About Me

Long time MCT, technical trainer and consultant. I freelance for clients big and small. Consulting and teaching my way round the world

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Tel: 07970012133

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How not to cook

Eat, sleep, work, travel, eat, sleep, work, travel. This is my life and my life is lived out of hotels. Town to town, city to city and country to country.

I do have a home, I think, well it is a place in the middle of the country where all my stuff is, including my ironing board so I guess that is home. Unlike Paul Carr in his book 'The Upgrade' I have not made the transition to a full time life living from hotels for extended periods, even though some days it would seem that would be the more financially efficient method of running with this lifestyle. With my own kitchen to cook in every night.

The kitchen would be the one luxury item I would like to travel with, yet I cannot fit it all in my bag and I don’t think bringing the sink along through an airport would help with saving money, even with an extra baggage allowance from having one world sapphire status.

'Any oversize baggage to declare sir?'

'Yes, a kitchen, including sink'

This slight inconvenience to travel plans means that I am destined to a life of dining out every evening. 'Sure'  I hear you say 'such a tragedy you have to eat fine foods every night and not have any washing up to deal with afterwards'

This though, is simply not the reality of the situation. Travel to London, Paris, Rome, Melbourne or any other major centre of population and this poses no problem to the modern nomad. Each having their own different tastes and restaurants of varying prices and flavours. When you spend enough time in one place there will be your regular haunts. I could spend and good afternoon giving a lecture on the ins and out of the London restaurant scene and still finishing with a recommendation for £3.70 salt beef beigals on brick lane over some of the restaurants that hold stars issued by the tyre man.

Yet the reality of life on the road means that you end up in places you would never normally go, or more to the point, would never voluntarily go to without being paid for it. So here we go with Wigan.

Mercure Oak Wigan. You should be ashamed. Run by the focus group, hotel management company with an impressive portfolio of mid range hotels, this is the 2nd worse meal I have ever been served and then been asked to pay for. The 1st relating to the famous muffin incident of 2013 (ever paid £4.50 for a microwaved pre-packed muffin still in its packaging?, I have. There has still never been anything to top that)

On a plus point the hotel is fine, I would not choose to stay here to relax and get away (there is the Park Plaza Westminster for that) It has all the amenities you would expect from a 3 star hotel, bar, comfyish bed, en-suite, really crappy coffee in the room to wake you up in the morning and free wifi. Yet here, the restaurant makes this hotel something special.

Its Sunday, I checked in last night. Its about 8pm and Wigan is pretty much shut. Raining and cold outside with a view from the bedroom window of council flats the only thing that could perk me up from the mood I am in from a long day is going to be a good meal and a large glass of something French or Italian. Kindle in tow and a determined stride to the hotel restaurant over the decidedly 1980's carpet and through generic hotel corridor I arrive.

Empty, its 8:30pm.

I suppose it is a Sunday, and if it was any other Sunday I would probably just be setting out from home on my way here just in time to make it before the bar closes and bed time is required. This day is different though, this Sunday to me is a Monday, I full day of work has been done and I need feeding.

'Table for one please'

'Follow me please Sir'

I am sat on the only table still made up for evening meals, every other has inverted mugs and little packets of sugar laid out ready for the breakfast rush in the morning.

'Would you like a drink sir?'

'Please, large glass of Merlot' (Watch the ol' belly, low sugar in the Merlot and all that)

'Is that the red one?' I am asked, in a very distinctive Northern accent


Well this isn’t good for a start, I don't hold much hope that what I am about to be served is Merlot, or just any old red wine pulled from the shelf. Still, without paying over the odds for wine in a hotel its all the same anyway so I shrug it off.

The menu holds no real surprises, Burgers, Steaks, curries that you know has been prepared from a packet. Generic salads and staple fish of Salmon and Cod. Pretty standard fair, time for a standard meal that hold no surprises.

