Cook night :)

7 10 2011

Tonight’s subtitled feast : Let’s make moussaka.

Groundhog Day

20 06 2009

I am deaf and to assist me, I chose to have a hearing dog. A hearing dog is classified as a registered assistance dog with Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK), whereby hearing dogs should be afforded the same access to public places as guide dogs. With the DDA now in place, service providers need to show they are compliant with the regulations. But are they complying, or merely paying lip service?

I went into a large local supermarket with my hearing dog Smudge. It’s not my favourite store, but it’s on my way to work and handy to pop in to. As always, my dog was wearing his official purple working coat which specifically states “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” in bright white lettering on the side, and a white ADUK logo on the top. You can’t miss the dog (he’s beautiful!) and you can’t miss the coat either.

Whilst I was shopping, a store assistant approached me, and told me that dogs were not allowed in the store. I explained to him that my dog is a “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” which is a registered assistance dog like guide dogs for blind people. He enables me to get around more safely. The assistant did not believe my explanation and insisted that I leave the store. I requested to speak with the manager and he referred me to one of his colleagues (who, obviously, was not the manager). He also told me to leave. I explained again, that my dog is not a pet, but an assistance dog. I once again requested to speak with the manager.

This second person took me to another person, who turned out to be the security officer! The security officer ordered me to go outside. I refused and explained yet again that my dog is an assistance dog and deserves the same treatment that applies to guide dogs for the blind, and that they are allowed by law into all food stores in the UK. He would not listen. I requested, yet again, to speak to the manager.

I was taken to this lady who turned out to be, from what I could gather, the Customer Services Supervisor. I explained again about my dog. I produced the official identity cards which I hold for my dog: one certifying that he is a trained hearing dog, and one from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People with a statement from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers which says,

Hearing Dogs are allowed entry to restaurants, supermarkets and other food premises. Their very special training means they are not a risk to hygiene in such premises.

I showed these cards to her and she obviously had not a dippy clue about access rights for assistance dogs and did not believe me. I requested that she contact Asda Head Office and confirm my rights and the appropriate treatment of my assistance dog. In the meantime, all the other staff involved were standing there and staring at me and even laughing at me. It was horrible treatment which was extremely offensive. I had done nothing wrong, except to be unfortunate enough to have a disability!

This lady returned after making her phone call and confirmed that my hearing dog was allowed into the store, and I was allowed to continue with my shopping, albeit very unhappy with the contemptible treatment I had received.

Is it my responsibility to train their staff in diversity awareness? No. It is their responsibility as a service provider to have equality and diversity procedures and policies implemented across the company, and to ensure that members of staff at all levels comply with requirements at all times. I had gone into this particular store in January (without my hearing dog) and spoken to the floor supervisor about disability access, and explained the situation. She had assured me that she would inform all staff and at my next visit – with my dog – she came up to me and informed me she had told all the staff. Unfortunately, she seems to have missed out on at least the Customer Services Supervisor, the Security Officer and two members of staff.

So I wrote to Asda’s CEO and Diversity Manager, and told them what had happened. I told them that I felt aggrieved and very upset at such discrimination against me, for reasons relating to my disability. That I did not want to encounter any further barriers preventing me from having full access to all goods, facilities and services on offer. That it is unacceptable for restrictions to be placed upon me due to the attitudinal barriers on the part of staff who are dealing with me.

Did you know?

  • Under the DDA it is unlawful for a person with a disability to be discriminated against, or treated less favourably, because of their disability.
  • The Act requires all employers and service providers covered by the DDA to take steps in applying reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.
  • The Act requires that people providing goods, services or facilities, and owners and managers of premises, should comply with the requirements.
  • In addition, the Act includes an anticipatory duty on providers. They should work with disabled people to explore what reasonable adjustments can be implemented.

I had no reply from Asda.

Two months later, I went into the store again, accompanied by my hearing dog, wearing his working coat. I did my shopping and as I was about to leave the store, a security guard approached me and told me dogs were not allowed on the premises. I requested his name and he refused to give it to me. Eventually, one of the assistants gave me his name. I was apologised to by staff and told that it would not be a problem to bring my hearing dog into the store if he wore his coat when he came in.

Can you believe this?!!

I explained that he does wear his coat every time he comes into the shop and that despite this, I have been stopped on numerous occasions. I was then told that the security guard had seen the dog but did not see the coat. Huh! I was so annoyed, an assistant came over to me and tried to give me a bunch of flowers and apologise. I don’t want apologies or sodding flowers, I want things to be PUT RIGHT.

