog, that seemed reliable, that pointed us in the direction of Little Arabia, where 30 or 40 Middle Eastern places, some dodgy, most not, sit together. Falafels, lots of middle eastern tourists (or residents..I like the way Bangkok doesn’t want you to be Thai, it just asks that you be “I’m a kiwi now, Charlie” faux multi-culturalism), Arab guys sipping beer out of a plain mug because it ain’t on the menu, while they suck on the endless hookahs and look at plates of perfectly made Tabbouleh and huge naan smothered in garlic paste.

Of course, there are dozens of blogs. There are hundreds of blogs. There are thousand of blogs. Everyone that sets foot in Asia starts a blog about it (mine predates moving here, ok…but without Asia..).

 Some send you off in the direction of places that serve things like, uhh, this:


The English think this is good food.

Which brings me to rule number two:

Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman. Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman. Never trust a restaurant review written by an Englishman.

The English have no understanding of food or the preparation of such whatsoever. Zip. Zero. Kosong. In my not unlimited experience even the pricey places in Londontown are mostly utter tosh, complete shite. No, the only food you’d want to eat in the UK is foreign, and not foreign created by English people. By Indians, French, Italians, Japanese and so on, but an English born hand should never be allowed near the preparation, ordering of ingredients or serving. The British may argue but there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. One just has to see the fare that the celebrity UK chefs serve up on TV to underline this unbendable rule.

Adding (a little) evidence for the prosecution are large numbers of blogs written by English expats, like this one, written by some guy, who may well be a nice chap, but I’m not sure if I want to follow the culinary and social exploits of a bunch of expat aging Farangs stuck in the sleaze hellhole of Pattaya, with their add-on Asian girlfriends, their trips to go-go bars and the endless visits by the likes of Mr. Tony, and his girlfriend:


Once again: they may all be lovely chaps, but it also goes towards the case that there is a very odd side to many of this nation’s visitors. But, it does make for some sort of fascinating and voyeuristic reading, albeit briefly, although the blog seems endless. The question must be why? I just need to find the energy to care enough to ask it.

Of course, I’m perfectly normal. Must set up a restaurant review blog…

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aww / Fuck Off…

Fantastic piece, built from quotes of those who were there, in the February Vanity Fair, written by Lisa Robinson.

Giorgio Moroder

The quotes I enjoyed most came from Nile Rogers:

We wrote “Le Freak” because we were denied entry to Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve 1977–78. Grace Jones had invited us to see her show, and she assumed that since our hit “Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” was so big we could get in. Normally we could, but it was sold out, she forgot to leave our names at the door, and [doorman] Marc Benecke wouldn’t let us in. He politely told us to fuck off. So Bernard and I went and wrote a song called “Fuck Off”: “Awww … fuck off … ” It sounded great, but I said we can’t have a song on the radio called “Aww … Fuck Off.” So I came up with “Freak Off,” but that wasn’t sexy. Then Bernard came up with “There’s that new dance everybody’s doing called the Freak.” That was our version of “Come on baby, let’s do the Twist.”

& Barry White:

In countries where they don’t have record players they buy Barry White’s record, listen to the radio, and stare at the record.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It’s a long way from home / welcome to the Pleasuredome

There were two great scams in the 2000s (assuming the decade is’s technically not of course).

One, it almost goes without saying, was the drive to war scam pulled fairly successfully by the Bush administration in concert with a few compliant governments (the UK and Australia come to mind) whereupon clear and known fraudulent data was placed in front of not only the public as a whole, but whole layers of elected officials and lawmakers across the US and the UK. It was the WMD scam and arguments continue as to whether it cost the lives of 100,000 or a up to million Iraqis (as if the lower figure is somehow better) and the wholesale dispossession for millions more. From a US perspective, I guess it was hugely successful.

The second, whilst it existed on another, less deadly, level altogether, was no less successful, and involved the large media companies, many smaller media companies and assorted copyright administration bodies. This we will call the Piracy Scam.