'Do you know what you would like to order?' Says the short very Northern waitress while as the same time placing my wine on the table.

'Yes, can I get the Rib Eye Steak, medium rare, with a side of chips please'

'No problem, anything else sir?'

'No thanks'

I have has this dance and these same questions in 100s of restaurants and in 10s of languages all over the world always with same results.

Well 90% of the time the same results. Visit Le Relais de La Venice and a nice French waitress will inform you that will be eating the steak frittes and you will be drinking the Bordeux.

Rib Eye steak and Chips should be a safe bet in any new place, a blind monkey would be able to take a decent slab of meat, whack it in a pan for a predetermined amount of time each side and serve it with a small side salad and chips without too much mess of the operation.

Yet not here, not in the Mercure Oak Hotel Wigan managed by Focus hotels group. Whomever is behind the mystery door to the kitchen is a special type of monkey. One who cares not for his/her customers and seems to have no sense of taste beyond that for black pepper.

We know what we should expect, pink in the middle, nice marbling of fat and that satisfying taste of cow. What I get though is different.

What happened here? Where is rest of my steak? Was this sat on? no, was this driven over?

What is on my plate truly cannot be the rib eye cut I have requested can it. Yet to my dismay it is.

Here goes nothing.

First bite and I’m pretty sure this isn’t cow. This is just one slab of black pepper that looks like cow. So much black pepper it masks any taste that might have been there. The texture, there is no satisfying soft flesh to be had here. Oh no, this steak has been dried to the point that you might classify it as jerky. Powdery too. Like a dry chewy powdery leather. The cheapest meat that could ever be found from the asda smart price specials that has been demoted to the discounted area and discounted to within a range that a citizen of North Korea could buy an annual supply with a weeks pay.

My god this is crap. I don't have the vocabulary to describe the distain and disappointment I am now feeling. Fuck it, I'm hungry. So I chew and I eat and I consume not for pleasure but to satisfy the hunger pangs build up from the day to that point.

I do like to make a point of not complaining about my food when I know I may have to eat here again out of desperation and do not wish my food to receive some special treatment after I chew out the chef as well as the food that is served on my place.

It does get worse though.

Desert I keep it simple, maybe they are bought in by an external company and I don’t have to have the same person preparing this part of my meal so I shoot for the creme brûlée.

Crisp melted sugar top coating, creamy vanilla underbelly, just enough structure to hold on the spoon while melting into ecstasy in the mouth. That is what I expect, that is not what I am about to receive.

Burnt Cream, its in the name. Ever had a creme brûlée without the brûlée? This was just that, brown sugar sprinkled ever so sparingly over the top with a small mountain of fruit compote added on top for good measure. The cream, and vanilla, well the cream anyway. There is no vanilla. The 2 basic components of a creme brûlée are missing. How is it possible to deliver this to a plate and expect payment?

Food is a part of everyones life and should be available not only in the quantities needed to survive but should be available as a basic form of pleasure. Food has the power to turn a day around and change a mood. It has the potential to form emotion and mark a memory into place. We all have a truly memorable meal, whether is was a fine dining shirt and tie dress up with Foe Grais and vintage wines or the most perfect sausage and egg sandwich from a greasy spoon. The price and the type of food is not where the memories come from but the quality in preparation and expertise in the effort placed into the food by the work of the chef is where the pleasure lies.

To a person who is preparing food for others, the other person does not matter. They could be the queen or they could be another no name one of many members of the general public. When that person will refuse to serve something as simple as a fried sausage without putting the time into making sure it is prepared in a way that will maximise taste, pleasure and flavour. Not for the person that is to consume it, but to know they have performed justice to the product they are creating. That they have worked for perfection even within the most simple of tasks.

Then that person is a chef.

There is not a chef in the kitchen of the Mercure Oak Hotel Wigan.


