They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; They eat us hungrily, and when they are full, They belch us - Shakespeare

Quaff & Sniff

My dear friend Scottee’s birthday celebrations miraculously coincided with London Cocktail Week so I concocted a trail of alcohol and perfume -two of his fave things-as a birthday surprise.  In preparation I visited Les Senteurs, the best scent shop in London. The lovely manager Nick helped me do the matching- gin, rum, bourbon, Campari, Cointreau, Amaretto, and Prosecco each had their own accompanying fragrance.

It was then up to Scottee and me to drink & sniff our way through central London -on a school night, no less.

We created a cloud of perfume and a trail of empty glasses…starting at Smatt’s Rum & Ice Cream Shack- where not only did we have scent to match the rum, we had matching flavours of cocktails & alcoholic ice cream! Here’s Scottee with his Rum Apple Crumble ice cream.

The glory of London Cocktail Week is that you wind up drinking in places that aren’t really bars…like Cointreau cocktails in the posh erotic emporium Coco de Mer.  I can confirm that perusing glass dildos is highly enhanced by drink.

We carried on to Murdocks, a gentlemen’s grooming parlour transformed into a gin palace, the Covent Garden Hotel for Campari, bourbon shots with pickle juice shooters in an ex-jewellery shop turned Bourbon Empire, and some refined Amaretto based concoctions at the Savoy’s American Bar, where we both kept confusing cinnamon sticks for straws.

Then for some reason- after Amaretto but before Prosecco (I *think*…by this time things were a bit fuzzy) Scottee spotted a place called Champagne & Fromage. It wasn’t part of the plan, but any place that promises gastronomic bliss on this level must be investigated. Morbier and Moet, anyone?

The evening ended at Bocca di Lupo for a near-midnight snack of deep fried Italian morsels and a bottle of Prosecco, where we were kept away from a fellow diner for their own safety. The Prime Minister was celebrating HIS birthday and having a meal at BdiL (how DARE he have the same birthday as Scottee!)  The restaurant manager rightly thought that if I saw David Cameron I would pelt him with olives from across the dining room.

All further photographic evidence has been destroyed for our own protection…but our trail of perfume still scents the streets of Soho.

Happy 27th birthday, Scottee!

Ice-cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal.
― Voltaire

Friday… I’m In Love

Friday is the Strawberry Blonde’s only day off work, and our only day off together. So we always try and do something a bit different, walk round a part of London we’ve never been to, scout out interesting galleries and food shops, have a drink in a cosy looking pub…you get the idea. This past Friday we found some gems!

We started with lunch at home, cobbled together with things in the fridge and pantry. Half a dozen eggs, a smidge of olive oil and butter, a few courgettes shredded, a clove of garlic, and half a tub of ricotta cheese produced this Friday Fritatta.

The we went off in search of coffee and cake, to Prufrock on Leather Lane. I’ve heard so much about this place, all good. It def lived up to the word on the street. Shelves are lined with various coffee makers from around the world (all for sale, of course), big bags of Square Mile (the bean du jour for all coffee houses worth their froth) and behind the counter a bevvy of barista cuties. They also have a barista training programme that runs at a separate counter. I would rate my large flat white and the second best in London town…no mean feat as this town’s coffee competition is HOT HOT HOT (the best? IMHO Espresso Room on Great Ormond St) The cakes are tip top at Prufrock, too. The Strawberry Blonde and I shared a chunky piece of German cheesecake - light and not too sweet- and a dee-lish brownie bite (only 50p!).

Then we headed on the 55 bus to Hackney. My friends will know this is not an area of London I frequent. It was my stomping ground in the mid 1990’s, way before East London got trendy, and I haven’t really been back much since. A walk through Victoria Park threw up this unexpectedly genteel and bucolic vista:

Our destination? A trio of foodie faves on Lauriston Road, E9. First stop, Ginger Pig butchers. We bought 2 ribeye steaks, 1 rolled pork leg, 2 beef & chili sausages, 2 cumberland sausages, 250g chicken livers, and my infamous meatball mix: 300 g each of ground pork, beef and veal. The freezer is now well and truly stocked!

