Vo worked at Flying Fish before taking over the restaurant about five years ago, renaming it Geisha Sushi Bar.
“A friend of mine worked at Flying Fish, and he recommended me for a job,” Vo said. “And I just fell in love with making sushi. I love the whole process — combining ingredients, creating the presentation.”
While Geisha Sushi Bar continues to offer in-house dining, my cohort for this review — who was quite eager to try what this Geisha had to offer — was less than eager to spend any amount of time in an enclosed space that was not home. So I opted for takeaway (the service rating reflects the convenience and efficiency of this process).
We each selected two rolls and one appetizer from Geisha’s lengthy menu, which includes a variety of sushi preparations, from nigiri to makimono, salads, sashimi and soups, as well as a few classic Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
For the appetizers, we chose the egg rolls ($7.95) and the shrimp shumai ($7.95). The house-made egg rolls would be hard to improve. The filling, a mix of finely chopped chicken, cabbage and carrots generously seasoned with black pepper, was densely packed into thin wrappers that fried up light and crisp. While they came with a sweet chili sauce, these egg rolls were tasty enough on their own.
The shrimp shumai were more problematic. The six pieces in our order appeared to have been deep fried, rather than steamed, and the result was an odd flavor and texture. We had also ordered a bowl of miso soup ($2.50), which was not amongst the bags and boxes I carried away.
By the time Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was wrapping up a 10-day swing through Europe and the Middle East, he had angered Turkey’s leaders, infuriated the Palestinians and befuddled the French.
It’s a trip that seemed almost calculated to offend — and to burnish Pompeo’s conservative credentials for a possible 2024 presidential campaign. Never one for niceties of etiquette or protocol, Pompeo’s last big tour as America’s 70th secretary of state offered provocations of those who have questioned Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and Pompeo’s role as its No. 1 promoter.
Like President Trump, Pompeo refuses to publicly acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election. Nonetheless, the seven-nation journey, one of the longest he’s taken as secretary, offered evidence that Pompeo is already looking past the Trump era, chockablock as the trip was with pronouncements likely to make Biden’s life difficult and setting out a platform for his own political future.
“He’s spending his last two months in office trolling the world,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It’s an odd role for the nation’s top diplomat to be playing at a rather sensitive time.”
The trip started in Paris, where Pompeo’s first event — before seeing government officials — was a private meeting with reporters from right-wing French media, including Valeurs Actuelles. It’s a magazine that was roundly condemned as racist — and was put under preliminary investigation by a prosecutor — after printing an image that depicted a Black French lawmaker as a slave in a piece of fiction.
In Turkey, Pompeo proposed that government ministers come to him in Istanbul — they refused — where he met with the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Turkish officials called Pompeo’s statement on religious freedom in the country “extremely inappropriate,” while senior State Department officials blamed a scheduling conflict for his failure to travel to Ankara, the capital. In Georgia, Pompeo waded into that country’s election dispute, lending legitimacy to a government that has cracked down on protesters demanding a new vote.
Pompeo hit peak anti-diplomacy by visiting a winery in the Israel-occupied West Bank that once named a red blend after him — with a label that says #madeinlegality — for his pro-settlement stance. Under any previous administration, Republican or Democrat, this would have been forbidden, not least because Palestinian families still claim the land on which the winery was built.”He visited settlements, drank from the poisoned chalice, sanctioned dispossession,” the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said in an editorial on Pompeo’s last day in Israel. “These are the last days of Pompeo. How good it is that this is the case.”
Through it all, the question was — why? What was so important that it merited a trip just as France, Israel and other nations undertake new lockdowns in a desperate effort to get the coronavirus under control before Christmas?
The tour was planned well before the U.S. election, and secretaries of state routinely travel in the lame-duck period between election and inauguration. Before the trip, senior State Department officials said it had many goals: honoring the victims of terrorism in France, promoting religious freedom and discussing the diplomatic agreements between Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
A senior department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity on Sunday, rejected the idea the trip was a victory lap or aimed at furthering Pompeo’s ambitions. The official described it as important diplomacy even amid the pandemic and said the administration would pursue its policies until it’s not in office any more, whenever that might be.
But there’s never has been a situation like this, as Trump refuses to concede his re-election loss and the coronavirus in the U.S. continues to shatter records.
Two people familiar with Pompeo’s conversations said the people he met with largely avoided the issue of the U.S. elections.
Shortly before he departed the U.S., when asked at a briefing whether he was preparing for a Biden administration, he said, “I’m preparing for a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Although it appeared to be a joke, Pompeo was criticized for making light of an election crisis in his own country considering the U.S. often calls out other nations’ voting travails.
Pompeo added, “When the process is complete, there’ll be electors selected. There’s a process.”
