Posted by Yannis Lionis on 10 May 2014 | Tagged as: Software

Let me set this out from the beginning: I think it is a formidable strength for any industry or craft to constantly challenge perceived wisdom, and not be afraid to tear down any taboos.

Now let me tell you a story.

Several years ago, there was a book written by some influential people in the world of software design about OO programming design patterns. It included many of them, with explanation of why they’re the appropriate solution for certain problems and examples to go with it. One of them was the Singleton pattern.

Years later, it started to get highlighted as an anti-pattern instead, again by several influential people (Steve Yegge’s post on it is funny and insightful as always). Even more examples of inappropriate uses were quoted, with many people going as far as declaring it has no valid uses whatsoever. Singleton pattern is dead.

Is it really so? Is it possible that the clever, experienced and influential software craftsmen that came up with it in the first place were so wrong that the pattern has absolutely no valid uses? That we were all so deluded by their beautiful rhetoric and used it in a multitude of situations, none of which were valid? That they were simply 100% wrong, but with the benefit of hindsight they’re 100% right now?

I’m finding it hard to believe that. I’m finding it much easier to believe that a lot of misuse of that design pattern emerged, leading to its disrepute. I’m very happy to accept that many - or even all - of the times that I used it personally were such misuses. I’m happy to accept that 99% of the time it was used, it was in the wrong way and led to bad design. But I’m finding it hard to believe that a design pattern that was once widely accepted as valid (by much cleverer people than me) is in fact completely invalid.

Here’s the other story, more recent this one.

TDD has been widely accepted as a Good Thing. One of its advertised benefits is that it encourages good design of your code. Yet here are now some influential software craftsmen declaring its death - with one of the reasons quoted that it actually encourages bad code design. TDD is dead.

And my reaction remains the same. Surely it can’t be a completely destructive practice? Surely it may be the case that TDD should be done some of the time rather than all the time, is some situations rather than all, rather than declared a Bad Thing? Could we all really have been that deluded all along?

Your (and my) feelings on the Singleton pattern and TDD aside, this feels a lot like following fashion. Let me reiterate, I think it’s a brilliant thing to question current wisdom and evolve good practices in our - and any - profession. But this pattern (pardon the pun) feels more like a new book, blog, manifesto, or what have you, gains prominence, the majority of the industry follows it as gospel, and when it’s been followed in anger and is proven not quite so perfect, the majority of the industry abandons it for the Next Big Thing (and the minority that never followed it in the first place help themselves to a massive serving of I-told-you-so). Even Steve Yegge’s post, after very aptly and entertainingly bashing the Singleton pattern to the ground, hints at just that: that there are a few valid uses for it, but there are so many misuses that it’s better to declare it evil.

My point is that I would much prefer to see an open-minded examination and trial of the Next Big Thing (as is fortunately happening to some extent). And when it is shown in time to have some weaknesses as well as merits, to evolve, iterate, or selectively use it where it is proven to be useful. Much better to do that than to move it from the pile of Good Things to the pile of Bad Things, as if the majority of the software professionals are not intelligent enough to understand the nuances of where to use it and where not to.

And if that’s actually true about the majority of software professionals, then that’s the problem that needs fixing.

Electric Diner @ Portobello Road

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 03 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Electric cinema and brasserie suffered a fire a few months ago and the owners seized the opportunity to re-invent the restaurant as well as refurbish the entire premises. So instead of the brasserie we now got the Electric Diner.

The Diner certainly looks like one, with red comfy booths as well as seats at the bar. The latter ones have the added benefit of watching the chefs at work, as everything is prepared right in front of you - as good as entertainment as you could hope for. There are no reservations and the place is busy, but there are plenty of places in the area to have a drink at after putting your name down for a table.