Then we popped next door to Bottle Apostle to get something to accompany our steaks for a Friday night treat-a bottle of Portuguese Meandro 2010 from the Douro. We were working up quite a thirst, so as a reward for all this hard work, we headed over to The Empress of India for a drink where I spotted the gorgeous Natasha Khan, she of Bat For Lashes fame, who I had seen perform at the Roundhouse just a few weeks earlier. Sorry, no pic- I was too wowed to say hi!

The Empress was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand last week, which means it serves superb, good value food. The menu looked amazing- all pig’s ears, burrata and guinea fowl- but even a silky glass of Pecorino from Chieti (yes, that’s wine, not cheese!) couldn’t tear me away from the promise of a big glass of blowsy red and a ribeye grilled at home.

Chocolate and Cocktails

This coming week in London is going to be food and drink paradise! Two of my favourite things are colliding- chocolate and cocktails. Yep, it’s Chocolate Week and Cocktail Week (though to be fair Chocolate week is all over the UK…but in the Big Smoke there’s over 80 events). I’ll be blogging from proceedings on Wednesday and Thursday. I’m particularly looking forward to Cocktail Week’s pop up Rum & Ice Cream Shack (rum….AND ice cream??!! what’s not to like?!) and Chocolate Week for me means I have an excuse to see my mate/top chocolatier Paul A Young in action…well, doing something other than tearing up a disco dance floor spilling his pint everywhere ; ). Here we are at the opening night of my solo show Unhappy Birthday back in May; Paul wound up being in the show! (He’s that kinda guy)

If it’s Monday it must be Nigellissima

Nigella Lawson is gorgeous, talented and makes a mean cheesecake. She’s written a clutch of best selling cookbooks, has a dozen different TV cooking shows under her cinch belt, has a multimillionaire father and husband. What’s not to like?!

Nigella’s latest TV offering and accompanying cookbook is Nigelissima, an Italian-esque experience inspired by her stint as a hotel chambermaid (really?) in Florence in her early 20’s. In the first episode, Nigella made a cheesecake using digestive biscuits, Philadelphia cream cheese and a giant jar of Nutella. Then she made some pasta. Then she made something called a “meatzza”- basically a no-crust pizza that looks like a giant squashed meatball with mozzarella on top (GENIUS). Her piece de resistance is Eggs in Purgatory, something she admits to making when she comes home late and trashed. It involved some garlic, chili, olive oil, a tin of crushed tomatoes and an egg all together in a mini frying pan. It looked disgusting, but Nigella scooped it all lusciously into her well painted pout with a bit of focaccia.

The programme has come under criticism from…well…TV critics. The British press loves to knock successful, creative people, but up until now, Nigella was untouchable. Some of the most vocal criticism has come from Italians, pointing out that her food just isn’t Italian. That’s true; her Meatzza looks like something my brother and his stoner friends would invent in a fit of the munchies, wolfed down to a soundtrack of Iron Maiden…hardly food inspired by the birthplace of daVinci, Michelangelo, and Fellini (though I’m sure Pavarotti would have loved it)

The argument of inauthenticity is true, but a weak one. Why shouldn’t we be inspired by a culture and cuisine to create our own version of it? My family is Italian American, and I live in London. I learned to cook from my grandmother and mother. I’ve travelled all over Italy and even presented a series of TV films for Richard and Judy on regional Italian cooking. I cook almost exclusively Italian food at home. Do I cook the real deal? Mmmmmostly- but ingredients in Bloomsbury are different from ingredients in Bologna. I don’t eat pasta (really). I make brilliant arancini, a ricotta cheesecake to die for, and artery-clogging osso bucco. But I’m too lazy to make my own gelato, and kneading ciabatta dough bores me. I am sure i’d be a huge disappointment to my great grandmother Liberata Ferrante- here she is, looking at me sternly

If making our own Italianissima at home keeps us out of Pizza Express and Bella Pasta, then Viva Nigella! And if you are looking for some top Italian restaurants in London, may I reccommend a few? These are totally authentic, I promise. Liberata would approve.

