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November 8, 2012

Hedgehog Issue 29: Caviar, court and charity

By Spear's

All the contents of Hedgehog from issue 29: Where to find entry-level caviar, what Jonathan Sumption got for repping Abramovich and lessons for philanthropists from Bletchley Park


There are certain oxymorons one gets used to hearing: ‘customer service’, ‘responsible banking’, ‘military intelligence’. But Hedgehog came across a new one in Tramp’s fabulous dining room recently: ‘entry-level caviar’.

The occasion was a gathering of journos to learn about Gourmet House’s Iranian beluga and Italian sevruga. The lights were low, the long table heavily laid, the guests whipped up to a state of gustatory excitement not seen since René Redzepi discovered non-poisonous mushrooms in the back alley behind Claridge’s.

As waiters came round and dolloped — and really dolloped, scooped, ladled even — caviar on our plates, we were told that this was the entry-level stuff: under £30 for 30 grams, which is a little like discovering that Aldi has a special on Yquem.

Read more: Discovering organic caviar in Spain

Further waiters came round with silver-dollar-sized blinis and the traditional condiments of caviar: fragments of hard-boiled yolks, crème fraîche, shallot shavings, then lemon halves. The first waiters reappeared and liberally heaped more caviar on the plate.

This first was Italian Transmontanus sevruga caviar, which was much better than you had any right to expect at that price — salty, flavoursome and moreish. It’ll make a perfect present for a dinner party.

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The second caviar was on a different scale, Iranian beluga exported by the only company allowed to do so. It almost felt like the waiters had got the two price points confused, so generously did they pile up the beluga. ‘Are you sure you’ve got enough? Have some more.’

This caviar is anything but entry-level. Its eggs weren’t the largest — apparently they are larger in winter than summer, and these were fresh — but that’s not key to its quality. They had a hazelnutty taste and a long, salty nose, the sort of flavour that tallies with memories of days by the coast when the water was whipped up by the wind. Who needs Proustian madeleines?

Afterwards, we headed up to Tramp’s cigar terrace to continue the evening with canapés, which were in the main… blinis heaped high with caviar. Too much of a good thing is wonderful.

Cartoon above by George Leigh

Beyond providing some laughs (Boris was ‘unimpressive and inherently unreliable’, ‘deliberately dishonest… deluded’, quoth the judge), the Berezovksy-Abramovich judgment highlighted one of England’s best and most profitable exports: its legal system. Such disputes between oligarchs and other wealthy foreigners bring in hundreds of millions of pounds a year to British law firms, chambers and courts. (This case alone is estimated to have cost £100 million.)

Stephen Ross, head of Civil Fraud at Withers, says that British judges are renowned for their fairness, which is why 40 per cent of commercial contracts worldwide — even those not involving Britons — are governed by English law: ‘That’s so that they then have the certainty that English law will apply. You don’t have judges who are paid off or bribed — that’s the perception worldwide.’

Read more: What Abramovich vs Berezovsky tells us about Russia today

There are any number of ‘oligarchs and minigarchs’, as Ross says, bringing their disputes into English courts, although the case in which Michael Cherney was suing Oleg Deripaska for £2 billion over shares in an aluminium company, was settled just as it was about to start, perhaps with Berezovsky’s humiliation in their minds. ‘There are a few more in the pipeline,’ Ross says, ‘including a couple that Mr Berezovsky is bringing against other people. Whether he still has the stomach for it…’

Melissa Lesson, partner at Mishcon de Reya, says she sees many wealthy foreign couples choosing to divorce in the UK. ‘I think this is a product of firstly London being an international hub and a desirable place to live, and secondly forum shopping.

‘England remains a very generous jurisdiction for wives and therefore whether by accident — ie they just happen to live here — or design — ie they move here specifically to try to seize the jurisdiction — it results in a proliferation of wealthy international couples passing through the courts.

‘I also think that a lot of foreign nationals believe that they are adequately protected by the pre-nuptial agreement or financial structure — trusts, etc — entered into in their own country, which most often turns out not to be the case.’

Russians in particular like the UK system because they feel that verdicts at home can be politically motivated, such as in the case of Khodorkovsky.

There have been complaints that all these foreign cases gum up the English legal system, preventing justice from being served more swiftly in cases involving English people, but Stephen Ross says that foreign cases are not given timetabling priority — all have to work their way through the system.