I fail to understand why someone can’t see a hearing dog’s coat as the coat is almost the same size as the dog and clearly visible, it has a white assistance dogs logo on the top, and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People written in large white letters on the coat. Am I expected to explain to staff that I can’t hear and the reason for the assistance dog every time I come into an Asda store? Am I expected to walk around with a placard explaining why I’ve got a dog with me in a food store? Or hand out flyers? As a disability awareness trainer, I’d be very interested to know of the current ways of training staff that companies utilise these days, as I seem to be completely out of touch.

Clearly, no action had been taken since I wrote to Asda so I wrote to the CEO and the Diversity Manager again. This time, it was a much longer letter. During my research when writing this letter, I discovered some interesting information. Asda’s diversity strategy is clearly outlined on their website, where it states;

At Asda, each of our stores offers a wide range of disability and family–friendly services, and all of our colleagues are fully trained to help make the shopping experience as easy as possible. From the Braille guns we use on packaging, and our hearing loops and Minicom text service, to the baby changing facilities with free nappies and feeding rooms — we aim to make our stores accessible to all.

Obviously their staff have not been fully trained, as they claim. They constantly make my shopping experience inaccessible. My hearing dog cannot be left outside the store for their convenience. He is fully trained to Institute of Environmental Health standards and to Assistance Dogs UK standards.

Their website stated they are Two Ticks accredited by JobCentre Plus for being positive about disabled people, they are a partner of choice for Remploy, and that they aim to treat all customers exactly the same;

We aim to treat every member of our diverse team exactly the same — and our customers too for that matter — regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnic origin, age, beliefs or whether they have a disability. Career opportunities and promotions at Arseda are based entirely on merit.
In fact, we’ve been awarded the two–tick disability symbol from Job Centre plus for making sure that people with disabilities are fully supported in the working environment. And we are also the proud partner of choice for Remploy, the organisation that helps overcome barriers to employment for disabled people.

I wonder does their policy exclude people with assistance dogs? Making a branch accessible is as simple as telling all the staff that work there about access rights for disabled people and their assistance dogs, whether those dogs be a guide dog for the blind, a hearing dog for deaf people, a dog for the disabled, a support dog, a canine partner, or a dual purpose guide and hearing dog.

I question the value of their membership of the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD). The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Policy and top level commitment’;

Service to disabled customers will form an integral part of the company’s product and service standards. A company-wide policy will be agreed by the top team and communicated to the rest of the company.

The service to disabled customers at Asda is clearly not up to the expected high standards of service given to non-disabled customers. Why has their company policy on services to disabled customers not been communicated to this Asda branch’s staff? Has such policy been communicated to other Asda branches?

The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Staff training and disability awareness’;

Specific steps will be taken to raise awareness of disability among employees involved in developing, marketing and delivering products and services to customers. Training will be made available to communicate service standards and to equip employees to achieve these.

Uh. When? Where? I would be most interested to know what steps were taken to raise awareness of deafness and hearing dogs among the employees involved in delivering products to customers, i.e. the staff at this particular branch. Clearly, no deaf awareness training was delivered that I can see evidence of. Deafness might be invisible but ignorance isn’t.

I wrote to my local MP and told him what had happened. His reply;

Thank you for keeping me up to date on your correspondence with the Co-operative store as well as Asda. I was pleased to learn that the former complaint with the Co-Op has been resolved, whilst the latter store remains unable to train its staff appropriately.

As you state, how can someone see your dog, but not his distinctive coat indicating he is a working dog. With or without awareness training, I still feel it difficult to believe someone wouldn’t use their initiative and think for themselves. Or are we raising a generation of robots who cannot make the link between a working dog and a policy of no animals in a food store. It is surely not difficult to have a policy of no animals, except for and then list (with pictures if needed) the exceptions. I despair.

I got a (rather unprofessional) reply from Asda’s customer services, claiming that they had written to me in February but clearly I had not received that letter. They apologised and said all their staff are trained and they take discrimination very seriously.

Then I received a letter from the new manager of the Asda branch concerned, apologising very nicely and asking that I ask to see her when I next paid them a visit, and she would apologise in person. She also included £20 in vouchers. She said it appears one of her colleagues made an error of judgement and that they had not been laughing at me. Colleagues cannot pass their probation without completing disability awareness training; the colleagues involved had been re-briefed. At that particular store, they even have a profoundly deaf member of staff, and they have also had collections for assistance dogs. So they really are very aware of accessibility and won’t tolerate discrimination.

Problem sorted. Or so I thought.