The food on offer doesn’t so much remind of a diner, apart from being no-fuss, laid back indulgence. But the cooking and the taste of it was spot on. In fact, every bit of the ingredients assembled on our plates was amazing in its own right. The steak was bursting with flavour and cooked to perfection (on the charcoal open fire right in front of us as it happens), the chips that came with it were crunchy and tasty and the bearnaise brilliant. The chicken with garlic jus was juicy, flavoursome and came with a charcoal-grilled scent that gave it an extra kick. We opted for a salad with our mains instead of starters - and what a salad it was. I don’t believe I’ve ever raved about salads on this blog, but this raw vegetable, apple, blue cheese and walnuts was absolutely amazing. Filled with juicy veg (not all of which are usually served raw - beatroot for example) with mouthwatering dressing and seasoning, the blue cheese and walnuts were almost a distraction. It might just be the best salad I’ve ever been served.

Seating at the bar allowed us to watch as other dishes were being prepared and making us want to come back for more. Wine and drinks selection was good and the stuff easy-going but efficient.

Overall, a gem of a place, can’t wait to go back. Even if you’re not combining it with a visit to the cinema next door (and you should, there’s super-comfy armchairs and sofas - plus donuts!) it’s a must, can’t recommend it enough!

Hawksmoor @ Piccadilly

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 10 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Having visited a Hawksmoor sister restaurant at Seven Dials, we expected nothing but meaty indulgent excellence. And we were not disappointed. 

This Hawksmoor actually does fish as well as meat, and our starters of smoked salmon and some very tasty scallops did not disappoint. But the main attraction remains the beef. Apart from the usual cuts, there are a few more to choose from (like chateaubriand and porterhouse to name a couple). Our safe choice of fillet and ribeye was mouthwatering - grilled and seasoned to perfection. Some spot-on crunchy chips, smokey grilled mushrooms and incredibly creamy spinach accompanied our meat wonderfully. Should you be brave enough to face desert afterwards, the sticky toffee pudding and the imaginative Jaffa cake desert were excellent. 

Other than the food, staff were very efficient and friendly and the wine list has something for everyone without being the size of an encyclopaedia. The restaurant has a sophisticated British feel to it creating a lovely ambience, and the fact that it was mostly full on the first Monday of the year, officially the most dull day of the calendar, was telling of its popularity. 

In short, if you like meat at all, you need to visit one of the Hawksmoor restaurants!

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 21 Jul 2012 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester has everything you would expect from a Michelin star restaurant: inventive and delicious food, attentive service and beautiful relaxed ambience.

Service was competent throughout, apart from the slightly inexperienced and obviously nervous waiter at the bar before dinner, who recovered well regardless. Staff didn’t bat an eyelid on our request to change tables, which was executed immediately and seamlessly and they never missed a chance to wish us a happy anniversary, information which they asked for on their own initiative after we’d booked.

The food was everything you could hope for. The amuse bouche, a take on Greek salad, looked nothing like it (tomato jelly with cucumber and yoghurt gems on top) but tasted surprisingly similar. Starters of foie gras with pickled vegetables and heritage tomato tart was tasty and light (even the fooe gras was on the delicate side rather than overpowering). The mains were the highlight: the halibut fillet with toasted almonds on a bed of peas was the most flavoursome fish I’ve tasted  in a while (and I’m not a fish fan),  and a pork rib and pork belly with black pudding and apple sauce main was succulent and tender and delivered fantastic flavour, while also being of surprisingly large sized for a fine dining restaurant (not that there was any left at the end). Deserts were a suitably impressive finish, with some delicious macaroons and chocolates arriving to bridge the gap. The raspberry soufflé was oozing with fruity flavour and the rum baba, which came with a choice of 5 rums and whipping cream on the side, was powerful but not too heavy. A chocolate biscuit desert added as a treat for our anniversary was also delicious. We had to take the macaroons and chocolates in a small bag to take home, which appeared to be a popular practice with other guests as well.

The wine list is extensive, mostly French of course but with some additions from the rest of the world, and there are sufficient options at reasonable prices.

Overall, the restaurant delivered on every front and was a perfect place to celebrate a special occasion - with a price tag to match of course.

