Burgers and the Parthenon

THE HARD ROCK CAFÉ at 150 Old Park Lane in central London opened its doors to customers in June 1971. It has been a popular eatery and tourist attraction ever since then. Often, a queue of hungry customers can be seen at its doors. I ate an enjoyable meal there once soon after it opened. I was then an undergraduate at University College London. Since then, I have not entered this place again. Some years ago, when the Hard Rock Café opened a branch in what had been the Tract and Bible Society bookstore in St Marks Road in Bangalore (India) in 2007, we had an indifferent meal there under the watchful eyes of a huge poster portrait of the singer Tina Turner.

Few of the customers of the Old Park Lane branch of this American-style diner in Old Park Lane are likely to have raised their heads to see what is above the eatery. It is worth doing so to see the:

“Bracketed cornice over 5th floor, shaped gable end to attic storeys finished off by giant broken segmental pediment with green brick banding and figure sculpture crowned by ornamental obelisk-finial.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1266274).

This green (and white brick) banding gives the building an eye-catching appearance. There is a crest between the two large bow windows on the fourth (American fifth) floor. This shield with three chevrons and ten circles bears the date ‘1907’.

The building, 149-150 Old Park Lane, was built in 1904 to the designs of the architects Thomas Edward Colcutt (1840-1924) and Stanley Hamp (1877-1968), who worked together as a partnership.  So far, so good, but what was the building used for when it was built and why did it deserve such an elaborate and unusual pediment? Various descriptions of its architecture describe that it consists of ‘flats and chambers’ above ‘a former showroom, now restaurant’. One source (www.foodepedia.co.uk/restaurant-reviews/2010/nov/hard_rock_cafe.htm) states that the Hard Rock is situated inside a former Rolls Royce showroom. This is confirmed by Anthony Knight, who wrote (on a restaurant development website):

“Two shaggy-haired Americans living in London were fed up with the fact they couldn’t find US-style burgers in the capital so they started a small burger joint in a Rolls-Royce dealership. In 1973 they hosted their first live gig, with the singer none other than Paul McCartney” (www.elliottsagency.com/opinion/greateststories/).

The brand name ‘Rolls Royce’ has been used since 1906. The building at 150 Old Park Lane was constructed two years earlier. I have not been able to ascertain when the luxury car company first opened their show room in the current premises of Hard Rock Café.

Looking up at the pediment, there is a sculpture of a kneeling muscular man supporting a sort of obelisk on which there are interlinked letters, which look like ‘D’, ‘J’, and lower-case ‘l’. What this stands for remains a mystery to me. However, the crest mentioned above, is identical to that on the coat-of-arms of the city of Gloucester (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol4/pp368-371). This is appropriate as the building is known as ‘Gloucester House’.

The building housing the Hard Rock Café is not the first edifice on this plot to have been named ‘Gloucester House’. According to the authoritative book edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, “The London Encyclopaedia”, the first Gloucester House, which like the present burger joint was located on the west corner of Old Park Lane and Piccadilly, was constructed in the early years of the reign of King George III (he was on the throne from 1760 to 1820). It was in this building that Lord Elgin (1766-1841) first exhibited the marble fragments that he had removed from the Parthenon in Athens. They were displayed here, where today burgers and milkshakes are consumed, before he sold the marbles to the nation in 1816. That year, Gloucester House was purchased by William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester (1776-1834), who despite being nicknamed ‘Silly Billy’ became Chancellor of Cambridge University. The last owner of the house was George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge, who died in 1904. Soon after his death, the old house was demolished. It seems that its successor, the present Gloucester House, was built almost as soon as the old one was demolished.

In 1850, when the old Gloucester House was still in existence, Peter Cunningham wrote in his “Handbook of London” (published in 1850):

“At the Duchess of Gloucester’s, at the corner of Park-Lane, once Lord Elgin’s, and where the Elgin Marbles were placed on their first arrival in this country, is a very beautiful carpet in sixty squares, worked by sixty of the principal ladies among the aristocracy.”

At that time, William Frederick’s widow, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776-1857), who was born in Buckingham Palace, was residing at the house. After her death, the house was sold to its last owner.

It occurred to me that quite accidentally the Hard Rock Café with its main entrance on Piccadilly is aptly named given that it is located where some ‘rocks’ that occasionally give the British Government a hard time, The Elgin Marbles, were once housed.  What gives the precious ancient marbles a sort of hardness is that from time to time the Greek Government wants to have them back in Athens. So, next time you bite into a burger at Hard Rock in Gloucester House, spare a thought for the Greeks who have lost their marbles.

Veggie burgers and other creatures

veggie

The popularity of vegetarianism and its relative veganism has greatly increased in the western world in recent years, and is still increasing. Popular reasons for abandoning the consumption of meat and/or products derived from animals (e.g. milk and eggs) include seemingly virtuous reasons such as love of animals and a desire to protect the world’s climate.

On the 23rd of July 1939, one world-famous vegetarian wrote a letter to another equally well-known vegetarian. Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler. Here it is in a much abbreviated form (from: https://www.mkgandhi.org/letters/hitler_ltr1.htm):

DEAR FRIEND,
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes.