I went into Asda today and was stopped by a stroppy young girl who informed me dogs are not allowed into the store. I told her to fetch the manager. While I was waiting, one customer told her my dog is an assistance dog, and she retorted that dogs are not allowed into the store. Another customer said to me, he doesn’t know what is wrong with people these days, why don’t I just carry on shopping. While he made a fuss of my dog, I replied that no, I’m going to complain. Absolutely right, he said!

The manager came out and I thanked her for her letter, and explained that I had been stopped yet again. She apologised, she had told all the staff, and I said it’s simply not good enough. I asked for an explanation from Miss Stroppy who said my dog was touching the shelf. Which was empty. The manager explained to her that my dog is a hearing dog and is allowed into the store. I really do think young people are so insolent these days. The manager couldn’t apologise enough, and I told her that I am EMBARRASSED. I walked away and carried on shopping.

Five minutes later, she came up to me with a huge bunch of flowers and apologised again. How moving. How nice. Hopefully, this new manager will teach her inherited team of almost-humans that disabled people can’t be treated like shit.

Or in other words, How to get a Huge Bunch of Flowers for Free without Giving Your Man the Eye.


Mexican wave

23 10 2008

We hit a new place, Benito’s Hat. I was fully expecting to be asked to leave as I had my Hearing Dog with me.

But oh no. They welcomed us with open arms and huge grins. The place was fresh, simple and pleasing on the eye. So was the food. It turned out to be great. They gave me different salsas on tortilla chips so I could ‘try before I buy’. All the food was laid out buffet style, and they made up your order for you in front of you. We had our order within five minutes of sitting down.


I had a huge burrito filled with all sorts of good stuff – chicken, rice, beans, salad, salsa and cheese wrapped in a warm soft flour tortilla. The fresh squeezed limeade with ice was to die for. I hadn’t eaten all day and this filled me up nicely.

Mmmmm mmmm mmmmm mmmm mmmmmm mmmm mmm mmmmmm mmmmm!

I will DEFINITELY be back! Besos Benito!

FOL’s verdict : PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket

Benito’s Hat, 56 Goodge Street, London W1T 4NB.
Mon-Wed 11.30am – 10pm. Thur-Sat 11.30-11pm.
Margarita Mondays : students get 2 for 1 on margaritas with a food order.
Benito’s also do takeaways.

This pasta’s past it

26 09 2008

I adore Italian food. My mouth was salivating at the thought of a freshly cooked proper Italian meal ahead. We had booked a table at Spaghetti House in Leicester Square and were shown into the basement which was otherwise empty – ideal for a group of deaf people as it’s much easier to lipread when it’s quiet and you’re not fighting to hear scraps of sentences against other voices. The staff didn’t bat an eyelid at a Hearing Dog accompanying us. A waitress even asked if the dog would like some water and brought a bowl. Ten out of ten for that.

But the meal? Ugh. Daniel said his minestrone soup was like water with vegetables in it. I had garlic bread, which was the worst I’ve ever had. It was just a roll cut in two, it was burnt and dry, and I could barely taste the garlic. Then I had meatballs. That was dry too. Pork meatballs with plenty of herbs, a little tomato sauce, and spaghetti. Hell, I could’ve cooked a better job myself. (Now you see why I don’t like to go out to eat?) When the puddings turned up, we agreed they looked like the best part of the meal. And my beer was £6. The waitress was pushy and kept asking us if we wanted the pudding menu, the drinks menu etc.

I was so glad to leave!

FOL’s verdict : Photobucket

Cooking lessons

27 12 2007


I didn’t just eat christmas dinner this year, I actually cooked it as well, with Lisa. And I realised a funny thing.

There were a number of pots and pans of vegetables on the stove which needed boiling. Now normally this is how I boil something. I put hot water into the pan, put the heat setting on maximum, and watch for it to boil, i.e. get a glass of wine, chat a bit, and lift the lid every few minutes to see if the water is boiling. But this time, I could hear something. The hob is one of those ceramic hobs with a sheet of glass, I thought there might be some water trapped under the pot and was making this bubbling noise. Then it hit me. I could hear the water boiling! Wow. I lifted the lid and the water’s surface was still. How strange. I could hear it boiling but couldn’t see it boil. Obviously, it does start boiling at the bottom of the pot, but even so. It took another five minutes for the surface to boil.

So now I’m wondering, when cooking instructions say to simmer for six minutes from the point of boiling, is this point when the water’s surface is popping bubbles or when you can hear the water boil at the bottom of the pot?

