March movie madness…(the continuing adventures of what I watched / read in 2015)

Not madness as such – in fact only three films, and only those because I was stuck on aeroplanes, but anyway – here they are:


Brilliant, creepy, horrible – not the right film to watch before going to a secluded hill top house in LA to stay on your own (especially when you’re naturally pre-dispositioned to imagine you’ll be murdered in your bed every night.)  Gyllenhaal is mesmerisingly sociopathic, and the script is terrific – dark, twisty and original.

This Is Where I Leave You

Urgh.  I so wanted to love this film as I love most of the actors in it (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn from Transparent, the hot dude who plays Russo in House of Cards, Jane Fonda -star of Jane Fonda’s Workout my most-watched VHS of the 80s aside from Caddyshack) but it was very, very meh.  Maybe the book is better, anyone?


Oh but I love Reese Witherspoon.  A great, super-simple, moving story – which will make me read the book.  In fact it made me want to do the 100 day hike – in the right shoes though, so my toe nails don’t fall out (plot spoiler / not really – it happens in the first sixty seconds.)

I also went to see Antigone with Juliet Binoche at The Barbican – probably the worst play I’ve seen in ten years, let’s just leave it at that.

And I’ve started reading Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, and wish I could spend every waking minute with it.

February culture

January culture


February: input

It’s been a quiet month on the ‘feeding my brain’ front.  Partly because I’ve been writing book four but mostly because I’ve been in Cornwall – stuffing my face – and then at Juice Camp, unstuffing it.  I meant to read the new Anne Tyler but instead found myself reading – and getting annoyed by – books about how broccoli can cure cancer.

Nonetheless, things I did watch are below:

Happy Valley on Netflix

Oh if ever a valley were ironically named…This harrowing six part BBC police drama kept me in a state of high anxiety throughout.  Brilliant.  I am rather out of the loop and had no idea who the actress Sarah Lancashire was – but am now officially obsessed.

The rest of Wolf Hall

I could watch Thomas Crumuel and Ann Boleyn sparring for-evah-evah – shame history got in the way.  I’d like a spin-off show with the two of them, in much the same way as I’d like one with Arya and The Hound from Game of Thrones.

Bitter Lake on iPlayer

A fascinating documentary by Adam Curtis about Afghanistan.  Hypnotically edited, this film slightly fried my brain.  It explains a complex history in a way that is clear, fascinating and profoundly depressing – and utterly essential.

A View From The Bridge starring Mark Strong, at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Hmm.  Not as amazing as I’d been led to believe by the reviews.  Shame, as I love Mark Strong, and I also love the actress who plays his wife, Nicola Walker, who was in Babylon, one of my favourite shows of last year.

I started to watch Frank but couldn’t make it past the twenty minute mark.  Perhaps if Fassbender wasn’t covering his head for the majority of the film it might have been less unwatchable.

Oh, and then of course the shameful 50 Shades – the premiere, no less.  I hated this film on at least fourteen different levels, a deeply unsexy bad daytime porno meets Cinderella.  However, I do believe life is too short to slag stuff off on the internet (I’m willing to make some exceptions: Kanye West ).  The only good thing about the whole experience was getting a pack of Lindor milk chocolate balls, free, on one’s seat at the premier.  And getting to walk the red carpet two metres in front of Jamie Dornan himself.  (Yes, much smaller than he looks on the telly…)


Now on to March – and House of Cards Season 3 on Netflix – can almost not contain my excitement, even while I’m typing this…

February – the good part (with the food)

This month the ebook version of my new novel, The Dish, came out (paperback in May!) and so to celebrate two of its themes (restaurants & awesome food) I spent the first three weeks eating out at some amazing restaurants.  And then the final week surviving on nowt but liquid at a juice camp.  I’m still at juice camp – and will write about it when I’ve recovered from the trauma of necking only celery and spinach juice daily…


But for now I thought I’d torture myself by posting some of these lush foody pics…

1 – Petersham Nurseries in Surrey – written about here:

2 – A few places in Cornwall – my, but it was beautiful!

