Healthy Eating with Pheidippides

It’s fair to say that the last eighteen months have not been the healthiest the world has ever had. With pandemics, lockdowns, and economic devastation, most of us have felt a lot worse, and at least speaking for myself, sought to make ourselves feel better through comfort food and alcohol paired with an almost complete lack of exercise. It should therefore come as no surprise that doctors have described my current medical state as ‘please do not come to the doctors’.

Still, every day offers new possibilities! Seize the day! Just do it! Stop lying in bed at 3 PM aimlessly staring into space until you enter the mental abyss somewhere halfway between life and death where everything seems meaningless! All of these motivational phrases can inspire us. Having spent the last eighteen months behaving like a method actor preparing for a role as a gout-afflicted sloth, now I intend to eat healthier and exercise regularly, returning to the levels of peak fitness I enjoyed in 2019 where sometimes I went to the gym twice a week to repeatedly drink and then refill my water bottle, do two pull-ups then decide I wasn’t feeling it and go home.

If I said to you ‘nike’ who would you think of? If you said, ‘Denilson, former Brazil international footballer and star of the 1998 advert where the Brazil football team played at the airport’ I would say… no, but I appreciate that you’re thinking outside of the box. If however you said ‘that guy who died after running to deliver news of the victory at the battle of Marathon’, then I have got a pleasant surprise for you. Pheidippides was a messenger who not only famously ran the distance now referred to as a Marathon (dying on arrival after uttering the single word ‘nike’, meaning ‘victory’), but prior to that he ran another 150 miles across two days running from Athens to Sparta. If anybody is going to help me get fit and healthy or literally die trying, it’s him. As part of our adventure today we’re going to be both exercising and also enjoying a series of healthy but hopefully tasty snacks that can become a regular part of my diet.

I meet Pheidippides in London’s Finsbury Park. He looks intimidatingly fit, as might be expected of somebody who runs more miles in two days than I’ve run in the last thirty-five years. As I amble over to him, he throws me a bag, which I barely manage to catch. “What’s this?” I ask.

“They’re goji and coconut balls,” he says, excitedly. “They’re good for energy and for your body.”

I examine the bag of balls. They certainly don’t have the immediate visual appeal of a Doughnut Time doughnut or a Miel Bakery pain au chocolat, but I’m willing to give it a go. Taking a bite, they’re both dry but also incredibly dense, as if an entire galaxy of goji berries and coconuts collapsed into a black hole and this is the result. It’s not my favourite thing I’ve ever eaten, but I guess if I’m trying to be healthier now though then this is the way I have to go.

Goji and coconut balls.

“Right, we’re going to start with a light jog to get the muscles warmed up, followed by some short sprints, then we’ll get into our 20k before we close with a 5k warm-down,” says Pheidippides. I give him the look of a man who hasn’t ventured outside of his own home in three weeks, let alone is now capable of completing such a feat. He ignores my look. “Let’s get going!” He says, as he sets off on his ‘jog’. I say jog because if that’s what he calls a jog then what I’m currently doing is more like watching the evolution of man. It takes him a minute to realise that he’s alone, and then he circles back to find me. “Is there a problem?” He asks.

“That is absolutely not a jog,” I say.

“It’s a five-minute mile pace, as I say it’s quite light.”

“Five minutes a mile? Yeah, we’re going to need to go slower than that.”

“Six minutes a mile?!”

“Err… not exactly.”

“Oh, ok, so like five and a half minutes a mile?”

“I was thinking more like fifteen minutes a mile.”

“What the- but that’s- you just want to walk then?”

“I’m just going to need some time to build up to six minutes a mile I think.”

“Ok, so in about ten minutes?”

“In about ten months.”

“Unacceptable. We can do this. Push yourself to the limits! Let’s get going!”

With that, Pheidippides is off again at pace. I run fast alongside him, trying to keep up with his crazy pace, but after a short time it’s too much, and I trudge to a miserable, breathless halt. Pheidippides again fails to notice and continues running. As I stand there alone I look across the park and notice a familiar face on a bench nearby. “Andy?” They say, noticing me as well.

“Catherine of Aragon? What are you doing here?” The last time I saw Catherine of Aragon we were sharing some tater tots at Bubbledogs.

Catherine shrugs. “Just enjoying the park. I come down here all the time,” she says. She reaches into a canvas bag she has with her and pulls out some M&S chocolate eclairs. “I like to just sit here, enjoy a sweet treat and just watch the world go by. Can I tempt you?”

I stare at the eclairs. The eclairs stare back at me. “What’s the worst that can happen?” Says an éclair, in a thick Brooklyn accent. Normally I would be taken aback by this, but given how the last year has been, if hallucinating sentient eclairs is the only long-term consequence of this I’ll probably be fairly happy. I look around anxiously for Pheidippides. No sign. I sit myself down on the bench and go to take an éclair when-

“No, I can’t, I’m sorry,” I say. “I have to try and get healthy. I’m a new me now.”

“What was wrong with the old you?”

“Oh god, where to begin…” I say. It’s then that Pheidippides jogs back up and finds us sat on the bench.

“What’s going on here?” He says.

“This is Catherine of Aragon. Catherine, Pheidippides. Pheidippides, Catherine.”

Pheidippides and Catherine nod at each other. Then Pheidippides notices the éclairs. “Wait, is that what I think it is? No! If you’re hungry, then eat one of these!”

Pheidippides pulls a bag of turmeric, nigella seed and seaweed crackers out of his pocket and hands it to me. “They’re a superfood that’s high in fibre,” he says. I try them and find that ‘super’ somehow isn’t the right adjective. To be honest, ‘food’ is pushing it a little bit. If I were to pick a term, I’d probably go with ‘misery slabs’. It makes me sad to eat them, a sadness that’s only compounded by Pheidippides’ insistence that we continue on our run.

Seed crackers/misery blocks.

“Come on, let’s get to work. We’re never going to achieve that five-minute mile without breaking a few eggs.”

“Am I… the eggs?” I say, confused. Pheidippides ignores my question and we set off running again. Again, I try to keep pace with him but within moments I’m exhausted and in pain. More than anything though I’m sad. Not just because I can’t keep up with a professional marathon runner, but because I just don’t really enjoy exercise. Sure, it’s meant to release endorphins that make you feel better, but right now all is feel is pain, disappointment, and the cold, and that’s the last thing I need right now. I trudge back over to the bench where Catherine of Aragon is and sit down.

“Where are you going? Come back, let’s try that again,” says Pheidippides.

“No! I’m fed up. I don’t like running, and I don’t like your stupid snacks.”

“I thought you wanted to be healthy? You’re not going to get healthy if you don’t exercise and eat well.”

“What does it even mean to be healthy? Are you only healthy if you can run a mile in five minutes, have a six-pack and can pull a train?”

“Yes.”

“The answer is no. Because you forget about the strongest muscle of all.”

“The mind?”

“Yes… the mind…”

“You were going to say something else weren’t you?”

“I was going to say the teeth.”

“But… they’re bones?”

“It’s been a long day, ok? But yes, the mind! The strongest muscle of all! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last eighteen months, it’s the importance of mental health. The last thing any of us need throughout all of this is to stress ourselves out about not being in shape. And if that all means sitting on a bench with a former wife of Henry VIII who was… were you beheaded?”

“Divorced,” says Catherine.

“Sitting on a bench with a former wife of Henry VIII who was divorced, eating chocolate eclairs because it makes us feel good, then so be it! You just do whatever you can to get through this, you shouldn’t feel guilty about looking after yourself.”

Pheidippides stares at us for a moment, then sits himself down on the bench alongside us. “Are they good then?” He says, eying the eclairs. Catherine hands him the box, and he withdraws one and takes a bite. “Oh my god! These are so good! How much turmeric is in these?”

“There’s no turmeric at all,” I say. “Hey, here’s an idea, how about we get something delivered here?”

