This piece originally appeared in the Guardian.
International pizza delivery chain Domino’s last week started selling its new “gourmet” range – three pizzas which, according to a breathless press release have “been specially developed to appeal to a different type of pizza-eater who is looking for a lighter pizza and more distinctive flavours, which are akin to those you might find in a traditional pizzeria”. That is to say, the pizzas are an effort to appeal to those for whom Domino’s is usually only a last or drunken resort.
Domino's have fully embraced the trend for unusual and experimental cooking
For the majority of food lovers, high street fast food chains like Domino’s have become a byword for poorly-sourced, soulless and generally unpleasant food. Insipid burgers, rubbery cheese and Dead Sea levels of salt have all contributed to an overwhelmingly negative view of fast food. A request for one word descriptions of Britain’s fast food was met with a barrage of ire, ranging from “pointless” “unsatisfying” and “beige” to “greasy” “sticky” and, most damningly of all I reckon, “rancid“.
Continue reading →
“Darling,” she said, and arced her back, pushing her belly button towards an imagined sun. I catch a glimpse of a small white breast and look away, concentrating fiercely on my wine. “It is really very difficult for those poor souls who are both beautiful AND intelligent. Rejected by both tribes. So sad.”
“You would. So contrary.”
“I think it’s like having the best from both tribes. Half eagle, half lion. Those ‘poor souls’, you included, might be a little more alone, but you’re griffins. Mythical beasts. Forgive me for not shedding a tear.”
“That may be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. But it will not offset you burning the poussin. Pay attention,” she smirks. And she’s right, of course. The skin is perhaps a little more than desirably charred already. I flip it and swig.
Griffins are the second best mythical animal
Lucy’s is the only mouth I know in which “darling” is not an unbearable affectation. She has a boyfriend called Pony and together they run a photographic studio in between forays to Essex and Middlesborough in search of trouble and life. She has been, by turns, a font of adventure, opportunity, mischief and solace. I owe her much. Right now I’m making a gesture of repayment by cooking her a meal, but she’s distracting me with statements absurd in their scale and scope.
I had a dream last night that I was in Fascist Italy, cresting limestone hills on a brown Harley-Davidson in flight from my oppressers. In my sleep I felt the surge of power as the bike kicked and roared beneath me. I heard pebbles spit and skitter from the wheels. But what I dreamed clearest was the smell of fresh wild thyme as the thick tyres surfed over tiny green buds of the herb that covered that imagined hillside.
Asian squid porn is equally evocative of cherished memories but that's a story for an entirely different website
That smell, for me, is redolent of a lazy summer evening in Malta. My friends and I rolled up to a cliffside perch, drunk on hot sunshine and bad wine, and lay there smoking cigarettes as the sun set amongst chattering dolphins. Every time one of us so much as lifted our smoking arm the air filled with the fresh, earthy aroma of thyme.
Sometimes I feel that writing a blog is a bit like being that guy at a party. You know him. He takes a corner of the room to himself and, tweaked out on plant food & bad coke, draws anyone near him into interminable conversations about his family, his future, his frustrations. His face is drawn and lined with the stress of his habits and he hasn’t shaved or slept for days. Consequently, he looks a bit like a pinched ballsack.
I know how she feels. Trapped between the "I'm just kind of crazy" guy and the one who reads Baudelaire aloud from his beanbag in between bong hits
I try to avoid the trap of solipsism and listen to my friends, family and food-loving acquaintances in the interests of self-improvement. Sometimes, however, I’m delighted that I’ve stubbornly taken my own route despite all nudging and directing. Cooking salt and pepper squid was one of those times. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting actual photographs on the blog. Of the food, that is, rather than painted dogs and testicle-shaped fish.
By Zeus I love crispy stuff. There’s something about a salty, brittle crunch which carries enormous appeal. Maybe it’s the feeling of shattering something beautiful, maybe it’s the flood of flavour that almost always accompanies that moment. Maybe it’s just that everything crispy is usually fantastically unhealthy, appealing to my self-destructive side.