I don’t know why this is the first time I’ve heard water boil. Perhaps it’s because Lisa’s house is in the quiet countryside, and we didn’t have a bunch of noisy people around. I knew the pork was ready from the smell of burning *grin*

I still didn’t hear the hot oil spitting in the oven for the roast potatoes, Lisa had to alert me to that, but maybe that one will surprise me one day.

Thumbs up! Busaba Eathai

16 12 2007

I was really looking forward to our christmas party as we had booked a room in a Thai restaurant and Thai is one of my favourite cuisines. Busaba Eathai is a chain created by Alan Yau, they guy behind Wagamama’s, the fantastic Japanese ramen noodle resaurants. There are usually long queues outside and you’re not able to make reservations. So we booked their private room for our christmas party. The ambience is nice, dark and moody with dim lighting and dark woods. They have Wagamama-style communal benches and tables, so it’s not intimate-dinner-for-two style, you can’t lean back in your chair, it’s busy, it’s more like a factory, and you’re sharing your table with strangers. This means it’s hard to have a decent conversation without distraction and people seem to be shouting at each other, so the private room suited me much better as it was quieter, with just one long table which seated up to 25.

I saw the floors were slate, and the walls and furnishings were wood, and straight away I knew the acoustics would be hell. Sounds echo off hard surfaces and makes it a much noisier environment for me. But eating in the small private room brought the noise level right down and I was able to relax. I didn’t have any access problems with bringing a Hearing Dog into the restaurant, which made a nice change. I put my fleece coat on the floor for Smudge and he settled down happily. The waiters didn’t trip over him and they even asked me if Smudge was ok.

The wait service was straight off the mark, we didn’t have to hang around for our food. The efficient and friendly waiters brought a constant stream of plates to us from our chosen set menu –

* Prawn pomelo with peanut served on betal leaf
* Thai calamari with ginger and peppercorn
* Fishcakes with cucumber and peanut relish
* Po pea jay vegetable spring rolls
* Pandan chicken marinated in garlic and coriander root

* Green chicken curry with pea aubergine and corn
* Muslim beef curry with banana capsicum
* Aromatic butternut pumpkin curry with cucumber relish
* Som tam green papaya salad
* Steamed jasmine rice
* Steamed coconut rice
* Phad thai rice noodle with prawn, dried shrimp, tofu and peanut
* French bean and mange tout with baby corn, coconut hurt and pine nut
* Chicken butternut with cashew nuts and chilli
* Ginger beef with thai pepper, chilli and spring onion
* Chilli prawn stir fry with sweet basil
* Tofu and spinach with shallot, chilli and yellow bean

The food was good and I highly recommend the Thai calamari, pumpkin curry, and green chicken curry which bounced out of their bowls with their zingy flavours. Laura had a jasmine smoothie and it was just mmmmmmm. Laura doesn’t eat meat so there wasn’t much choice for her, there’s certainly room for improvement on the vegetarian side of the menu. The wine and Thai beer were both good. They don’t do dessert so I had lemongrass tea with honey which was just divine.

Luckily the toilet signs aren’t in Thai. However, they use symbols which can be a bit confusing, not being the standard ISO 7001:2007 symbols.

There are often people queuing outside, especially if they have had a few beers, trying to work out what the symbols mean, and waiting to see who comes out of which door. The symbols represent the different ways that men and women use the facilities: standing up and sitting down.

My only quibble was that I felt we were rushed out as the private room had another booking, and they came in before we had vacated the room.

The verdict? A thumbs up!

Busaba Eathai, 22 Store St WC1E 7DF
T 020 7299 7900
F 020 7299 7909

Mon – Thurs 12pm – 11pm / Fri – Sat 12 noon – 11.30pm / Sun 12 noon – 10pm
Station: Tottenham Court Road
Average price: £24 and Under

Thumbs up! ASK

15 12 2007

This restaurant has a varied menu which boasts tasty Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza with toppings of your choice. This branch of ASK also offers a takeaway service.

We had trouble the moment we walked in.

– No dogs!
– He’s an assistance dog.
– No sorry, we can’t allow dogs in here.
– Can I speak to the manager please.

The manager came out and he was perfectly happy to let us come in and eat. Oh, the embarrassment, though! We were shown to a table right at the back, away from all the other customers, which suited me fine as it was a little quieter there. Things got better as the waiter asked if Smudge would like some water and brought over a bowl, and gave him a few pats on the head throughout our meal.

The selection of food wasn’t great – just pizza and pasta, without any main meat or fish dishes and a single choice of beer. We had garlic bread to start which was ok, just like those in Poppadom Express. The mains were OK but just like “best-of” range supermarket filled pasta. I know, I’m too fussy, but then I am a good cook and tend to make home-made meals rather than bring home shop-bought stuff. The wine was fine, so was the coffee.