“Delivered? As in somebody will bring you your food and then die?” Says Pheidippides.

“You know not all courier services are like that, right?” I say. “But Deliveroo doesn’t treat their workers especially well, so yes it’s a possibility.”

“Because all they care about is profit,” sighs Pheidippides.

“You’d think, but they actually make a huge loss every year too.”

“What kind of business is this?”

I shrug, as I tap a few buttons to set in motion a series of events that will culminate in a meatball pizza from a restaurant called Oi Vita. We sit silently, tucking into the remainder of the eclairs. “Isn’t this nicer than running?” I say.

“Is this what you do all day? You review food?”

“Oh god, the review!”

2/10 – Disappointing healthy snacks.

“Ok, phew, thankyou for reminding me. That’s all done now.”

“So what’s this? Like a post-credits scene?”

“If it is, then it’s not a good one. It’s not something I’d stick around for.”

“People seemed to like it when The Avengers had shawarma wraps together.”

I look at myself, a 35-year-old man working for a search engine that struggles to find itself, Catherine of Aragon, a 16th century Queen, and Pheidippides, a marathon runner dressed in what can only be described as linen hotpants. “We’re not The Avengers,” I say, as our Deliveroo rider arrives with our pizza, a Meatball Queen pizza comprised of meatballs, smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and basil. I hand the box around to everybody, and we sit and munch on our pizza slices, quietly satisfied. I look over at Pheidippides and he looks content.

“Nike…” He says to himself, then he drops his pizza and flops sideways.

“Oh god, is he dead?” I say.

“I guess it’s just his thing,” says Catherine of Aragon, as she picks his slice up from the floor and blows the dust off of it. “To good mental health,” she says. “Even at the cost of terrible physical health.” We cheers our slices. Overall…

10/10 – Oi Vita is the best pizza in London.

The Meatball Queen from Oi Vita.

Perilla with The Man In The Iron Mask

I’ve missed restaurants. I’ve missed the atmosphere of a place at once both busy and calm, that comes with the relaxed feeling of knowing that everything will be taken care of for you. I’ve missed the sommeliers looming over you as you try the wine and say something like ‘yes, that’s really nice actually’, as if you’re somehow surprised that somebody whose job it is to know wine has chosen a really nice one, and didn’t just plump for something that had a nice label. I miss the chefs coming over to ask how the meal is, and over-enthusing to the point they become concerned for my wellbeing, as I tell them that my existence was meaningless until I tried their turbot.

 

More than anything though I’ve missed the food. The high-quality meals that I couldn’t even imagine, much less cook myself. As somebody who loves visiting fancy restaurants, it’s often assumed that I must myself be good at cooking and spend my time at home making my own delicious and elaborate meals too. In short: No. Even though I’ve had more time at home than ever, my culinary skills still sit somewhere between caveman and child with a Play-Doh kitchen. If Deliveroo could be completed, I wouldn’t just be watching the end credits by now, I’d be listed in them with a ‘special thanks to’ acknowledgement. I’ve had enough fish fingers to deprive Atlantis of an entire generation of pianists, enough spaghetti to make Eminem ruin his sweater again, and baked enough pasta that I’ll probably be named-checked in Planet Earth III as a global warming risk. My time in lockdown has yielded little in the way of success or personal development. I am the same person (if not slightly worse), than I was at the very start of this.

 

All this disappointment is behind me now though, as lockdown concludes and I’m finally allowed to visit restaurants again. Today I’ll be enjoying this by dining at Perilla, located on North London’s Newington Green. It’s only been open for a few years, but it’s already built a reputation that’s seen it lauded by The Times, The Evening Standard, and hopefully, this blog where I eat with people who are long dead.

 

My guest today is… well, nobody really knows. The man in the iron mask was imprisoned by France’s King Louis XIV in the 17th century, and forced to wear an iron mask to obscure his identity. Historians have only been able to speculate about who they were, and why their identity was placed under such secrecy. Having not just been imprisoned for thirty-four years, but also having spent a lot of time wearing a mask, I figured they’d be the ideal guest for today’s first post-lockdown review.

 

Perilla offers an a la carte menu, but today we’re opting for the full tasting menu experience of five courses. Safe in the knowledge that even the choosing of the dishes is out of my hands, we sit back and take in the whole experience of dining out again.

 

“So… what do I even call you?” I ask, upon realising I don’t actually have a name for my guest.

 

“Please, call me ‘the man in the iron mask’.”

 

“Yes, I get that. But what’s your real name?”

 

“That’s not important. What’s important is that we’re here, supporting local businesses.”

 

“Have you missed it? Thirty-four years spend in lockdown is a long time.”

 

“Yes, a very long time …” says the man in the iron mask trailing off. “But I’ve got a lot done. I’ve learned many languages, mastered many musical instruments, written a few screenplays.  Well, I’m sure you’re much the same. What have you been up to in lockdown?”

 

“Oh, you know… I… you know…” My mind goes blank, until on my shoulder appears a tiny man dressed in a suit and bowler hat. “Homepride man?!” I say, stunned.

 

“Tell him about the pasta bakes!” Says Homepride man.

 

“And say what? Did you hear his achievements?”

 

“Oh, ok then. Well why don’t you speak to the guy on your other shoulder about all the other things you did in lockdown?”

 

I turn to my other shoulder. There’s nobody there. “Where are they?” I say.

 

“Oh, of course, pasta bakes are the only thing you’ve done! And so many of them! I’m here to collect, Andy!”

 

“Collect what? You know what, I don’t care. I don’t need this sass from you, Mr Homepride, so why don’t you just take yourself back to your tomato and herb sauce jar-“

 

“Andy! Andy!” Says a voice. I snap back into the room. Everybody is staring at me. “Who are you talking to?” Says the man in the iron mask.

 

“Oh, err… nobody. Please everybody, enjoy your meals,” I say, noticing that the Homepride man has vanished again. The other diners all give each other confused looks, and then slowly the restaurant returns to a bit more chatter and clatter.

 

“Sorry about that,” I say. “Anyway, as I was saying, there’s so many achievements to choose from reall-”

 

“It was the Homepride man, right?” Says the man in the iron mask.

 

“How did you know?”

 

“He comes to all of us who find ourselves inside for an extended period of time. Always offering wealth, pasta bakes, whatever the heart desires.”

 

“Wait, I could have had wealth?”

 

“Don’t beat yourself up, Andy,” says the man in the iron mask. “We all take the pasta bakes. They’re so quick and easy and can fill three to four meals.”

 

“I don’t understand. You lived in the 17th century. Homepride wasn’t even a thing then.”

 

“He went by a different name back then. In France we knew him as ‘le démon des pâtes au four’ or ‘the demon of baked pasta’. At least according to Google Translate.”

 

“Hold on, you had Google as well?”

 

“That’s a different demon, no time for that now.”

 

“Well what does he want?”

 

“He’s here for your soul. That’s the deal. Delicious, simple pasta bakes in exchange for your soul.”

 

“This doesn’t make sense. Even if he had claimed my soul, couldn’t he just wait for me to die to take it?”

 

“He doesn’t wait, Andy. He’s here to collect now.”

 

Wonderful. My first visit back to restaurants, and instead of it being a relaxing, celebratory time, now a tiny man in a bowler hat is trying to take me to sauce limbo. It’s while I’m contemplating this that our first dish arrives. It’s a simple dish, homemade sourdough bread with a mixture of spreads, but those spreads are pretty special. There’s burnt onion hummus, smoked aubergine, prawn taramasalata and sheep’s yoghurt and samphire. All of them are wonderful, but the burnt onion hummus is particularly excellent, and the kind of thing you could eat by the tub.

 

Perilla Bread Spreads
The spreads for our breads.

 

“There must be something I can do, isn’t there? After all, he hasn’t killed you yet. How did you escape?”