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Food wise – we started with an epic steak breakfast pasty at Chough, the ace bakery


Followed by lunch at Rick Stein’s renowned Seafood Restaurant – and it was a bargain, 3 courses for £18 – a special charity menu for Save The Children in January and February…with an exceptional dark chocolate mousse with roasted pear, ginger and pear sorbet and chocolate crumb…

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And just because my friend Rebecca and I were a little peckish later…


On the way home, just because we hadn’t eaten enough yet, we went to a brilliant pub near Bristol, The Pony and Trap – in Chew Magna (apt name…)  I’m telling you, home made crisps with sour cream and chive dip are the way forward…as are homemade goujons with tartare sauce – one of the best sauces on the planet, besides bearnaise, and Heinz ketchup – fishcake, burger and sticky ale pudding with salted caramel ice cream…..

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3 – And finally, on the day of publication, I raced down at lunchtime to the insanely hyped Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair for a walk-in seat at their bar – the only way you can get a table before June or some such! Very good indeed – especially that cod’s roe on slim fingers (well, slimmer than mine) of toast, and the lamb chops….

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And as if that wasn’t gluttony enough, I learned how to make bread!  At my favourite bakery, Bread Ahead, down in Borough Market – makers of the world’s best custard doughnut – more of which here…

The course was a three hour French baking class, our teacher Emmanuel was patient and immensely knowledgeable, and at the end we got to take home (and drunkenly eat, subsequently, at a bus stop in Camden – d’oh) the fruits of our labour – fougasse, baguette, pain de campagne.  Triple high five, with hands covered in sticky, wet dough…

I guess I deserve all the green juice I’m currently getting…

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One minute Q&A with baker extraordinaire, Fergus Jackson, Brick House Bread

I worked in a lovely posh deli in the run up to Christmas that sold all sorts of delicious treats. The best thing about this place was that you could eat whatever you wanted from the shop floor for your lunch. (After two weeks with me on the payroll I think they might be regretting that policy.)

On day one I tried my first slice of Brick House Raisin and Walnut Bread with some butter and over-priced Italian virgin-bee honey: love at first bite. Brick House – an artisan sourdough specialist based in south-east London – have been voted one of London’s top bakeries in the FT. Their Peckham Rye, along with having the best name ever, is current holder of the Real Bread Campaign’s London Loaf.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

All their bread is superb – and you can read more about it in their own words, here:

And there’s more! They’re opening their first Bakery Cafe in early March. Housed in an old electrical warehouse off Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, it will comprise a working bakery, shop and cafe all under one roof. Award winning sourdough, sweet things, simple breakfasts and serious sandwiches – what is not to love about that?

I asked Fergus, king of Brick House, a few quick questions – because I love bread, and I’m quite fond of questions too:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal
At home, dining out on Valentines Day is hateful 🙂
Starter: A Manhattan served with some bar snacks
Main: Steak frites, bitter leaf salad
Pudding: Rhubarb & custard (creme pat) tart

The very best thing about being a baker?
No mater how shit life gets, you’ll always be able to have good bread.

Your best cheap eat in London?
Lehore, Umberston Street, E1. The best Tandoori lamb chops and daal.

The most delicious thing you’ve eaten in London in recent months?
The crab croquetas at Barrafina, Adelaide St

What would your dream job be if you weren’t a baker?

Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life?
An unassuming guy called Frank Sally. He taught me at the SFBI (San Francisco Baking Institute). He’s phenomenally knowledgeable, supportive and humble. I doubt I’d be where I am today without his help.

What’s your favourite sandwich?
There’s a deli called Rhea’s on Valencia Street in San Francisco that names all of it’s sandwiches after streets in the city. Their ‘Delores’ is the finest sandwich that ever passed my lips. Smoked peppered turkey, spicy cranberry sauce, muenster, bacon, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, pickled jalapeño, spinach, and garlic aioli on a Dutch crunch sub. I honestly think I got high from eating it.

One minute Q&A with master chef Marianne Lumb

In my new novel, The Dish, restaurant critic Laura Parker visits LuxEris – a Eurotrashy, mega-big restaurant in the Square Mile – and emerges, three hours later, filled with venom, bile and the start of food poisoning, thanks to a dodgy plate of Eels Flottante.   LuxEris represents the worst of London’s restaurant scene – staff who think they’re doing you a favour by letting you through the door, a giant room where you can barely hear yourself think, and worst of all a menu filled with trend-led concoctions you wouldn’t feed to a goat: Heritage Apple and Veal Crumble, anyone?