Traveling to London for Business and Serviced Apartments


A city that is not a city, London, has in the past, been compared, not to other sprawling metropolis like New York or Hong Kong, but to a collection of villages that have slowly molded together over the years. I believe this label, for such a diverse and exciting city, is more than accurate. The West/East, North/South divide slices the city into large component parts. The city then finds itself subdivided, filtered by the people who live there, the restaurants you eat at, the tipple you’re most partial to and the job you commute to. A city where you can walk around, taking any turn that grabs your fancy, and find yourself in anything, from a second hand book shop, to an al fresco movie showing attended by viewers sitting in inflatable hot hubs (the latter, surprisingly, happens quite often).

         Anyone who as met me in my personal or professional life knows that I spend most of my time on the road, flying around Europe and bouncing between various cities in the UK. Invariably work takes me to London, so much so that now I don’t see myself as a tourist but as more of a semi-resident. I have my bars and my hangouts. My favorite places to eat, places to take a walk and my favorite book shops. I can tell you how to hunt down the best coffee, have zone 1 and 2 of the tube map seared into the back of my brain allowing me, like any good Londoner, to stumble back home after one too many refreshments through the rabbit’s warren that is the tube (often resulting in waking in the morning not quite knowing how I got back).

Yet where is back? Where is home in London when I’m here? London is the only city I spend a lot of time in where I don’t stay in hotels. It just does not make sense anymore. Hotels in London during the week, well, any hotels that a regular business traveler would want to stay in, can run to £200+ a night for a central location.

What do you get for this? Admittedly, sometimes, quite a bit, there are some fantastic places to stay. However, there is a better option.

         In nearly two years of bouncing in and out of this city I have been staying in serviced apartments. In fact, I write this from one now. I’m sitting on the sofa on the 12th floor of Discovery Dock East in Canary Wharf looking out onto an amazing view over the south of London. I have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a balcony, full kitchen, internet access and in the basement, a swimming pool and gym. Yes, that’s a swimming pool and gym in an apartment block a two minute walk from Canary Warf tube station.

What is this costing?

A heck of a lot less than the equivalent hotel, that’s for sure. This is only one of the many villages of London though, it’s my little village. I like the towers and I like the quiet. It feels like home for me and more of a 21st century town than anywhere else in the UK. What if you want something else? Chic Mayfair maybe? Perhaps the seat of power in the middle of the City Of London or, perchance, some night time pleasures up in Shoreditch? I know someone who will have it covered.


         Protem apartments (0845 519 7956) are the guys I have used now for the past two years. Sure, they have a great website for browsing around the many (and I really do mean many) apartments in the capital. But, I take great pleasure in telling people I have an ‘apartment guy’ in my phone, on call for all my London business residency needs. This, I find, is the best thing about having Protem in my phonebook and online. I no longer have to think about where to stay and to have to struggle to find the best hotel deals. With so many hotels in this city to stay and so many websites promoting them, how do you really know if you are getting the best deal? Booking.com, Hotels.com, Laterooms.com and many, many, more. If you want the best deal, booking a hotel is not an easy feat. 

It now takes me less than five minutes to complete the whole process. I just shoot off an e-mail with the dates I need to my apartment people at Protem and they sort out the rest; providing easy credit card booking and nicely formatted directions to where ever I end up staying.  There’s also the advantage of late night check-ins with many of the apartments (which I cannot say the same for some hotels). Quite simply, all I need to do is tell them my budget and where I want to stay. Absolute magic!

         Plus, when you have your own place for a week or two, rather than a hotel room you can cook J and actually invite people over for a drink and a film. Asking any of your friends to come back to your little - and it will be in London, unless you want to pay through the nose - hotel room is just plain creepy.

         So put away the Hilton rewards card and the Club Carlson member’s card and give Protem a call next time you come down to the big smoke or drop them an e-mail for what you are looking for . Tell them Mike sent you, they will look after you. I promise you won’t go back to a pokey hotel room when you can have a place like this for less money and less stress.