 

“Escape? I locked myself away and shackled my face so that he might never find me. He’d take me too if he knew who I was.”

 

“Who are you?”

 

“It doesn’t matter. We both need a plan now to stop him, ok?”

 

I nod, as I anxiously scan the restaurant. He could be anywhere, lurking, waiting, ready to strike. It’s then I’m startled back to the restaurant.

 

“Argh!” I shout, as a figure appears from nowhere. It’s our waitress with our second dish. “Sorry, I’m just… you haven’t seen a one-foot man in a bowler hat anywhere have you?” She looks bemused. “Ok, no problem.”

 

Perilla Welsh Rarebit
Leek & Potato Rarebit.

 

Our second dish is a leek and potato rarebit. A hollowed-out leek, filled with potato, mustard and cheese, and topped with hazelnuts and a green sauce I can’t quite remember (Restaurant Critic Of The Year 2020 surely awaits). It’s quite simply spectacular, a perfect reminder of what I’ve been missing so much in restaurants, a dish that’s at once innovative, delicious and fun. The last thing I had that was topped with cheese like this was-

 

“Watch out!” Shouts the man in the iron mask. I turn and see a knife shoot past my head and deflect off a window. I scream and drop to the floor under the table, in time to see a tiny man scarper off. Once again, the whole restaurant goes silent and turns to face us.

 

“Did you not see him?!” I say.

 

“See who?” Says another diner.

 

“The Homepride man! He’s come to take my soul!” The silence intensifies. “Ok, I know how this sounds…” The waiting staff come over to top up my water glass. “It’s really happening, ok! If you see him, watch out! He has knives!”

 

The silence is thankfully interrupted by the arrival of our third course, a unique take on mussels and chips. Day old bread soaked in the sauce of moules mariniere, accompanied by a bowl of moules and a side of chips with a homemade curry sauce. “Moules!” I proclaim excitedly, and hope everybody gets back to their meals. They do. “Oh thank goodness, I wasn’t sure shouting ‘moules’ was really going to help anything. We have to do something about him,” I say, as I eat a piece of delicious moules bread.

 

Perilla Moules
Moules Mariniere with moules bread and chips.

 

“There’s only one thing we can do, Andy,” says the man in the iron mask. “We have to banish him back from whence he came.”

 

“How do we do that?”

 

“I need you to go to the shop around the corner and buy a jar of Homepride. Then, I need you to eat it all, and then we’re going to cast a spell.”

 

“You want me to eat a whole jar of sauce?”

 

“It’s the only way.”

 

“Ok, fine,” I say, as I put my napkin onto the table and leave the restaurant. “I’ll be right back,” I say to the staff as I head out to the shop next door. I buy myself a jar of creamy tuna sauce and head back outside. I can’t very well go back into the restaurant though to eat a jar of Homepride sauce, given they already think I’m crazy. No, if I want to maintain my dignity I’m going to need to eat it in the street. I pop the lid and begin to drink the sauce from the jar. I can’t say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but if this is going to get me through this ordeal then it’s just what I have to do. It’s then that I hear the sound of tapping on glass.

 

One of the nicest features about Perilla is the large, floor to ceiling glass windows that adorn the outside. They bring a huge amount of natural light into the restaurant in the summer, and in the winter give it a cosy feel, as if you’re in your own little bubble away from the cold. When you’re surreptitiously trying to eat a cold jar of pasta sauce though, away from a group of people who already think you’re mentally unstable because you keep shouting about the Homepride man, these large windows can be something of a problem. I turn to see the whole restaurant, frozen and staring out of these windows at me. “I need to drink the sauce so we can cast the spe- oh, you wouldn’t understand!” I say, as I drink the remainder of the sauce, to disgusted looks from the other diners, and walk back into the restaurant. I sit back down and put the jar onto the table. “Ok, now what?” I say, full of sauce.

 

“Now we- Oh, hold on,” says the man in the iron mask, as our next course arrives, AN ENTIRE SEA BREAM. Often described as a ‘deep-bodied compressed fish with a small mouth separated by a broad space from the eye’ (source: Wikipedia, 2020), whenever I’ve encountered it in restaurants it’s always been really enjoyable, and today is no different. It’s a bit of shame that moments earlier I’ve eaten an entire jar of sauce to somewhat spoil my appetite, but I still very much enjoy this.

 

Perilla Sea Bream

 

“Tell me how to cast the spell before he comes back,” I say.

 

“Ok, well, first things first, we need to get everybody here involved.”

 

“What?! You didn’t say that before!”

 

“Sadly it’s a vital part of the spell. We need everybody to chant ‘there’s no sauce like Homepride’ together, whilst one of us reads out the ingredients on the back of the packet.”

 

“Ok, well clearly I die here today.”

 

“Andy, you need to do this or he’ll never leave you alone.”

 

The man in the iron mask is right. “You may wear an iron mask, but you have displayed so much vulnerability here today that perhaps it is the rest of us who truly wear the mas-“

 

“Are you stalling?”

 

“Obviously, yes,” I sigh. “Fine, let’s get this over with…” I say. I stand up and tap on my glass to get everybody’s attention. There are groans as people see it’s me again. “People of the restaurant, I need your attention, please. Many of you may know me as the man who was drinking sauce on the street just moments ago, but I’m so much more than that. I’m also the man who heated that same sauce in an ovenproof dish on a weekly basis for nearly four months,” I say. “Look, lockdown was tough for all of us, and just because I didn’t finish a screenplay or learn a language, or-“

 

“Write a blog,” says the man in the iron mask.

 

“Yes, thankyou.”

 

“Do any exercise,” says another voice.

 

“Ok, yes…”

 

“Not drink every day,” says another.

 

“Ok, this was not a call for suggestions! All I’m saying is, lockdown was tough and we all got through it as best we could. Sure, I didn’t learn any new skills, and sure, I may have eaten pasta bake almost constantly, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Getting through something like this is an achievement in itself, and sometimes we all need a pasta bake for our mental health. Because sometimes a pasta bake isn’t just for our stomach… It’s a pasta bake for our soul,” I say. I leave silence for critical acclaim. True to form, there is none. Then, a woman at the back of the restaurant stands up.

 

“I too, had pasta bake every week,” she says.

 

“So did I,” says somebody else, standing up.

 

“Me too!”

 

“And me!”

 

“Pasta bake got me through this!”

 

“I attended a house party even though I was displaying COVID symptoms,” says another.

 

“Ok, just so you know, you’re a terrible person,” I say. “The rest of you, I need your help.”

 

The man in the iron mask opens the jar and places it on the table. “Ok, everybody ready?” I say.

 

“There’s no sauce like Homepride. There’s no sauce like Homepride. There’s no sauce like Homepride,” everybody begins to chant. I grab the jar and begin to read.

 

“Tomato puree 73%, tomatoes 11%, rapeseed oil, onion 4%, sugar, modified maize starch.” In front of me I see a tiny man scarper into view.

 

“What are you doing? Stop it!” He says. Everybody continues chanting. Winds begin to swirl around the restaurant, knocking the remainder of our sea bream off the table (still delicious). I continue to rattle through the ingredients list. “Salt 1%, dehydrated cheese, concentrated lemon juice that contains sulphites, garlic puree, egg yolk powder, flavourings that contain milk and celery? What does that even mean?“

 

“I said stop it! STOP IT NOW!” Shouts the Homepride man in a booming voice. He tries to throw another knife, but he’s caught up in the vortex and begins circling our heads rapidly.

 

“Ground black pepper! Stabiliser also known as xanthan gum! Lactose!”

 

“You’ve not seen the last of meeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Says the Homepride man, as he and the winds are sucked into the jar, and the man in the iron mask quickly puts the lid back on. The jar rattles for a moment on the table, then it falls still. We all cheer, apart from the waitress, who emerges to our table and places down our dessert.