This woman probably went through a delicious crackling stage before becoming a kind of profoundly unsexy organ wallet
These spring rolls are a compromise between that most base of desires and my almost-but-not-quite-unashamedly metrosexual desire to not become a cratered doughball, drowning my promise in deep-fried goodness. Therefore they are baked. This method takes a little longer, but consider that to be time you’d lose to high cholesterol if you’d gone the deep-frying route.
To run the risk of sounding like a perfume advert, I believe in simplicity. My wardrobe is essentially black and white, with the occasional splash of colour a grudging nod to society’s loathing of mimes. Though I play up the hedonistic aspects of my lifestyle in an attempt to seem rock ‘n’ roll and unapproachable, I actually appreciate the simplest things in life the most. The kiss of a cold pillow or the moment you take off your socks rank just as highly for me as a Hawksmoor steak or a Hendrick’s G & T.
There's something quite meta about writing at length about simplicity. Blows. My. Mind.
This doesn’t always translate into food. I love to cook the likes of duck confit and decadent venison, and I’ll never order something basic in a restaurant. I want to be dazzled and surprised by other people’s food and by extension hope to do that with mine, sometimes at the expense of the pure satisfaction of a good nourishing plate of grub.
In my hometown, there’s a club called the Bridge. It stretches over two floors. On the top floor are the beautiful rich boys and girls, racing back and forth from bar to dance floor to smoking area and kissing in the corridors. On the bottom floor you’ll find a seething, humping mass of sweaty bodies, writhing desperately to thumping (and shit) R & B.
I love & support hip-hop. I don't blame it for society's problems. However, I do have to admit that this guy probably wouldn't have happened without it. Sorry about that.
Nights at the Bridge inevitably end with inexplicably sticky hands and the lingering aftertastes of aniseed, body odour and regret. Most people wash them away with a sea of grease from one of the less salubrious kebab vans that dot Oxford’s streets, but to me the lumps of gristle and animal tubing that make up the average kebab could never quite cut it. I needed something which could help fight off those feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Something, god forbid, vegetarian.
In my parent’s front garden there is an old tree, thick and gnarled with age. It serves as a kind of landmark for me, the first piece of home I see as I walk down the old red brick street. It’s also a bloody nuisance as it has become incontinent in its old age and leaks sticky sap over anything parked too close.
The great thing about getting really old is that you can do whatever you wish, no matter how disgusting, and simply laugh it off
Of more interest to me, however, is the enormous mushroom that has sprouted from one of the crooks in the tree’s trunk. It’s a brown, flat thing, about the size of an average fish platter. Huddling under its cap are colonies of smaller white mushrooms, nuzzling the gills in King Mushroom’s underside. It was a fantastically unsettling sight the first time I dragged my shattered body and mind up the drive at 6.50am and it loomed from that lovely old tree.
I’m not exactly the paradigm of good health. I smoke, I drink too much, I eat pretty much constantly and the extent of my exercise is an occasional late-night splash about in the kid’s pool (I like the floats and sometimes – when it’s empty – I’m allowed to go on the slide.) But my greatest vice is bad Chinese food. I readily admit to loving the MSG packed staples: sweet and sour pork, black bean and crispy chilli beef rank highly – but nothing beats crispy duck. I once ate it three times in a week and then found a duck’s leg bone under my bed, like some kind of Native American curse.
The lizard king has followed the lead of George VI in going for a more understated bowler hat rather than the traditional crown
You would have thought this would mean I’d be chomping at the bit to get my hands on Royal Dragon. Regularly rated highly by both public and critics, it’s unanimously thought to be Chinese done right – or at least as right as it gets 5000 miles from Beijing. As the flagship London eatery of restaurant group Royal China, Royal Dragon has a reputation for value, quality and service.
Continue reading →
Thus far I’ve steered clear of fruit. For the despicable likes of me fruit is a minefield of lewd cliches and sexual analogies, and I want to avoid becoming a poor caricature of myself.
My ancestor Joseph Harding invented cheddar cheese. His earlier experiments were significantly less delicious.
I couldn’t continue to ignore the syrupy delights of cooked fruit and its place in the savoury canon. I knew someone once who couldn’t stand the combination of fruit and cheese, considering it to be akin to that picture of the rat with an ear on its back – each element good, useful & natural in isolation but abhorrent when combined.