As for the officials he met on the road, they seem already to have moved on. French President Emmanuel Macron saw Pompeo for only a few minutes, dropping in for what his office called a “courtesy visit” at the end of Pompeo’s meeting with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. French officials made sure to tell reporters the meeting had taken place at Pompeo’s request.
Throughout his travels, Pompeo avoided any opportunity for reporters to question him about the transition and Biden. He didn’t hold a news conference or a briefing. The State Department blamed coronavirus restrictions.
In fact, America’s top diplomat did virtually no public diplomacy. The only place he offered any public statements was Israel, where he commented three times.
Pompeo traveled by helicopter to a military outpost-turned-tourist stop in the Golan Heights. Near a gift shop and a sign advertising mozzarella pizza, Pompeo got a briefing from retired Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani, a former tank commander who rebuffed a Syrian attack during fighting in 1973.”It was all the rage in the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America to say that this should be returned to Syria,” Pompeo said of the Golan, without mentioning that successive prime ministers, including the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu, had held secret talks on withdrawing from the area. “Imagine, imagine with Assad in control of this place, the risk, the harm to the West and to Israel and to the people of Israel.”
Pompeo also stopped at a museum that highlights the contributions made by non-Jews to Israel over the years. It’s called Friends of Zion.
“I do see it as another Trump effort to nail down his legacy, but for ‘nail down his legacy’ you could read ‘stick a thumb in the eye of his critics,'” said Kenneth Pollack, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Pompeo may have other things in mind, particularly nailing down his own relationship with Israel for his own future prospects.”
Officials denied that Pompeo was intent on advancing policies that will become booby traps for Biden if he seeks to return to a less one-sided policy on Israel and the Palestinians.
The biggest announcement of Pompeo’s trip was that the U.S. will allow goods produced in Israeli settlements to carry a “Made in Israel” label. Moves like that will be difficult for Biden to undo, subjecting him to criticism from Republicans running for president in 2024 — perhaps including Pompeo — that he’s weak in his support of Israel.
A centerpiece of Trump’s foreign policy has been strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, so it was fitting that one of Pompeo’s last stops is Neom, the Saudi city that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is constructing in the desert as a testament to Saudi technological advancement.
“I find the trip bizarre, but I think I can explain it in terms of Pompeo’s obeisance to Trump and highlight the issues his boss has pursued,” said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Mideast official at the State Department. “It has as much to do with Pompeo’s own politics as it does with a president who is quickly fading in the rear view mirror.”
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Editor’s note: we have decided that, while restaurants remain open, we will continue to review them
Daffodil Mulligan, 70-74 City Road, London EC1Y 2BJ (020 7404 3000). Small plates £6-£14, large plates £17-£32, desserts £4-£6, wines from £23
The area around London’s Old Street roundabout tells us a lot about where we are now. For all the modish apartment blocks, their balconies stacked with top-of-the-range bikes, this is where many people come to work, or did. For now, lots of those offices remain empty. Accordingly, many of the cafés and bars that served them are still closed. Above the door of the coffee shop Shoreditch Grind, one of the few around here to have reopened, is the legend “Alexa skip to 2021”. It’s a slogan we can all get behind.
But here, on City Road, just south of the roundabout, is a pulsing sign of life. Even on a quiet weekday lunchtime, when custom is thin on the ground, everything about Daffodil Mulligan – the food, the staff, the well-spaced sunlit room with its polished concrete floors and olive-green banquettes – thrums with a certain optimism. It’s a slap on the back. It’s a splash of cold water on the cheeks. It’s a crushing bear hug of a welcome.
Daffodil Mulligan first opened last November as a side project between three Irishmen with oceans of experience in hospitality: the publican Tony Gibney who has Gibney’s of Malahide just outside Dublin, the London-based restaurateur John Nugent, and the chef and restaurateur Richard Corrigan. The name comes from a song by Harry O’Donovan and Eva Brennan about the daughter of Biddy Mulligan, a famous Dublin street seller. According to the lyric, “all the fellas” say Daffodil “is a peach and pearl”. Step in here for a bit of Dublin craic. Inadvertently, in these times, that name has another resonance, for the daffodil is a fighter; one of the first brilliant flowers to break through winter’s gloom. And here, now, is its namesake, complete with roaring grill and a menu full of hilariously huge, uncompromising flavours, standing proud, refusing to back down.
While the head chef is Simon Merrick, what defines the cooking is Corrigan’s career-long bravado. Although he has the undoubtedly fancy Corrigan’s just off Park Lane, he’s always been a pleaser and a feeder. During lockdown I was often asked where I imagined myself once everything reopened. I always said at the bar of Bentley’s, Corrigan’s seafood bistro just off Piccadilly, for the best oysters and spiced mussel soup and fish pie. It’s where I have long taken my own tattered wallet for a moderate to serious spanking.