The Savoy Grill

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 12 Feb 2012 | Tagged as: Restaurants

It took a lot of time and money to refurbish the Savoy, but based on our visit it looks like they did an amazing job. The hotel exudes old British luxury. The gold decorations, the displays of old china and crystal used in the hotel in the past, the luscious furnishings, all give out a luxuriously pampering feel.

The downstairs bar is a dark and moody affair, decorated in black and gold with very low lighting. There is a piano and on our Saturday night visit there was a jazz singer belting out old classics. A long list of imaginative cocktails were on offer, as well as some champagne from small growers and wine makers. All in all, a very pleasant environment to start your evening before proceeding to dinner.

And what a dinner it was. The Savoy Grill, a Gordon Ramsay establishment, did not disappoint us in any way. Our scallops were fresh and meaty, served in their shell with cauliflower, while the foie gras terrine was surprisingly mild and smooth, and the glass of Sauternes wine that the waiter suggested would go well with it made for an explosive combination. And then of course there is the meat. There is a satisfactory selection of different beef cuts, a couple of options of bigger cuts for two and several options for other meats and fish, overall a very comprehensive menu (if you’re not a vegetarian that is). The meat is grilled over a coal and wood fire, and you can taste that in each bite. The fillet was served unusually on the bone and was lovely and tender and a porterhouse steak with marrow bone sauce was juicy and powerful. This was complimented by an outstanding Rioja from the not particularly long but exceptionally varied wine list. The deserts were mercifully light - the baked Alaska with passion fruit delivered a bit of theatre to the table along with the sharp fruitiness and the pistachio souffle was luscious. Service is as professional and competent as you would expect, while also being friendly.

All in all, this is an excellent destination for drinks and dinner if you feel like splashing out a bit, and its history makes it that extra bit special.

A little story

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 01 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: General

Let me tell you a little story.

Last Christmas we were trying to choose a restaurant for our team Christmas do at work. We had a few ideas going around: Japanese, French, Italian, Mexican. After talking about them we decide it to put it to a vote in order to choose which one, but postponed the vote until a couple of team members were back from vacation.

Now, when the Christmas do is approaching, that’s mostly all you can talk about and people were expressing their preferences. Some people had a first and second favourite, some people had a particular favourite that they really wanted and didn’t care about the rest, some people passionately disliked one of the choices (not everyone fancies sushi for their Christmas meal!). The poor guy organising the vote started to get bombarded with all sorts of requests to change the voting system to accommodate all these preferences. Someone wanted to have a preference order on all options, someone didn’t want to have to do that but was happy with a first and second option and someone else wanted to be able to put a negative vote on the option he really hated as well as the positive one for the one he really wanted.

So we settled in the end to put a preference order on the 4 options. We would count the votes, take out the least preferred option, recount with the second preferences for those votes, and so on until there was a majority for a restaurant.

Now a couple of people realised that this would make it harder for them to get their choice. The Japanese fans were probably more likely to get their way if all the ones really wanting to avoid Japanese were split amongst other restaurants. A couple of them muttered something about it not being worth the effort and time to do a complicated vote like that. But for the most part it was obvious to everyone that this way we would choose what made most people most happy, and everyone was fine with that state of things. And the Christmas do was loads of fun.

Just something to think about ahead of the AV referendum.

Portobello Organic Kitchen @ Portobello Road

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 16 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Restaurants

What nice little gem of a restaurant this is. Portobello Organic Kitchen, as the name implies, uses only organic ingredients to prepare its dishes, and there are a couple of organic wines as well. I don’t know if it’s the organic ingredients or the chef’s skill, but the food tastes fantastic. The place is small, making it quite intimate, and the staff are extremely friendly, making you feel like you’re a visitor in their living room.

We popped in for a quick meal before our film at the Electric Cinema nearby (comfy armchairs, footrest, bar at the back, well worth the cost by the way) and only had time for mains, but they were great; the pork belly with braised cabbage and celeriac puree was perfectly balanced and full of flavour (the braised cabbage was without a doubt the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not even much of a fan of it), while the roasted chicken breast with porcini mushroom risotto was fresh and tasty, with succulent meat and the risotto packing a punch. Our side of mixed salad was also good and very fresh.