Even thought the food wasn’t great, the service was attentive, friendly and polite, and the location facing the river is very good. The restaurant is spotless and well lit. It wasn’t too busy so it wasn’t too noisy. There is outside seating which would make it a nice spot to eat in the summer.

ASK, Spice Quay, 34 Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf, London SE1 2YE
T (020) 7403 4545
Tube: Tower Hill
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 12:00-23:30 / Sun 12:00-23:00
Cuisine: Italian, Pizzeria
Booking not necessary

Thumbs up! Lorenzo Restaurant

8 12 2007

A group of us and two Hearing Dogs (Smudge and Harry) descended upon Lorenzo in Crystal Palace for a home cooked Italian meal. This restaurant is on the High Street and close to the tube station, so it’s easy to get to.

This restaurant looks really small from the outside but there are three floors. It looked good n busy! I was wondering how noisy this place is going to be … am I going to enjoy this night out as none of my friends in this group can sign. I can’t relax if I am struggling to lip read people against a constant din, it’s really hard work. We were shown to a large table in the corner downstairs and were promptly attended to by a polite and efficient waiter, who brought us wine. The place began to fill up with families and couples, it had a friendly bustle and the waiting staff were attentive.

The starters and main course arrived quickly, we didn’t feel we were left waiting long for each course. For a starter I had Hot Spinach Bake – a huge slab of goats cheese, lots of spinach and roasted peppers. For my main I had Tortellini Al Prosciutto – fresh pasta filled with cured ham and cheese in a creamy tomato and nutmeg sauce topped with cured ham. It looked good, tasted good, and was a decent sized portion. Everyone else was equally happy with their food.

When we wanted more wine, I looked around for a waiter and he noticed immediately, he was in fact already opening a bottle before I managed to voice my request. Blimey, that’s what I call good service! The dogs were lying quietly under the table, no one seemed to notice they were there and the staff certainly didn’t have a problem with them. One of the waiters charmed us all by bringing over bowls of water for the dogs.

As the wine flowed, the good service and friendly atmosphere combined to relax me almost into a stupor. By this time I didn’t really care about lip reading, and asked for the pudding menu – there was ice cream, and lots of it! I asked for Coppa Lorenzo which was a confection of caramelita, chocolate and vanilla ice creams topped with cream, hazelnuts and a biscuit. It didn’t disappoint but it certainly disappointed Smudge who was hoping for a taste!

At this point I was ready to fall off my chair and roll over. We were brought coffees and offered drinks on the house. Oh, my. We left very very satisfied and happy customers – we’ll definitely be back!

Lorenzo run a takeaway service although they don’t do home delivery.

Lorenzo, 73 Westow Hill, Crystal Palace, London SE19 1TX / Tel. 020 8761 7485 / email / Open Monday to Saturday 12-11 pm, Sunday 12-10.30 pm

They also have a café on Crystal Palace Parade, Café St Germain, which has a covered heated terrace for al fresco face-stuffing dining. Open 8am – 7.30pm.

Pizza by text

30 08 2007

Do you like Domino’s Pizza? They have launched a SMS text ordering service.

It’s a straightforward process.

You register on their website
Create a favourite meal and submit this to 61212 (Domino’s Pizza) with a memorable name for it.
Domino’s will send a text back straight away to confirm your order (at no charge to you) and give you an order reference number
Text ‘Yes’ to confirm your order or ‘No’ to cancel the order if you’ve changed your mind
o If you text ‘Yes’, Domino’s will confirm your order is on its way along with an order reference number and remind you of the payment method you’ve chosen
o If you text ‘No’, Domino’s will confirm your order has been cancelled and that you haven’t been charged.
If you change one of your previously created favourite meals, Domino’s will send you a text to confirm your details have been updated.

Domino’s Pizza by TXT will work on any mobile phone, but you can only send texts from the number you set up when you register with Domino’s. Domino’s don’t charge for the text service, just your standard network charges will apply.

It’s easy to change your favourite meals once you have created them. Just click on the Edit button after you have logged in. If you forget your memorable names, you can log in on their website at and see a list of your favourite meals with the names you’ve given them, the payment method chosen (credit/debit/cash on delivery), and collection/delivery options chosen. You can only order from your local store and orders can only be sent to the address given on registration. Don’t forget, the payment method you’ve chosen will stay the same every time you order that particular favourite Domino’s Pizza meal, unless you change it at

I’d like to see more businesses follow suit.