Bentley’s was about to reopen as I visited Daffodil Mulligan, though they were already supplying it with their nutty, treacly soda bread. It arrives alongside their own churned butter the colour of, well, daffodils. This venture is a more moderately priced proposition than either Corrigan’s or Bentley’s. From the small plates, for £6, there are whorls of seashore-rich whipped cod’s roe, with taut cubes of cured salmon, dusted with dried, powdered seaweed. Salt-chilli chicken brings the very crunchiest, curled and bubbled pieces of thigh, caught somewhere between a Japanese karaage and Southern-fried with, on the side, pickled cucumber boosted with chilli. It costs £8.
From the specials board, at £7 there is celeriac, lifted from its pig-ugly origins, to something dark and deeply attractive, courtesy of a salt baking and anointing with an apple-hazelnut brown butter. There is nothing subtle about any of this food. It laughs in the face of subtlety. This is cooking determined to show you a good time, and to wear a party hat while doing so.
In truth, there is a fourth Irishman involved here. I hesitate to mention him, because I’ve mentioned him so regularly, but I don’t hesitate for that long because Peter Hannan’s meat is just so damn good. Here comes some of his famed beef, raised on Northern Irish clover and aged in a salt-lined room which may or may not be the key to its flavour. But then we all love a USP. It’s served raw as a rough chopped tartare and bound in a punchy mustard dressing. It arrives on an oyster shell, itself on a pile of ice, with a big dollop of a funky oyster-flavoured cream and a single oyster leaf. It’s steak tartare with a serious haircut and a bit of attitude.
Hannan’s beef is there on the specials as a big steak for two to share and also, for £17, as a thick-cut sugar-pit bacon rib. Hannan’s sugar-pit bacon is a wonder when simply roasted, so that the fat caramelises dark and sticky. Here, it’s also glazed with fiery gochujang, and laid on a smoked tomato purée alongside Swiss chard, because we must all be good and eat our greens. From the menu section headed “wood oven & grill” we get a thick fillet of ember-baked gurnard, lubricated with a ripe anchovy sauce, alongside bitter leaves.
This power and depth continues with the sides. Of course the cavolo nero comes with chilli and garlic. Of course the mash is topped with a bone marrow crumb. What’s remarkable is that while it’s all terribly muscular and forthright, it somehow never tips into overkill. It’s a difficult trick to pull off.
Desserts continue the come-hither joys: lime cheesecake with candied jalapeño; baked boozy apple with spiced ice-cream; soft-serve vanilla with caramel popcorn. We have space to share just a lemon meringue tart with clotted cream. It’s very pretty to look at: a dinky, tucked and curved single tart case of golden flaky pastry with a citrus-boosted filling. My only criticism is that it’s small, which means an imbalance: too much pastry to filling. I understand how this reads. I was too full for dessert and am now complaining about the meagreness of my choice. My life is full of such awful contradictions.
The booze list necessarily includes Guinness alongside beers to accompany the wines and cocktails, and downstairs is a wood-clad bar in which to drink them. At the end is a stage complete with a very nice, shiny, well-tuned piano. I know it’s tuned because I checked. Sorry. Couldn’t stop myself. The time for live music will come again. At some point we really will have skipped to 2021. In the meantime, come here to eat.
Recipe box services like Hello Fresh and Mindful Chef have inspired upmarket competition. Wild Radish, launching this month, is a raw ingredients subscription service of recipes by high-end chefs like Phil Howard, Anna Hansen and Alyn Williams, delivered London-wide for now, before rolling out. The service, costing £50 for two, launches on 12 October with ingredients for baked gurnard with casserole vegetables by Alyn Williams, and a celeriac, potato and pear gratin with wilted greens and chanterelles by Phil Howard. To sign up visit wild-radish.co.uk.
A mixed story from the restaurant world. We wave a sad goodbye to both Kym’s, the Cantonese roast meats restaurant launched by chef Andrew Wong in the City of London in 2018, and Koj, Andrew Kojima’s eponymous Japanese restaurant in Cheltenham. Both blame the closures on the Covid-19 crisis. Meanwhile, say hello to newcomer Maison Francois on Duke Street in London’s St James’s, with a menu of French classics and a doorstop of a wine list (maisonfrancois.london).
And a mark of a shift in eating habits: Europe’s first Plant-Based World Expo, a business to business event for companies and individuals working in the meat-free foods sector, will take place next April at London’s Business Design Centre. To find out more and to register visit plantbasedworldeurope.com.