Why am I revisiting this now? Well the piece briefly excerpted below pissed me off:

How to help prop up the ailing music industry? Tax Google, suggests a new report commissioned by the French government.

I’m close to speechless at the stupidity of this.

It will make no difference. None at all. Nothing will boost the revenues of the wholesale industries beyond a complete 180 on the part of the customer back to the buying habits they, in increasing numbers, left behind during this last decade. One has to remember that the folks making these rules, and the ones crying foul over the alleged lost revenues are either people in their mid-40s onwards, who if they buy music, were educated to buy it in album format, in the decades since the recording industry invented the format in the late 1940s, or they simply don’t buy music.

And they’ve been told that revenues are down (true) because people are simply stealing the music online (extremely arguable).

Are people taking music in large quantities online…yes, of course they are, there is no doubt of it. Is this causing the crash in revenues? I’d argue yes, in small part, but that’s all.

And that’s aside from the glaring and oft stated fact that a downloaded tune does not equal a lost sale, despite the rampantly loony figures the IFPI happily touts (and are gobbled up by the media).

The primary reason revenues are down is because the primary target for recorded music are people under 25. And they no longer buy albums. Mostly they don’t even know what they are. They buy MP3s..the new singles. They don’t want albums. They want tracks. And the evidence to support this is voluminous. Last year in the United States there were 1.16 billion (yep, billion) digital tracks sold. That is the equivalent of 1.16 billion singles purchased, because that’s what the MP3 is..a single..a 45, in the old language. Add to that just under 400 million albums (of which some 3.2 million were actually 14 album box sets by The Beatles, so add another 40m or so to that figure!) and you have a very, very large number of units purchased by customers in 2009…far higher, in fact, than at any time since Soundscan began recording accurate figures in 1991.

Throw into that mix two other factors, firstly that the digital figure removes the cost of manufacturing, distribution and warehousing, and secondly the huge drop in recording costs over the past decade as digital became the norm, and a rather different picture emerges.

On, and one more figure to toss into the mix: the decade long rise in performance income received by performing rights organisations as many different income streams, driven by technology, plus the massive advances in collection techniques and the sad story that both the media and the lawmakers happily trumpet without question, looks increasingly shaky. The Times did an analysis using a few, but not all, of these factors a month or two back which was interesting.

The truth is that in 2009 there was a massive jump in income from music worldwide:

Thanks to new collecting bodies, more music users buying licences, and a big rise in US revenues, global performance rights payments increased by 16% to $1.5bn (£940,000) in 2008, according to industry newsletter Music & Copyright.

Performance rights revenues come from the public playing of music across various locations and platforms, from radio stations and nightclubs to supermarkets and hair salons.

Such income has become more important in recent years as music sales have fallen. The UK is the largest territory in terms of performance rights distributions and total payments rose 11.5% to $220m (£138m) in 2008, according to Music & Copyright. It compiled its global figures through data from collecting societies worldwide, including PPL in the UK. The most played song was Mercy by Duffy.

The largest increase was in the US, with payments surging by 176% to $100m (£62.7m) as digital and internet radio services were licensed.

Mix all that together and toss in the now accepted monstrous myth that musicians are now unable to survive off their royalties (performance is up, and less than 1% of all acts likely survived from master copyright royalties, due to the inequities in the way the recording industry handles recoupment, despite what Bono and Lily Allen would have you believe) and have to struggle. They’ve always struggled.

So, yes, as we roll into three strikes legislation the world over, and labels moan poverty because the playing field and the rules have changed, a little sanity would perhaps be appropriate as we reflect on how well the Piracy Scam, has been sold, as I repeatedly hear people that should know better commenting on the Facebook generation that won’t, so they say, pay for music. That steals and destroys the livelihoods of those that make the music.

It’s bullshit.

And it didn’t even take a speech from Colin Powell.