Thursday, 20 November 2014

My ideal Christmas dinner party...

Christmas is that time of year when dreams can come true, apparently.  So I thought I’d write down my Dream Christmas Dinner Party Guest List, in case Santa is taking note.  I know I haven’t behaved perfectly this year, but perhaps not as imperfectly as some (Tesco finance department, anyone?)

I only have seven chairs in my flat, two of which are wont to break if someone heavy sits on them – so I can’t invite my family (not because they’re too heavy but because there aren’t enough chairs – and besides, the Newmans have spent many a Christmas together.)

Instead, here’s my list of guests for the perfect Christmas celebration: 

1.     My friend, masterchef Marianne Lumb, who could cook for us.  She now runs her own restaurant in West London, but even cheese on toast made by Marianne tastes better than a lot of things I’ve eaten in restaurants this year.  
2.     Jamie Dornan, for obvious reasons – as long as he promises to leave his balaclava at home.

3.     Michael Fassbender – Eye Candy part II.  Well it’s my dream Christmas so I’m allowed more than one piece of Eye Candy, as well as real candy.

4.     Tina Fey – who manages to do funny and feminist better than anyone.
5.     George R R Martin – I would get him drunk on my friend Anna Potts’s homemade Sloe Gin - and force him to tell me the secrets of what’s in store for all my favourite Game of Thrones characters.
6.     Justin Gellatly of Bread Ahead – creator of the most extraordinary doughnuts in the world – and author of my favourite cookbook, and favourite titled book of 2014 – Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding.
7.     Gillian Anderson – my ex adores her and I used to get a bit jealous about that.  But then I saw her in Streetcar earlier this year and now I bang on about how amazing and talented and luminously beautiful she is far more than he ever did.

That sounds like a pretty fun party, right?  I’m willing to stand for the duration of the meal if it means I can invite all seven - though if Jamie or Michael wanted me to sit on their laps at any point in the festivities, I suppose that would be ok too. 

A Pear Shaped Christmas...

My first proper job was working in an advertising agency, Bates Dorland, on the Woolworths Christmas campaign.  This was in the late ‘90s, the year Keith the Alien starred in our campaign.  (The fact Bates Dorland and Woolworths both subsequently went out of business is not my fault – honestly, it isn’t.  I wouldn’t even blame Keith – he was endearing, in his own way, though no John Lewis penguin.)

But right from the start, my choice of day job seems to have messed with my Christmases.  Working on Christmas every day of the year might seem like a great idea – like eating chocolate at every meal – but inevitably you sicken of it far quicker than you’d think.

The last job I had, before giving up day jobs altogether, was the anti-Christmas job of all anti-Christmas jobs: looking after turkeys for a supermarket in the run up to Christmas.  I shall spare you the details  – I don’t wish to ruin your Christmas dinner too – but suffice to say: not a single bite of turkey has passed my lips since.

So anyway – there are lots of lovely, romantic Christmas short stories out there on the internet for you to download and enjoy.  As the title might suggest,  A Pear-Shaped Christmas is not really one of them.  Nonetheless I hope it brings you a small slice of festive cheer, and an idea of what really goes on behind the scenes in advertising.

Happy Turducken!


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

How on earth do French women not get fat?

One of my favourite things about writing books is that I can think of things I'd really like to do in real life and then make my characters do them - and I get to go along for the ride.  For example, in my third novel, The Dish (just being finished now, out in spring 2015, hurrah!) - the heroine, food critic Laura Parker, takes herself off to Paris for a month to research the perfect croissant.  So off I went for research - only for 12 hours sadly... And I can now report, unequivocally that there are some very fine baked goods in Paris...  but some of the very best can be found at Du Pain et Des Ideeés.
It's in the rather lovely, super-hipster Canal St Martin area

a fifteen minute walk from Gare Du Nord, tucked off a side street from the main canal.  Inside it is fairy-tale pretty...

But let's be honest - it's really never about the decor, is it?
It's about a simple croissant...
Elevated to a thing of beauty - golden, paper thin, super crispy flaky exterior, lush, ultra-buttery, multi-layered insides...
and then a chocolate pistachio swirl, warm from the oven...
Bad photo, I know - but try to imagine melting chocolate, soft, light, buttery pastry and creamy, mild, pistachios swirled throughout, being held warm in your hand, then rammed, gracefully into your mouth...
The bakery does other, fabulous flavoured swirls - praline, rum and raisin, lemon and nougat...  Also a host of other extraordinary treats - rosewater croissants, chocolate bread, amazing regular bread, etc....

Now Paris is obviously about more than just croissants.  It is also about les one of the other things on my hit list for Laura was finding a place where she might go to for lunch - somewhere not necessarily obvious, but brilliant nonetheless...