It’s also clear that given the fees British lawyers are earning — Jonathan Sumption is reported to have got £8 million for representing Abramovich and ‘super-silks’ can earn £1,500 according to The Lawyer magazine — they won’t be turning rich Russians’ cases away any time soon.

Pictured above: Knight Frank Prime Residential Index

Philanthropists can learn a lot from the quiet mathematician who helped win World War II and whose centenary is celebrated this year. Alan Turing and the geniuses at Bletchley Park weren’t doing the type of work you’d associate with winning a war at all. They did maths, built groundbreaking computers and analysed data and patterns — but they took two years off the conflict.

Too often philanthropists forget how much important work is done like this, in a backroom rather than on the frontline, which is why they shouldn’t neglect the maths ­— and indeed the science — behind philanthropy, to find out what actually works.

Read more: Interviews with philanthropists

Systematic reviews, done by people analysing statistics away from the frontline, save lives: possibly even your own. The Cochrane Collaboration does such reviews and has stopped airlines selling you devices which ostensibly prevent malaria but were ineffective. It also prevented people in South India after the 2004 tsunami from getting ‘brief debriefing’, a single-session counselling service designed to prevent trauma which is sometimes used (successfully) after bank raids, but was shown to be at best pointless after a natural disaster.

The Cochrane Collaboration has done over 5,000 reviews through over 20,000 researchers in a hundred countries. At only £18 million a year, its cost is virtually trivial compared to global health spending, yet (with luck) it influences every doctor, nurse and procedure in the land.

Many smart donors such as Bill Gates therefore support this type of analytical work which, though less visible and immediate, is ultimately more influential than more classic frontline work. The upside of this work is its reach, but its downsides include time and complexity — results can take ages to appear, and it’s tough to say which donor or charity ‘caused’ them.

There remain many, many opportunities for analytical work with this kind of reach, and it’s almost always under-resourced. Let’s take two from education. Phonics is used to teach children to read, despite having pretty much zero reliable evidence of whether it actually works. And donors and others enthusiastically promote One Laptop Per Child, yet we still don’t really know whether (or when or where) that works either. Turing would be on the case.

Caroline Fiennes

Hedgehog has met a number of socially responsible artisan food craftspeople — you know, sourcing their truffles from a commune of impoverished Italian grannies or their chickens from an ancient tribe which only communicates in clucks. Often with them, the product comes first and the social impact second. That’s why it’s refreshing to meet a maverick — yes, a maverick — who put the impact first and then developed a grade-A product.

Philipp Kauffmann founded Original Beans after working, inter alia, at the United Nations Development Programme on biodiversity issues. His passion was conserving the rainforest, but instead of relying on government or supranational bodies, he decided to take the favoured route of the 21st century for social impact: the market. By encouraging cocoa bean production in several global ‘biodiversity hotspots’ — the Itenez river basin in the Bolivian Amazon, the Virunga National Park in the DRC — Kauffman has stimulated local micro-industries, and the chocolate produced there commands a premium.

Read more: Hands off our chocolate!

Delicious it is, too — Philipp and I are talking while eating a peanut butter parfait with Original Beans 75 per cent Piura Criollo chocolate delice, sea salt caramel and chocolate crumble (quite a mouthful, in both senses) at Kopapa Cafe in Covent Garden.

Kauffman’s analysis of the chocolate business is clear-eyed and makes his own business case that much stronger: ‘The chocolate industry is one of the few industries in the next few years which will be changing from a vicious to a virtuous industry. Historically cocoa was grown on a very low product expectation: unripe beans, not fermented beans, mouldy beans, lots of defects.’ The terroir of the beans was lost, and where it comes from are not the wealthy fields of France but the most underdeveloped nations, often former colonies, which will distinctly benefit from a fairer deal.

Philipp has no illusions about the market he’s entering — ‘I don’t think another chocolate company is needed’ — but he doesn’t want Original Beans to be like his competitors, ‘to take the same product, add a few social characteristics and a social premium’.

‘What we’re trying to figure out is how we can grow a conservation business and the cocoa supply chain to do that.’ If that sounds rather businesslike, well, it is, and that makes a refreshing change from most of the airy nonsense of the artisanal world. But that doesn’t mean the chocolate is any less good. Far from it.