 

“Did I miss something? Sorry, I was in the kitchen.”

 

Me and the man in the iron mask share the dessert, a herb and pistachio choux that is both bizarre yet also surprisingly nice. We pay our bill and then head out onto the street, he carrying the jar.

 

Perilla Pistachio Choux
A HERB AND PISTACHIO CHOUX.

 

“Well, I guess this is where we go our separate ways. Thankyou for your help,” I say.

 

“Not a problem, Andy. Now that he is gone, I am free to remove my mask and get back to being myself again,” says the man in the iron mask. He unshackles the catches on the mask, and slowly removes it.

 

“Oh my god, you’re-“

 

“Yes, it is I, General Vivien de Bulonde!”

 

“Yes, that’s what I was going to say.”

 

“You have no idea who I am, do you?”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Then what were you going to say?”

 

“I don’t want to say now.”

 

“No, please. Do tell.”

 

“I was going to say ‘The Man In The Fleshy Face’”.

 

“… Why?”

 

“Let’s end it there.” All said and done…

 

9/10 – Incredibly high-quality cooking at very reasonable prices.

Doughnuts with Bob Marley

The humble doughnut, a delicious treat that comes in all variety of shapes and flavours, from ring doughnut to not ring doughnut, chocolate to not chocolate. Previously the preserve of the supermarket bakery aisle, it’s enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, starting with the rise of Krispy Kreme, and more recently with higher-end doughnut establishments such as Crosstown, Doughnut Time and Bread Ahead. Everybody loves a doughnut, and today I would be sampling some of the finest on offer, hoping to solve the age-old question of ‘which is my favourite doughnut?’.

 

My companion today is global superstar musician, Bob Marley. A pioneer of reggae music who was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the influential music journalism site Answers.com estimates his record sales to be ‘as high as 300 million and in all likelihood not under 150-200 million’. Despite this, my primary motivation for inviting him today is that there’s also a very famous joke relating to how he likes his doughnuts that I hope to capitalise on, to the mirth of up to 300 million people, but in all likelihood not under 150-200 million.

 

I meet Bob on Shaftesbury Avenue, home to one of the many Doughnut Times, a recent import to the UK from Australia. “Hi Bob,” I say.

 

“Hi Andy,” he says. “I’m excited to be here. I love doughnuts.”

 

“I bet you do,” I say. This is going to be so worth it.

 

Doughnut Time has some of the fancier doughnuts that there are to offer. Big, showpiece doughnuts that scream ‘share this image with your friends to remind them that ultimately we are all mortal and something that may or may not be this doughnut will certainly end our existence, for we are all at the mercy of the grim reaper’s wicked game’. You have doughnuts like the ‘Stranger Rings’, a chocolate-glazed doughnut topped with Oreo crumbs, Nutella and glitter, the ‘Robert De N’Oreo’, a doughnut filled with a white chocolate New York cheesecake filling, topped with a brown butter glaze, Oreo crumb, white chocolate and mini Oreo cookies, and the ‘Bueno Mars’, a hazelnut cream-filled doughnut with a chocolate glaze, topped with pieces of Kinder Bueno.

 

“Are you ready to order?” I say to Bob, excitedly.

 

“Yes, all good here,” Says Bob. I can barely contain my excitement.

 

“I’ll have the Robert De N’Oreo,” I say, and then I perfectly tee up the hilarity. “And Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have the ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ please,” says Bob.

 

“Hold on, what?”

 

“It looks good doesn’t it!” Says Bob.

 

“Sorry, we’re going to need a minute,” I say to the assistant as I take Bob to one side. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s just… how do you feel about the jam doughnut? That looks tasty doesn’t it? Mmm… we all love jam. You should go for that one.”

 

“I’d like to try the Biscoff one, why don’t you go for the jam one though?”

 

I sigh to myself. It’s certainly frustrating, but there are a few more doughnut shops to try yet so I guess I can let him have this one. I purchase the doughnuts and we tuck in. The Robert De N’Oreo is delicious. Densely packed with vanilla cheesecake filling that’s both creamy and flavoursome, the Oreo crumb top works wonderfully with it, adding the necessary biscuity element of the cheesecake. Bob’s ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ meanwhile is also very nice. Lotus Biscoff has become incredibly popular over the last few years, particularly in the spreadable form that it comes in in supermarkets, and here it works well in doughnut form too. It’s a good start to our review, albeit not the one I’d hoped for.

doughnut-time-robert-de-noreo-1.jpg
Doughnut Time’s ‘Robert De N’Oreo’ doughnut.

We begin the walk up Shaftesbury Avenue into Soho, where we’ll find the next of our stops.

 

“So, Andy, you’re a big reggae fan I’m guessing?” Says Bob.

 

“Oh, err… yes, perhaps,” I say, awkwardly. Truth be told I’m not. I’m not really very big on music generally. I’m the kind of person who when you ask them what music they listen to they say ‘all sorts really’, but what I actually mean is I listen to the same 4 Lady Gaga songs on repeat, yet somehow still don’t know any of the words.

 

“Who’s your favourite reggae artist apart from me?”

 

“Oh look, here we are!” I say, as we approach Crosstown Doughnuts just off Wardour Street. Thank goodness. I didn’t fancy having to chance whether Lady Gaga had produced a reggae album.

 

Crosstown Doughnuts has really taken off over the last two years, going from being sold from small independent coffee shops and market stores, to now having 7 stores around London and being stocked in places like Selfridges and Whole Foods. Their doughnuts are more classic looking, but still big on flavours.

 

“Wow, look at those jam ones! They look even more delicious than the last lot!” I say. “Maybe one of us should get one of those.”

 

“Oh wow, yes they do! Ok, let’s definitely get one of them,” says Bob. Here we go!

 

“Can I help you gentlemen?” Says the shop assistant. Before I’m able to speak, Bob interjects.

 

“Yes, I’ll have the chocolate truffle,” says Bob. “Andy?”

 

I stare at Bob in silent fury. “But Bob, I was going to go for the chocolate truffle,” I say through gritted teeth. “I thought we agreed that one of us was going to get the jam one though?”

 

“Oh, I just assumed it would be you as you seemed so keen on them.”

 

I put my head in my hands. “Bob, do you not like doughnuts that contain jam? Are they not your preference?”

 

“I fancied a chocolate truffle.”

 

“Just take one more look, ok? Make sure you definitely don’t fancy the jam doughnut.”

 

“Ok, fine,” says Bob. He browses the doughnuts again. “Ok, you’re right, I’ve changed my mind.”

 

“Amazing!” I say, excitedly. “Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have the caramel banana cream, please.”

 

“Bob, for the love of god!”

 

“What?”

 

“You’re meant to go for the jam one and say wi’ jam in’! Why are you ruining this?”

 

“Hold on, is that why you’ve invited me?” Says Bob. “Do you even like reggae?”

 

“Of course I like reggae…”

 

“Who’s your favourite artist?”

 

“Bob Marley.”

 

“Apart from me.”

 

I’m just going to have to hazard a guess here, then a name suddenly springs from nowhere that seems familiar. “Jacob Marley?”

 

“Your favourite reggae artist is the ghost from A Christmas Carol?

 

“Yes,” I say shamefully as I stare down at my feet. I’d forgotten that was where he was from. “I like how he rattles his chains,” I add, to compound my own stupidity.

Crosstown Coffee and Chocolate
The Crosstown ‘Single Origin Coffee & Chocolate’ doughnut.

“It’s fine,” says Bob, with a kind smile that makes you feel like maybe we can all get together and feel alright. “I get this all the time. Besides, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t here for the same reason.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’ve been trying to make you say your catchphrase all day.”

 

“My catchphrase? What’s my catchphrase?

 

“You know… ‘my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left’.”

 

“Oh my god, you think that’s my catchphrase?”