Le Marais is probably my favourite area of the city - it's less snobby than other parts, has exceptional falafel, and is home to a vibrant gay and Jewish community.  It also has a lively food market, Le Marcheé des Enfants Rouges, which is home to many delicious smelling lunchtime treats - but most importantly - this man:

His name is Alain, he's on facebook and stuff...

He basically makes sandwiches and crepes, but, like, he is a Master.  I've put a character inspired by him in The Dish and called him Le Bowski - because basically this gentleman is a dude of the highest order.
He takes rather a long time to make the food

but this is because the man does not cut corners

He is a craftsman

very generous with his fillings (loads and loads of avocado and cheese).

And he's also a performer...
and an artist...

and also a dancer though I didn't get a photo of him dancing

but anyway, the point is, the end result is totally worth the wait (be warned: 56 minutes for a sandwich, but like I say -  WORTH IT!)


So yes, waiting for that sandwich and watching Alain at work was possibly the happiest 56 minute wait for a cheese sarnie that I've ever had.

What else did I do on my day trip... Ah yes, found the only Parisian woman with cellulite...
She does not look dissimilar to me, apart from the bird poop on her head.  She lives in this beautiful park.
Wherein also lives this statue, who seems to be saying: Oui, naturellement Paris is superior to all other cities, and that is why j'habite ici, innit:

But, like, he has got a point because this is a city where if you want stuffed pasta, you can go and browse these stuffed pastas - 14 types, including Tortelloni stuffed with Ossobucco, or with four Provencal vegetables...

Or if you fancy a strawberry tart, you can choose one of these beauties...
Or if you just want some asparagus with a buttery Mousseline sauce (Hollandaise + cream...)
and some decent bread
and some sort of auberginey deliciousness

and some wine, because really you haven't had enough treats for one day - then no one will judge you or think you're greedy.  Anyway, like I said, it was all in the name of research.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Hartnett Holder Hubba Hubba...

I'm a huge Angela Hartnett fan and have been meaning to check out Hartnett Holder for an age but I can barely be arsed to go round the corner for a pint of milk in this weather, let alone voyage to Hampshire for lunch.  However book three features a road trip to the New Forest so I figured what better excuse than research....

Seriously, a spectacular lunch and the best £20 I've spent in 2014.  (Is it 2014?  Good grief, I just had to Google what year it is.  Being a full time writer makes you go a little doolally at times.)

Anyway, the arancini alone were worth the trip.  I always have a lot of love for these golden balls, but the white onion and rosemary ones were exceptional.
Then a starter of smoked salmon with caperberries and lime creme fraiche
And a salad of beef with rocket, parmesan and a stunning lemon oil vinaigrette
Then a perfect squid pasta with celery
Hake with red peppers
and a show-stopping black cabbage, garlic, cream and caper side dish with chilli, that I could have eaten ten times over - gutsy and spicy and creamy and entirely more-ish.
Killer puddings of rhubarb, cream custard and hazelnut crunch
and chocolate parfait with pistachio ice cream
Petit fours...
£19.50 before service, and that includes coffee!

Exceptional quality ingredients, perfectly executed - a damn near flawless meal.  The memory of that cabbage dish, even now eight hours later, is keeping me in good cheer.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Cafe Murano - yep, pretty close to flawless

Thank you Twitter! Before you existed, in all your crazy, mixed blessing glory, I would never have known about the timings of soft launches.  But now I do! And now that I have quit my day job and spend my life procrastinating, it means I can sit, poised at the click of a mouse, trying to reserve tables at exciting new restaurants during soft launch when the food is half price.  Half the price = twice the food, hurrah!

I think this is day 1 for Cafe Murano, Angela Hartnett's new solo venture with head chef Samantha Williams.  It is also my sister's birthday (more or less) so we all went for lunch.  I love Angela Hartnett, and this new restaurant is a triumph - very beautiful ingredients, perfectly executed - not a single mis-step.

We ate a lot.  We always do:

Brilliant rosemary focaccia - stunning texture, served with my favourite Planeta olive oil.
Truffle arancini - crisp, light, golden outsides, melting insides:
Fabulous quality mozzarella with charred aubergine and basil
Then pasta - linguine with red mullet, garlic and chili, so simple and such clear flavours
and more pasta - gnocchi with wild mushrooms, parsley and garlic
and risotto Milanese, osso bucco
and then lamb
and monkfish
and chicken escalope....and tiramisu.  (Oh dear - internet has slowed down due to the rain, thanks again Virgin Media, for your consistently reliable service.)  Well I'll come back and post those photos later...

Suffice to say, the whole meal was phenomenally delicious.  When it reverts to full Mayfair prices this Wednesday, it will still be good value, because the food is of a fantastically high quality.  This is the sort of cooking I love - confident, non-show-offy, and with the eater's enjoyment in mind at all times.