LuxEris is a work of fiction but there are several restaurants in London that could, unfortunately, give it a run for its money.  On the other end of the spectrum entirely is the fantastic, award-winning and entirely not made up Marianne’s, in Notting Hill.  London’s smallest fine-dining restaurant has only 14 covers, making it feel like you’re almost at home – if your home was an ultra-elegant yet relaxing and understated cocoon of great taste.   The service is perfect – warm, friendly and attentive. – And it serves some of the most beautiful, modern, delicious food you’ve ever eaten.  In fact the only fault with it is that it’s pretty damn popular so you’ll need to book in advance.

You might recognise its head chef and owner Marianne Lumb, from Masterchef: The Professionals, a few years back.    A sunny, six foot blond who’s a master at knives (her first book, Kitchen Knife Skills, was an international best seller) – she works in the rather petite kitchen six days a week, turning out the sort of seasonal, high-quality perfect plates you dream of: potato gnocchi with Parmesan foam, Agen prune with Madagascan vanilla souffle and home-made Armagnac ice cream…mmm!  I ate there last year, and you can see the pics and read about it here:


Once upon a time, Marianne and I used to work together – and so she kindly agreed to answer a few little questions for me:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal: 

The perfect steak, probably rib-eye – we have some highland wagyu at the restaurant this year – with some truffles, smoothest pomme puree and some purple sprouting broccoli

The very best thing about being a chef: 

The creativity

Your best cheap eat in London:
Alounak on Westbourne Grove – the Mirza Ghassemi is good there, one is never enough.
The most delicious thing you ate in London in recent months:
I really enjoyed an apple tarte tatin at The Clove Club.  It was flawless.
What would your dream job be if you weren’t a chef?
Professional skiier or surfer
Your favourite burger in the UK?
Shake Shack
The best way with a potato you’ve ever encountered:
Robuchon’s mash, or our dauphinoise
Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life? 
My father

Superstar chef Dan Doherty of Duck & Waffle – 1 minute Q&A

My new novel, The Dish, is a romantic comedy about a relationship between a restaurant critic and a chef, but the main love affair – as in all my books – is with food.

In recent years London has seen the arrival of many brilliant (and not so brilliant) new food trucks, pop-ups and car-park-kimchee-ramen joints – but one of the most consistently excellent places to eat has been Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, near Liverpool Street station. D&W has it all – creative, beautifully executed food; a glamorous, fun atmosphere; one of the most spectacular views of London – and it’s open 24 hours a day, every day of the week!  If you go there and don’t order the flatbreads, don’t ever bother speaking to me again.

Executive chef, Dan Doherty (you can buy his fabulous book here! – right after you’ve bought mine) is one of the most generous, talented and hard-working people I’ve ever met.  He kindly let me study his kitchen during evening service to observe a master chef at work. (Supremely calm, totally focussed, insane attention to detail – none of your sweary, testosteroney nonsense.) Plus he didn’t report me to security when I spent twenty five minutes going up and down in the amazing glass lifts, trying to capture the extraordinary view of the city in fast motion, that makes it onto p.75 of the paperback.

I asked him some quick food-related questions and here’s what he said:

Your ideal Valentine’s meal
I hate valentines and refuse to celebrate. So I’d say a pizza 🙂 or a rich pasta dish, ox cheek ragout?
If you weren’t cooking, where would you eat? (other than D&W)
 Simple, easy and fun places. No romance – you have the whole year for that.
The very best thing about being a chef?

Cooking whatever you crave, it’s also relaxing too. Most importantly I get to do what I love.

Your best cheap eat in London?

Hard one – Honey & Co set lunch. Not really a cheap eat but it’s cheap and bloody tasty.

The most delicious thing you’ve eaten in London in recent months 

King crab at Beast.

What would your dream job be if you weren’t a chef?  (I think the answer might be footballer, but might be imagining that.)
Yes! Or anything to do with sport.
Your favourite burger in the UK
 Patty & bun locally, Big Mac if hungover.
The best way with a potato you’ve ever encountered
 Mash the bugger. Loads of cream. And butter. Or chips. Or dauphinoise. Too many decisions.

Who’s been your biggest inspiration in your career / life? 

 Probably my best friend and fellow chef Tom Cenci.
View from the top on a rather sunny day
View from the top on a sunny day