 

“You say it all the time!”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever said it! And how the hell are you expecting me to use it in the context of ordering a doughnut?”

 

“I get that it’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s possible.”

 

“Ok, this is ridiculous, we need to stop trying to get each other to say things and just focus on reviewing doughnuts. Agreed?” I say.

 

“Ok, agreed,” says Bob. We both nod at each other as we tuck into our Crosstown Doughnuts, Bob with his caramel banana cream and me opting for the coffee and chocolate doughnut. My coffee and chocolate doughnut is ok, but not quite as flavoursome as I’d hoped. I’ve definitely had a lot better doughnuts from Crosstown in the past, but I’m sure my disappointment at this will all be forgotten when I finally make Bob admit he likes his doughnuts with jam in.

 

We move onwards to our next doughnut shop, Bread Ahead. Bread Ahead is a more traditional doughnut shop with more classic flavours like chocolate, praline, and most importantly, jam. Whilst their doughnuts are still fairly Instagram-friendly, more than anything they’re notorious for being excellent doughnuts.

 

Before we reach the shop, I have a bright idea. “You know what would go perfectly with our doughnuts? Coffee. Why don’t you grab us a couple of coffees?” I say, as we reach Soho Grind, just next door to Bread Ahead.

 

“Ok cool, I’ll be right back then,” says Bob, as he heads into the shop. I wait outside, and then when his back is turned I dash along to Bread Ahead just next door.

 

“Hi, I need you to do me a favour,” I say. “Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here in a minute-“

 

“Ok…”

 

“Just go with it. Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here and I need him to buy a doughnut with jam in. Would it be possible for you to hide all of your other doughnuts so he has no other option?”

 

“No.”

 

“Ok, fine, what if I were to buy all of the other doughnuts?”

 

“You want to buy a hundred doughnuts?”

 

“It’s for a very funny joke.”

 

“What’s the joke?”

 

“I ask Bob how he likes his doughnuts, and he says wi’ jam in’!”

 

The cashier sighs deeply. “You really think that’s worth it?”

 

“I will take all of the doughnuts.”

 

***

 

“Here’s your coffee,” says Bob, emerging from Soho Grind with a couple of coffee cups. “Shall we?”

 

“Yes, of course,” I say, excitedly, as we walk a couple of doors along to Bread Ahead.

Bread Ahead Eton Mess
Bread Ahead’s ‘Eton Mess’ doughnut.

 

“Oh Christ, here we go…” I hear the cashier mumble under their breath as myself and Bob enter the shop.

 

“Oh, hello, we’re here to get some of your finest doughnuts,” I say, with a wink. “Oh goodness, it looks like you’re nearly all sold out. Am I right in thinking you only have the jam ones left?”

 

“Yes, sir, we only have the jam ones left,” says the cashier in a monotone voice.

 

“Oh well! I guess there’s no other option then. Bob, how would you like your doughnut?”

 

“In that case, I might just get a focaccia instead then,”

 

“Oh for god’s sake!” I say, angrily. “I spent three hundred pounds on this!”

 

“Are you still trying to get me to say my line? Why do you care so much?”

 

“Because my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left!” I say.

 

“There it is!” Says Bob.
“Oh my god, it is my catchphrase!” I sigh, as I put my head in my hands. I console myself by tucking into one of the hundred doughnuts I’ve bought, an Eton Mess flavoured one that’s simply tremendous.

 

“It’s ok, Andy, we’ve all been there,” says Bob, patting me on the shoulder.

 

“You worked for Bing as well?”

 

“I mean, obviously not that,” says Bob. “You know what might help you?”

 

“What?”

 

“If maybe we got a couple of jam doughnuts.”

 

“Really?!” I say, excitedly. Bob smiles and nods.

 

“Excuse me, two doughnuts please! A jam one for me, and Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have a jam flavoured doughnut as well, please,” says Bob, stabbing me in the back again.

 

“Why Bob?!”

 

“I’m not a joke, Andy.”

 

“My dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left,” I sigh. Overall…

 

Doughnut time ‘Robert De N’Oreo’ – 9/10 – Pricey, but unique and delicious.

Crosstown ‘Single Origin Coffee & Chocolate’ – 6/10 – Surprisingly underwhelming.

Bread Ahead ‘Eton Mess’ – 9/10 – A relatively simple but superbly made doughnut.

Iberica with Alexander Hamilton

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and my latest dining companion? That was the question I had to ask myself as I stood on the corner of London’s Cardinal Place in Victoria, awaiting Alexander Hamilton, American revolutionary, treasury secretary, and cultural icon due to the huge success of the musical Hamilton, a spectacular, ground-breaking piece of musical theatre famous for breaking convention not just through its use of rap and hip-hop, but for its incredibly diverse cast in an industry typically dominated by white actors. I’m keen to hear the thoughts of the man himself, and tonight we’d be enjoying the tastes of the Mediterranean as we ventured to popular tapas restaurant Iberica. “Here comes the general!” I say, as Hamilton approaches.

 

“Good to see you.” He says, with a shake of the hand.

 

“The one that I’ve been waiting for!”

 

“Ok.”

 

“I am not throwing away my shot!”

 

“You want to get drinks?” He says, confused.

 

“Oh, I… yes, I guess so.” I say, taken aback by his lack of response. Perhaps he’s just hungry for chorizo lollipops.

 

Iberica is one of the recent additions to a complete overhaul of the Victoria station area. Where previously the area was fairly devoid of much in the way of food, drink and shopping save for a Pret A Manger and a McDonalds, the whole area has been built up to now be a bit of a restaurant destination. As well as Iberica, you now have places like Bone Daddies, Crosstown Doughnuts, Shake Shack, the M Steakhouse, and Hai Cenato all having popped up in the last two years. Iberica was one of the first of these arrivals, a new outpost of an existing chain of tapas restaurants spread across London, Manchester and Leeds. It’s a restaurant that’s as fancy as you want to make it. It feels fancier than other tapas chains like La Tasca, but not so fancy that you feel you have to wear your smart shoes or your emerald-studded cloak.

 

Iberica Pan Con Tomate
Pan Con Tomate

 

“Ooh, what to have… what to have…” I say, scanning the menu. “Anything you’re in the mood for?”

 

“The chorizo lollipops sound nice.” Says Hamilton. I knew it! He’s right though, the chorizo lollipops sound delicious, so we order a few of those, alongside some pan con tomate, ham croquettes, the Spanish omelette, the crispy chicken, albóndigas (beef meatballs), Gambas (prawns in garlic sauce) as well as some jamón by none other than Juan Pedro Domecq, a man who neither of us have heard of, but who has apparently been awarded 3 gold stars for his Iberico ham four times, which is four more ham awards than either myself or Hamilton have ever won (although Hamilton’s achievements are so vast that they could have cut a song about him making fancy ham from the show for all I know).

 

“So, I guess you could say that you’re going to be my Right-Hand Man tonight, eh? Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outpl-“

 

“Why are you being weird?” Says Hamilton, as our food begins to arrive. I tuck into a beef meatball, laded with Vizcaina sauce, a sweet pepper sauce that has its origins in the Basque region of Spain. It’s very beefy, as you might expect for something made of beef, and the sweet pepper sauce does add a nice extra flavour to the dish (namely, one of sweet pepper).

 

“Because of the show! Come on, you know the words! Alexander Hamilton, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you w-”

 

“What show?”

 

“Oh wow, you really have no idea, do you?”

 

“No idea about what?”

 

“We’re going to need to get this to take away.” I say to the waiter.

 

***

 

“Oh my god…” Says Hamilton. We’re standing on the street outside the Victoria Palace Theatre, where Hamilton is playing. “We have to see it.”

 

“It’s really hard to get tickets.”

 

“We have to find a way. Wouldn’t you want to see a musical about your own life?”