This place serves beautiful food in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and the fact that it’s all organic makes it all the better (probably partly why it tastes so good!). I can’t wait to be back for the full three course meal.

Mennula @ Charlotte Street

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 08 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Mennula is an Italian restaurant with Sicilian roots, located in Charlotte Street just north of Oxford Street, a street brimming with restaurants and bars. It recently featured on TV (Gordon Ramsay’s best UK restaurants or something along those lines) and seemed to produce great food, so we thought we should pay them a visit.

And great food it was. The evening started with an unimpressive bread selection, which on the other hand was served with excellent Italian olive oil, while the starters of scallops with pancetta and lentils and buffalo mozarella with aubergine caviar and grilled courgettes were fresh tasting and mouthwatering. The mains were the highlight: a lamb shank with root vegetable puree and balsamic sauce was tender and packed full of strong flavours and the beef with mushrooms, winter truffle and celeriac mash was a great combination while still allowing the beef to shine through.

The deserts turned out to be the chef’s chance to display excellent customer service. While the chocolate cake with pistachio semi-fredo was the chocolate punch we expected, the traditional Sicilian cannoli (pastry filled with sweet ewe’s cheese) came out tasting not at all sweet, almost salty. However, the chef (who was in and out of the kitchen chatting to patrons often) noticed me shaking my head on the first bite of it, went to the kitchen, tried the filling himself and came out to apologise for it and to offer to bring me another one prepared just right! The second one really did taste much better and the chef’s effort was well appreciated.

Service on the whole was friendly if a little slow, the waiters seemed a bit rushed with a full house. The only other complaint would be the cramped space, as the place is quite small, resulting in small tables, uncomfortable sofas and feeling slightly crowded.

Overall, this restaurant has great food and a genuine desire to ensure customers leave fully satisfied. A more comfortable venue would probably make it that bit better for both customers and staff.

The Wolseley @ Piccadilly

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 12 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Wolseley, being a bit of an icon amongst London restaurants, made for a perfect special occasion Sunday lunch. The elegant environment, smartly dressed staff and being full to the brim made for a very buzzing atmosphere - yet intimate and cosy with its brasserie-style decoration (well, it is one) and the impressive building features.

The food choices were the ones you’d expect at a brasserie, and well executed. Our steak frittes was spot on and the 7 hour lamb bursting with taste, while the starters of chicken soup with dumplings and polenta cream with gorgonzola and mushrooms were tasty, if perhaps not particularly exciting. The meal ended on a high with a moreish vanilla cheesecake, reminiscent of the kind you’d find in a New York deli, and a gorgeous crème brûlée.

The wine list has reasonable choices by the glass, and good ones if our Pinot Blanc from Alsace was anything to go by. Service was friendly and competent, but tended to be on the slow side, which perhaps can be forgiven since the place was full.

Overall, this is a good restaurant to have a bit of a treat in, with afternoon tea and brunch looking like equally attractive options on the menu. Be sure to book in advance.

Tom’s Kitchen @ Chelsea

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 17 May 2010 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Tom’s Kitchen is Tom Aikens’ casual eaterie, round the corner from his fine dining restaurant. With a variety of brunch options (such as English breakfast or pancakes) to pub lunch favourites (fish and chips, sausage and mash, pies), there’s always something good to choose for a lazy Saturday or Sunday meal.

We opted for the fish and chips on our visit and were impressed with the result. The batter was delicious, the fish tender and flavoursome, the tartar souce thick, sharp and tangy and the chunky chips perfect. Attention to detail was evident with a very tasty and well seasoned salad accompannying the fish and homemade mayonnaise and ketchup for the chips. There is also a decent selection of wines as well as a single stout on drought.

I believe it might just be the best fish and chips I’ve ever had - mind you, at £19.50, it’s also the most expensive one. The brunch ordered by others also looked delicious, and we will definitely be back to try it.

If this is what Tom’s casual cooking tastes like, I can’t wait to try the fine dining version.

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