… We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness

… I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice

You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? …

I am,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. GANDHI
The letter never reached Hitler; it was intercepted by the British in India.

I have no idea what the monster Adolf Hitler had to say about vegetarianism, but the saintly and peace-loving Gandhi wrote much about his abstinence from meat. For example, in 1932 he wrote:

I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to
kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. The beautiful lines
of Goldsmith occurs to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:

‘No flocks that range the valley free
To slaughter I condemn;
Taught by the Power that pities me
I learn to pity them’

(see: https://www.mkgandhi.org/ebks/moralbasis_vegetarianism.pdf)

And at another time:

“It is very significant that some of the most thoughtful and cultured men are partisans of a pure vegetable diet.”“.

Maybe, he was thinking of the man of culture, Bernard Shaw, rather than Adolf Hitler!

Returning to the present day and the increasing appetite for meatless and dairy-free food, let us consider the current desire for vegetarian products to resemble meat products. Supermarket shelves are filling up with veggie burgers, meatless steaks, meatless meat balls, meatless shawarma, and many other products made to resemble meat without containing it. Recently, I was in a Chinese restaurant, which offered diners vegetarian chicken and vegetarian duck dishes. This yearning for vegetarian products to be named like and to look like meat products is absurd,

There are plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes that are not made to resemble foods that usually contain meat. Middle-Eastern and Turkish cuisine, for example, offer vegetarian eaters delights such as: humous, fattoush, Imam Bayildi, Mutabbel (an aubergine dish), falaffel, stuffed peppers,etc. Even the French, who until recently have not been overly attracted to vegetarianism, have a traditional dish perfect for vegetarians: ratatouille. As for Indian cuisine, there is a plethora of dishes that are vegetarian and do not try to appear like meat. In India, the land where Gandhi was born, vegetarianism is a way of life, rather than a changed lifestyle, for hundreds of millions of people. This has been the case in India for many millennia.

To conclude, what I am trying to say is that if you wish to abandon eating meat for whatever reason, then you might as well abandon the desire to eat things that look like meat, but are not. If you are adopting vegetarianism, then enjoy meatless dishes for their own sake, not because they remind you of meat! Bon apetit!

Picture source: tesco.com

Burgers

Everyone, who eats them, can reccommend a place that serves the very best beef burgers. Naturally, most people have their own favourites. So, it would seem that there are many places that serve the ‘very best burgers’.  I havetried a few of these highly reccommended places and have with one exception (Gourmet Burger Kitchen – a chain that originated in New Zealand) been disappointed. Most ‘very best burgers’ turn out to be ok (usually) but an anti-climax (mostly).

Now, I am going to seem very conceited. That is because I believe that I make the ‘very best burgers’ myself in our home, and so should you. My recipe is dead simple. I take minced beef with a lowish fat content (10% or less), add a pinch of salt and a small spoon of oil (sunflower or olive) and, after washing my hands, mush the three ingredients together before hand shaping patties of the  sizes preferred by those who will eat them. Then, I cook them on a griddle. That’s all. No egg or breadcrumbs are added.  Try this for yourself and you will no longer be wasting your money on overpriced, mediochre burgers.

 

ham burger with vegetables

 

A patty of minced beef 

Mould-ed by hand

Enjoy burger perfection

 

 

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Green and wet

The heart of Central Europe_800

 

As a child and teenager, I did not like gherkins (pickled cucumbers). My parents ate them, but refused to buy them if they were made behind the Iron Curtain, for example in  Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland. They would only by jars of these green, wet vegetables if they were made in Western Europe, say in West Germany or Holland. You may well wonder why my parents were so fussy about the origin of their gherkins. The answer is simple. They were unwilling to buy anything from Soviet-dominated parts of the world because they felt, rightly or wrongly, that every penny they paid for goods from these areas would help the Soviet Union pay for yet another atomic bomb or some other military equipment that could be used against the West.

I did not worry me where my parent’s gherkins were grown and bottled, as I did not eat them. This was true until the late 1970s when McDonalds opened a branch of their hamburger restaurant chain in London’s Haymarket.

At first, I felt that I was too superior to enter a McDonalds, and developed an irrational prejudice against the company. Eventually, some friends decided to eat at the Haymarket branch andas I was with them and also a little curious about McDonalds, I joined them. I cannot recall which burger I ordered, but whatever it was, it contained slices of gherkin. I did not remove the gherkin as I might have done had I been served it a few years earlier. I bit into the burger and realised that it was the gherkin that made the rest of the burger sandwich delicious. From that moment onwards, I have become a gherkin afficionado.

I am happy eating gherkins anywhere. However, some of the nicest gherkins that I have found are those often served in fish and chips shops. These large, very tasty specimens often come Holland. Served from large glass jars, these gherkins are often known as ‘wallys’ (pronounced ‘wollees’) in London and South-East England.

Finally, here is something that you might not know about gherkins. The south of India, which I visit often, hasbeen a major producer and exporter of gherkins since the early 1990s. The soil condition in that region are perfect for growing the cucumbers that will be pickled. For more information, see: http://igea.in/.  Had these been around in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I wonder whether my parents would have bought them.