 

I consider it for a moment. Truth be told I’m not sure I would. I’m not sure how much entertainment there’d be in a musical about a man whose life was 75% sighing, 25% eating takeaway.

 

Chorizo Lollipops
Chorizo Lollipops

 

“Ok, fine, let’s see if they have any returns. We can’t take this in though.” I say, gesturing to the bag of croquettes, prawns, crispy chicken and ham.

 

“It’s fine, give it here.” Says Hamilton, as he takes the bag and begins to stuff the food into his pockets.

 

“Oh, err… ok.” I say, as Hamilton marches to the front of the queue.

 

“Hello, we’re here to see my show.” Says Hamilton.

 

“What’s the name?”

 

“Alexander Hamilton.” Says Hamilton. The cashier looks him up and down with disdain.

 

“I don’t have you down here Mr Hamilton…”

 

“But it’s my show.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Ok, fine, I can see we’re going to have to resort to unconventional means here…” Says Hamilton. “Perhaps you could… look again?” He says, as he removes a croquette from his pocket and casually slides it across to the cashier.

 

“Is that a croquette?” Says the baffled cashier.

 

“Make that… two croquettes.” Says Hamilton, as he slides another croquette across.

 

“You know these tickets go for hundreds of pounds.”

 

“How many croquettes is that?”

 

The cashier sighs the sigh of somebody who has sighed many sighs. “Look, we have two returns in Row F if you want them, but it’ll be four hundred pounds.”

 

Hamilton looks at me. I look at Hamilton. “Ok, fine.” I say, as I hand over my credit card. “We’ll need those croquettes back too.” I say, as I take back the croquettes and we walk into the theatre.

 

The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)
The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)

 

I take a bite of the croquette as we take our seats. It’s covered in hair with a faintly musty flavour, a very disappointing flavour combination, though in fairness I don’t believe that the restaurant had ever intended for it to be served directly out of the pockets of an 18th century ghost (if they had then it was very avant-garde). The lights dim, and the music starts.

 

“Who’s that?” Whispers Hamilton to me.

 

“That’s Aaron Burr.” I say.

 

“Aaron Burr? And who’s that?”

 

“George Washington.” I whisper, quietly.

 

“Seriously?!” Says Hamilton, loudly. People seated around us give us filthy looks and try to shh Hamilton. I mouth an apology as Hamilton just glares back at them.

 

“Just… keep it down a little bit, ok?” I whisper to Hamilton.

 

“But none of my friends are black!” Says Hamilton loudly as the song comes to a close and the theatre fills with silence. I feel the eyes of the entire crowd (and even the cast) on our seats.

 

“It’s not how it sounds.” I try to protest, however my voice is drowned out by the next song starting. I slide down in my seat in shame. Hamilton shrugs and pulls a piece of ham out of his pocket. He hands me one and I eat it immediately. Alas, even the fine tastes of Juan Pedro Domecq’s rich and flavoursome gold-starred ham can’t distract from my embarrassment. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring him here. He loudly chomps his way through some ham as we go through two more songs. Finally we get to the song ‘The Story Of Tonight’ a song where Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens and Hercules Mulligan pledge their loyalty to the revolution and sing about how future generations will tell tales about this moment. It’s a great song. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks so.

 

“No! No, no, no!” Shouts Hamilton, getting to his feet angrily. “Stop! Stop the music!” He shouts. Everything grinds to a halt and the theatre falls silent, except for the boos and aggression directed towards our seats.

 

“What the hell are you doing? Sit down!” I say to Hamilton, furiously.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Alexander Hamilton, and these people are all frauds!” Says Hamilton, gesturing towards the cast. He begins to shuffle out of our row and walk towards the stage. The boos begin to intensify. Before I know it, he’s stood on stage along with the cast, who all stand in bemusement. “This performance does not accurately reflect my life at all. Please, if you’ll allow me to interject.” Hamilton says, as he stands centre stage. “Andy, will you please join me on stage.” He says, gesturing to me. I look around as if to pretend it is not me he is talking to. “Andy, please come on up here.” Where the hell are the theatre security staff? How have they not stopped this by now? “Andy, I can see you, please get on up here.”

 

Juan Pedro Domenq's Award-Winning Ham
Juan Pedro Domenq’s Award-Winning Ham

 

Everybody’s eyes are on me now as I shamefully slink out of the row and apologetically trudge up onto the stage. “Everybody, this is Andy. He writes a food blog, which reminds me…” Hamilton withdraws a couple of prawns from his pocket. “One for you, one for me.” Says Hamilton, handing me a prawn. “Mmm… it has a nice taste of garlic, wouldn’t you agree?” I take a bite of my prawn and nod a subdued nod. It does have a nice taste of garlic, though at this point as we stand onstage in front of hundreds of people having hijacked an award-winning West End show to review prawns, my mind is understandably elsewhere.

 

“Right, now let me show you how this really happened.”

 

“Hamilton, no, please.” I protest. “Please don’t do this.”

 

“It’s singing, how hard can it be? I’ll be me, and Andy, you be Aaron Burr, ok?”

 

“What? No, wait a mi-”

 

“Music, please.” Says Hamilton, gesturing to the orchestra. To what will surely be their eternal regret, they for some reason decide to oblige him. “Hello, hello, hello… like, hello…” Sings Hamilton, tunelessly playing for time. “It is me, Hamilton. I have written some documents, would you like to read them?” He gestures to me.

 

“Yes, I would like to read them.” I try to sing. Me and Hamilton then just stand opposite each other bopping about for what feels like hours. Just two prawn-obsessed maniacs out of their depth in musical theatre, both unsure what to do next. He may have written 51 essays defending the U.S. constitution, but the man can’t freestyle to save his life.

 

“Ok, cool. They are about government things.” Sings Hamilton. “Government things. Government things…” He then begins to try and dance, flinging crispy chicken and prawns everywhere. It is at this point that the theatre security finally arrives, grab us both and lead us offstage to cheers from the crowd. They toss us out onto the kerb. “Take your wonderfully rich and meaty, nay almost buttery Juan Pedro Domenq gold-starred ham and stay out!” Shouts one of the security guards, as we’re followed shortly afterwards by our crispy chicken, prawns, and Juan Pedro Domenq ham.

 

“Yeah, well you take your expository dialogue and… and… yeah!” Shouts Hamilton, but it is too late, the door has already slammed behind us. The evening may have ended in disgrace, but overall I have to say…

 

9/10 – Lovely croquettes.

Sexy Fish with Karl Marx

karl-marx-at-sexy-fish-e1542023173737.png

Every food writer needs a bad review. People love seeing somebody’s dream torn apart in a whimsical way, their entire life’s purpose reduced to rubble by a cutting quip from somebody who writes about human fuel for a living, their self-worth completely vanquished because they had the audacity to grill their turbot for thirty seconds too long. People absolutely love that. It racks up the page views much quicker than somebody praising a great restaurant. If I want to be a true food writer, I have to find somewhere to hate, and today I think I have just the place.

 

Sexy Fish is a place of incredible opulence, an Instagram-friendly indulgence of gilded surfaces, glass dragons and eye-popping prices. It’s a place to be seen, a celebrity-haven that once hosted the Conservatives’ Christmas Party, which gives you some kind of idea of the typical clientele. I’ve always imagined it as somewhere that people looking to flash their cash come to spend extortionate sums on average food. Today however, it would be host to a different kind of a clientele, as I ventured there with everybody’s favourite writer on the means of production, Karl Marx. Marx famously wrote The Communist Manifesto back in 1848, a critique of the wealthy and their exploitation of the working-class for their own ends, making him the ideal candidate for my spectacular demolition of this bastion of the bourgeois.

 

I meet Marx outside the restaurant, at my suggestion. I can’t wait to see the explosion of fury as he walks in and sees potentially the grandest display of capitalism he’ll ever see. We walk through the door and…

 

“Wow, look at this place!” Says Marx. “This is amazing!”