Bocca di Lupo is the Soho brainchild of Jacob Kenedy and has the best fritto misto. For an intimate meal, snag seats at the bar and watch the cooking action close up http://boccadilupo.com/

Across the road from Bocca di Lupo is the BEST gelateria in London. Pine nut and fennel ice cream anyone? I had two giant ice cream cakes from Gelupo for my birthday this year. My friends have never loved me more.http://www.gelupo.com/

I lived in Wapping for 2 years; it was a cultural and cuisine wasteland. Except for Il Bordello- the guys there kept me *very* well fed; it’s the kind of neighborhood restaurant everyone dreams of. I still go back for the pizza, and - for a rare pasta treat- the crab ravioli http://www.ilbordello.com/

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti"- Sophia Loren

Hot Dog…or Droopy Dawg?

The weirdest and most wonderful conversations can be had by phoning callcentres. Seriously.  I rung up PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited, for the uninitiated) to pay my outstanding license fee- this enables me to play live music at my performances. ANYWAY the guy who answered my call had the loveliest accent- very familiar to me, yet exotic on these shores. He was from Brooklyn…no, not one of the trendies that now inhabit the borough, but rather born, bred and totally authentic.

I paid my bill, and he rightly recognised my Jersey twang.  We started talking (or should that be tawkin’) about foods we miss from home. Decent pizza….decent burgers…and HOT DOGS.  Now, for those living in London, you’ll know that the capital is experiencing a love affair with American junk food at the moment.  Burger joints are a dime a dozen…the quality, however, leaves much to be desired. Barbecue “pits” (reallly??? in central London???) are serving up Southern style slow cooked ribs and grits. But my big bugbear is the humble hot dog.

Foodies will be familiar with the latest taste sensation to hit London’s restaurant scene- Bubbledogs. It specialises in hot dogs and…wait for it…grower Champagne (this means the grapes are grown and turned into Champagne by exclusive, small, mostly amazing winemakers…with a pricetag to match). I love hot dogs. I love Champagne. However, these two delights do nothing for each other when combined.Hot dogs should be consumed with beer…or a milkshake. That’s it.

I went to Bubbledogs over three weeks ago. I was the first person to arrive when they opened the doors- 5:30pm- and was told to wait outside even though there was no queue (I WAS the queue) I was told there was a strict 1hour 15 min turnaround on the tables. (RELAXING) After a 10 min wait on the doorstep, I was allowed inside and was told AGAIN there was a strict 1 hour 15 min turnaround time on the table…by the same bloke. (SUPER relaxing). Why did I stay? Because there’s been such a buzz about this place…I wanted to check it out for myself…and my waitress was super cute.

The Strawberry Blonde joined me.  We had a lovely glass of Champagne and perused the hot dog menu. The cheapest- for a plain hot dog- was £6. With some toppings, £7-7.75. A squirt of truffle mayo takes it over the £8 mark. These better be good, I thought.

Skimpy skimp skimp is the only way I can describe them. A mere 6 inches of dog, miserly toppings and a supermarket bun? I’m from New Jersey…HOME OF THE HOT DOG. These people really need to get their act together. Maybe ironic hot dog eating suits trendy Londoners wearing ironic spectacles and ironic beards…I love a gimmick, but some of us just crave a bit of authenticity on our plates now and again.I am sure these guys are making a killing; pity the punters who don’t know any better.

I dug this photo out of my archive to illustrate my point.  Yes, that is Helena Christiansen, the supermodel/photographer. Yes she is eating a giant hot dog. I was lucky enough to work with Helena a few years ago- she took some photos of me and my family for a piece I wrote about New Jersey for the Times. I took her to my favourite haunts on the Jersey Shore, where I grew up. This was taken at Keansburg boardwalk. It’s a foot-long dog, and Helena piled on the onions, ketchup, mustard and mayo. She had cheese fries too, and washed it all down with a banana milkshake. I think it cost her about 6 bucks.

I am sure my new friend from Brooklyn would thoroughly approve.

Two of my favourite things together in one picture. Sigh…

Two of my favourite things together in one picture. Sigh…

Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast - Oscar Wilde