Available at Whole Foods, Fortnum & Mason and La Fromagerie

Pictured above: Bordeaux Index

YOU WANT CIALIS, HUH? I GOT GOOD QUALITY VIAGRA! No, Hedgehog is not spamming you, dear reader: when you think of the internet and prescription drugs, those emails condemned to virtual purgatory probably come first to mind. There is another side to the online drugs market, however, and its HNW-friendly face is

There are plenty of products a busy hedge-fund manager or tax lawyer, say, might not want to instruct their secretary to fetch and announce to the office, like Cialis and Viagra for erectile dysfunction or Propecia for hair loss. There are also pills, inhalers and contraceptives which they might not have time to visit their doctor for. It makes sense, then, to cut out the embarrassment or inconvenience.

Read more: Medical check-ups for high net worths

What is not cut out is the doctor. When a patient logs on, they answer GP-esque questions and one of six GPs assesses the answers within an hour to work out if they can make the prescription, or phones or Skypes if they need further information. DrThom is registered with the Care Quality Commission, so this is no shady enterprise.

If they think you need the drugs, they can be posted to you for next-day delivery — plain envelopes, of course — or picked up from Lloyds Pharmacy, which owns DrThom. Twelve tablets of Viagra are £135, a single dose of the emergency contraceptive pill £25.99. STI testing kits can be sent out and returned in the post for quick results.

Over a lunchtime bento box with Rachel Carrell, DrThom’s CEO, it became clear that those qualities HNWs highly esteem — discretion, speed, the ability of money to solve most problems — are key to the business. ‘It’s perfect for businesspeople who can’t make time in their schedule to go to their GP. Many people are embarrassed — they just don’t want to talk to anyone,’ which can be problematic when the issue is something more serious or intimate than hair loss. Rachel mentioned premature ejaculation, which caused Hedgehog to splutter his miso soup everywhere.

In its drive to encourage inward investment, the government recently hit on a good source: UK non-doms. Having wielded the stick on non-doms by imposing a £30,000 charge (now £50,000) on those who have been here a certain number of years, they have decided to offer the carrot by changing the remittance rules to allow those entitled to claim the remittance basis to remit as much income and/or capital into the UK while continuing to be subject to the £30,000/£50,000 charge.

In order to qualify for the relief, the investment must be made by the individual into shares or a loan, into a qualifying company which meets certain eligibility conditions. The investee must be a private limited company which is either an eligible trading company, stakeholder company or holding company. The target company must be operational within two years from when the investment is made and must continue to be operational after that.

Read more: How to give to charity effectively

If the investment is made in a partnership, sole proprietorship, or in a company which is not a private limited company or which is preparing to carry out research and development, then the investment does not qualify for the relief.

You must make the investment within 45 days from when your foreign income and/or gains arrive in the UK and you will not be allowed to obtain a benefit, either directly or indirectly, which is attributable to the investment other than that coming from owning the shares or granting the loan. If you unacceptably extract value from any person linked to the company, then you are required to sell your investment within 90 days.

When disposing of the investment, you must take the proceeds (up to the amount of the investment) offshore, or reinvest the proceeds in another qualifying investment, within 45 days of the disposal. Failure to do so triggers a tax charge.

Peter A Wilson,
Haines Watts London LLP


Apparently Britain now produces more ‘individual and unique’ cheeses than France, something I found out for myself when I went along to a cheese tasting in the beautiful Cotswold village of Churchill.

Fourteen of the 900 cheeses at Cheeses on the Green had been selected for the tasting session I was about to experience: punchily named ‘Cheeses on the Rack’, this was to be a sort of cheese tutorial led by British Cheese Awards founder Juliet Harbutt.

Read more: Ireland’s successful cheese exports

The first batch focused on fresh, soft white, semi-soft and flavour-added cheeses, with generous-sized chunks of every one delivered to our tables by silently efficient waiting staff. In the middle of each table was an assortment of crackers, which Harbutt merrily instructed us not to eat with the cheeses: they affect your palate, you see. A favourite of this batch was a semi-soft Burwash Rose from Sussex. The meaty texture of semi-soft cheeses, Harbutt explained, was developed by Cistercian monks in the 11th century. They got rather frustrated at being forbidden to eat meat for 110 days a year, and so created cheese that went some way to matching its texture.

I cleansed my palate with a spicy, chocolatey Chilean Merlot (Santa Rita 120), decided against a cigarette — if crackers were off limits, who knows what damage my palate would have sustained from a smoke — and awaited six more cheeses.

Mark Nayler

Read more from Hedgehog

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