 

We’re shown to our table and handed our menus. “Oh my god! They’ve got black cod! I love black cod!” Continues Marx.

 

“What is happening?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“This! The decadence, the prices! Don’t you think it’s a bit… bourgeois?”

 

“Oh… I guess so, yeah.”

 

“You guess so? Does it not make you angry?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you’re Karl bloody Marx! Is this not everything you’re against?!”

 

“Oh, well we can’t all be angry all the time, can we? Sometimes you just have to let your hair down and have a good time! Hey, why don’t we get some wagyu?”

 

“We’re not getting wagyu!” I say, as I see it priced at £89 for 150 grams. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, we’re here to write a bad review.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because writing about something you hate is much more popular than writing about something you like. You think The Communist Manifesto would have been as popular if you’d written about how much you enjoy exploiting the poor?” Marx shrugs his shoulders. “Please just try and have a terrible time for me, ok?”

 

“Ok, I’ll try.” Says Marx.

 

Sexy Fish Chicken Wings
Chicken wings.

 

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Says a waiter, interrupting.

 

“Yes, of course, I’ll have the…” I say, as I scan the menu, looking for something of more style than substance that I can criticise. Alas, it’s one of the nicest and most interesting cocktail menus I’ve seen, including one particularly delicious sounding drink that catches my eye. The Rocky Road Old Fashioned is a twist on a regular Old Fashioned, but using buttered whisky, with a toffee twist and a digestive biscuit crumb. It sounds like my dream cocktail, but then really you could sell me anything by adding the word ‘buttered’. I’d probably have been sold on invading Iraq too if you’d told me they had buttered WMDs. I’m basically only ever one well-placed adjective away from an aircraft carrier and a ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.

 

I order the Rocky Road Old Fashioned, the criticism can wait. Marx settles on a Japanese whisky. Sexy Fish professes to have the second largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Who the number one is I have no idea, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say Japan.

 

It’s easy to come to Sexy Fish and rack up the bill like you’re playing a pinball machine, but I’ve planned this well in advance and know exactly what to order to keep it within budget. We go for the chicken wings, beef skewers, the black cod, lamb chops, the Iberico pork ribs, and the duck breast. Factoring in our two cocktails and tip, that keeps us within £200. It’s a pricey meal, but it’s hard to get out of here spending less.

 

As mentioned, Sexy Fish is something of a celebrity haven, you come here expecting to see somebody famous. Even coming in with this knowledge, we’re surprised to see who enters the front door next.

 

“Oh my god, is that-” I say, aghast.

 

“Che Guevara.” Says Che Guevara. “I’m here for the event.”

 

“Of course. Right this way, sir.” Says the Maitre d’. He leads him through the restaurant, missing myself and Marx as he does, and they exit into a back room.

 

“That was strange.” Says Marx. “What’s he doing here?”

 

“I have no idea… It’s fine though, forget about him.”

 

sexy-fish-rocky-road-old-fashioned.jpg
The Rocky Road Old Fashioned.

 

Our first dishes arrive, the chicken wings and the beef skewers. ‘Here we go!’ I think to myself, as the starter’s pistol is fired on the review that’s going to propel me to fame and fortune. Before I know it I’ll be sitting down with Graham Norton, telling a hilarious anecdote about the beef being closer to well-done than medium rare, as Will Smith pats me on the shoulder and tells me I’m the freshest of all princes.

 

I take a bite of the beef skewer and my blood runs cold. To my surprise, the beef is juicy and works very well with the asparagus and smoked chilli sauce it comes with. I fumble for a chicken wing, hoping for something to salvage the criticism, but alas they too are crisp and flavoursome. It’s almost like they don’t want me to write them a poor review.

 

“What do you think?” I ask Marx, as the black cod, the pork ribs and the duck breast arrive at our table too.

 

“I don’t know, maybe he’s here for a job interview or something.”

 

“I mean the food! I told you to forget about him!”

 

“He’s a communist! Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical?” Says Marx, as he tucks into the black cod.

 

“Look at you!” I said, as Marx wipes the black cod from his face and takes another sip of his Japanese whisky.

 

“Oh, well this is different isn’t it?”

 

“How?”

 

“You know… I’m… German.” Says Marx, clutching wildly at straws. I take a bite of the black cod. My heart sinks as I realise it’s unironically tasty. Rich and creamy unlike regular cod, it’s surely only a matter of time until some London restaurant makes a ‘fish finger’ sandwich using black cod, at which point London will have finally completed its journey to becoming the Capitol from The Hunger Games.

 

Sexy Fish Black Cod
Black Cod.

 

“This is actually quite good, isn’t it?” I say with a sigh, as I see my Will Smith friendship dream dying in front of me.

 

“It’s awful.” Says Marx.

 

“Really?” I say, excitedly.

 

“Yes. If he were coming here he should have let me know.”

 

“Oh for goodness sake, this again?”

 

“I’m going to go and say something.” Says Marx, folding his napkin as he gets to his feet.

 

“And what will he say if he sees you here?”

 

“Oh, I guess you’re right.” Says Marx, sitting back down again. “Ok, I need you to go and say something.”

 

“Why the hell would I go and say something?”

 

“Because I’ve taken your family hostage, Andy.”

 

“You’ve what?” I say, stunned.

 

“All it takes is one call, Andy…” Says Marx, as he slowly withdraws a calculator from his pocket and hovers his finger over the ‘CE’ button.

 

“You know that’s a calculator, right?”

 

“The guy told me this was an iPhone!”

 

“What guy?”

 

“He said he was the CEO of Telephones.”

 

“Where did you see him?”

 

“He was by the bins.”

 

“Did you see his ID?”

 

“He said he’d left it in his office.”

 

“Where was his office?”

 

“Los Angeles.”

 

“So he’d popped over from L.A. for the day to just hang around by some bins and sell phones?”

 

“I can see why you’re sceptical, I was too at first-“

 

“You should be bloody sceptical! You’ve been trying to text people on a calculator!”

 

Sexy Fish Iberico Pork Ribs
Iberico Pork Ribs.

 

“Ok, I don’t have your family, but can you please just find him and have a word? Just ask him what he’s doing here?”

 

“Fine.” I sigh. I take one final bite of the pork ribs (sadly tremendous), and head for the Coral Reef room, Sexy Fish’s private dining room, so named due to the huge coral reef fish tank along the back wall. Perhaps here, in the scene of maximum opulence I will find something to criticise. I swing the door open and-

 

“Oh my god!” I say, stunned. I see Che Guevara seated at a table, flanked by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They’re all laughing together, pouring champagne and feasting like kings. The whole scene is like something out of The Great Gatsby, were Gatsby to host exclusive parties for autocrats responsible for the deaths of millions of their own people, a film I’m not sure even Leonardo di Caprio could have saved.

 

“I just think the cod could benefit from more miso glaze.” Says Stalin, in a thick Russian accent.

 

“What is this?!” I say, and then I see… her. Valerie Rhombus, author of significantly more popular blog, Meals With Departed Historical Figures. Valerie is an Instagram ‘influencer’, the kind that has pictures of herself staring wistfully into the sea or brushing her hair out of her face alongside some faux-intellectual caption like ‘sometimes to get where you’re going you need to go back to where you started’, a quote which only really works if you’re on a roundabout. She completely stole my idea for my blog and passed it off as her own by changing small details, such as the name, the font, and making her blog interesting rather than a self-indulgent shambles. I despise her.

 

“Andy! Good to see you!” Says Valerie, with a smug smile.

 

“I should have known it was you! What are you doing here?!”

 

“I thought it would be fascinating to have the clash between the world’s foremost socialist thinkers and the extravagance of Sexy Fish. It works particularly well in the Coral Reef Room, don’t you think?”

 

“That was MY idea! You knew I was doing my review here!”

 

“Your review? Which D-lister have you got this time? Joseph Aspdin?”

 

Everybody laughs loudly at me.

 

“Oh shut up, Stalin! I bet you don’t even know who Joseph Aspdin is!”

 

“He invented Portland cement.” Says Stalin. I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth or not. None of us really know who Joseph Aspdin is.

 

Sexy Fish Beef Skewers
The Beef & Asparagus Skewers.

 

“So come on, who did you invite?” Says Valerie.

 

“What the hell is going on here?!” Says Marx, walking through door. All the Communists look stunned and get to their feet immediately.

 

“Urgh! This place makes me sick!” Says Lenin, as he dramatically throws his napkin on the floor and stamps on it.

 

“Yes! I am glad we have come here to… to… experience it first-hand so now we can better understand how to seize the means of production!” Says Trotsky, wiping bone marrow from his moustache. “Bloody… capitalism!” He says, shaking his fist at a passing clown fish.

 

“Oh, knock it off!” Says Marx, angrily. “You’re all hypocrites! You claim to stand for the redistribution of wealth, yet here you all are indulging yourselves with champagne and seabass! What would the proletariat say if they could see you all now? You’ve brought shame upon the Communist movement!”

 

The Communists stand hanging their heads in shame. There is a moment’s silence before Che Guevara pipes up.

 

“Hold on, what are you doing here?” Says Che.

 

“Me? Well I… you know… I was here as a… you know, as an ironic observer, right Andy?”

 

A waiter enters behind us.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but how did you want your wagyu cooked?” Says the waiter to Marx.

 

“Oh for goodness sake, you’re just as bad as them! You should all hate this place! It’s everything you claimed to stand against but look at you, you’re literally champagne socialists! What do you have to say for yourselves?”

 

“Sorry.” Mumble the Communists as one, as they stare at the floor. “We’re very sorry.”

 

“Ok, good, thankyou. And you, don’t you ever steal my ideas again!” I say to Valerie. “Come on Marx, let’s go finish our review.”

 

I go to leave, but Marx remains still. “Marx, come on!” I say.

 

“But… they have a fish tank.” Says Marx. “Can I stay here?”

 

“Of course you can stay here.” Says Valerie, smiling wickedly in my direction. “Do you like sea bass?”

 

“I love sea bass!” Says Marx.

 

“Well we’ve got plenty, get yourself a seat!” Says Valerie, as Marx excitedly runs around to sit next to Fidel Castro.

 

“You bloody bastard! I need him for my review!”

 

“Sorry Andy, at least somebody’s seized the means of production this evening.” Says Valerie, as she closes the door in my face. I’m left alone with the laughter of 6 dead Communists echoing through the corridor. I make my way back to my table and glumly nurse my Old Fashioned (wonderfully buttery), when I’m interrupted by the waiter.

 

“Excuse me, sir. There’s somebody here to see you.”

 

“What? Who?”

 

The waiter moves to reveal a man I’ve never seen before stood looming over the table.

 

“Hello, are you Andy?” Says the man.

 

“Yes… who are you?”

 

“I’m Joseph Aspdin, inventor of Portland cement.”

 

I sigh heavily. My evening of misery is, for want of a better word, cemented. “You know what, fine. Sit yourself down and tell me everything you know about cement.” I say, as I down my Old Fashioned. I came here to criticise the place in the hope it might make us all feel better about ourselves, but overall I have to say…

 

9/10 – Tremendous black cod.

Meat Liquor with Mother Teresa

Meat Liquor

“Hello, I’ve got a reservation for two under the name Patrick Kluivert.” I said to the waiter. I’d recently taken to using an alias when making bookings. If I wanted to be a successful food critic and get a fair trial of an establishment, I needed to refrain from using my real name to avoid tipping them off in advance and receiving special treatment. Unfortunately I had only realised this as I was calling to make a reservation, and in my panic had reached for the first name I could think of, which sadly happened to be that of late 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballing superstar, Patrick Kluivert.

“Yes, here we are. Right this way, Mr Kluivert.” Said the hostess. Thankfully the name hadn’t rung any alarm bells and I should be able to dine in anonymity. She seated me at my table to await my guest, who was evidently running late. Today I would be dining with the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway. The author of classic books such as The Old Man And The Sea, as well its significantly less classic follow-up titles, 2 Old Man 2 The Sea, and The Old Man And The Sea: Tokyo Drift, he lived a notoriously hedonistic lifestyle of excess, and so where better to take him than to rock and roll burger chain Meat Liquor.

Meat Liquor is a very in your face, unapologetic swathe of fat-laced high-end diner food. Hulking great burgers packed with juicy beef patties paired with sides richer than Macauley Culkin in the 1990s, and an alcohol menu that ranges from classic cocktails to hard milkshakes and pickleback shots. It’s a place of indulgence, the kind of place you come to forget you’re trying to diet because your body fat has been steadily creeping up all the time, despite you thinking you’re doing more exercise than ever and eating salads from Tossed for lunch twice a week, somehow the number just continues to creep up and you stop using the machine at the local Nuffield Health because what does it know anyway? It doesn’t know you, and everybody is different, right? It’s probably broken and just can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle. It’s the place you forget that and have a milkshake or five.

Meat Liquor Monkey Fingers
The ‘Monkey Fingers’.

I sit at the table for a good half hour or so, continually checking my phone. Where the hell is Hemingway? He’s probably running late from another hedonistic meeting, and as we only have the table for a couple of hours, I decide to order for him in advance. I order a large portion of monkey fingers (chicken breast coated in batter and slathered in buffalo sauce) to share. To accompany this, I opt for the Dead Hippie Burger, which consists of two beef patties fried in mustard, the usual lettuce, cheese, onions etc, as well as their famous ‘dead hippie sauce’. Quite what this dead hippie sauce is remains a mystery, though the name makes you worry that years from now you’ll be on a Panorama documentary where they reveal that you were a willing accomplice in the Sweeney Todd situation you worried it was. For Hemingway, I choose the Tower Block Burger, a combination of fried chicken, cheese, jalapenos and a hash brown. I also order some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, a deep-fried mac ’n’ cheese to share, a black forest milkshake for me, as well as a chocolate milkshake and a classic martini for Hemingway. Somewhere in the distance, I hear the scream of the Nuffield Health body measurement machine. I continue anyway, to spite it for giving me what is actually probably a very accurate measurement of my BMI and body fat level, and add some hash browns to my order. This should be enough to keep us satisfied.

No sooner had I finished my order than the door swings open, and who is stood there other than…

Mother Teresa?

Meat Liquor Mother Teresa.jpg

“Hello, I’m here with Patrick Kluivert.” Says Mother Teresa. She is ushered to my table. “You must be Patrick Kluivert.” She says, with a smile. Clearly she has little to no knowledge of that era of European football, which should come as no surprise I suppose. She doesn’t look the type to have owned a pair of Adidas Predators.

“Yes, sure.” I say, standing to greet her. “Where’s Hemingway?”

“Oh, he couldn’t make it in the end, so he sent me instead.” She says, as she takes a seat. “What are we having today?”

I look at the menu. How do you explain Meat Liquor, a restaurant with Satanic overtones and where the name is a euphemism, to an elderly Saint? “It’s called Burger Town.” I say. It’s easier this way. “Have you ever been to an American diner before?” She looks at me blankly. “They serve burgers, hot dogs, fries, that kind of thing.” The blank stare intensifies. “Well anyway, you’re going to love it.”

Meat Liquor Dead Hippie Burger.jpg
My Dead Hippie burger.

Teresa nods, and pours herself a glass of tap water. We sit facing each other for a while.

“So…” I say, lost for conversation. I am acutely aware that despite knowing of Mother Teresa, I have absolutely no idea what she did, as I hadn’t been expecting to meet her today. It must be something good, as she’s always held up as some kind of bastion of decency, but what that was I couldn’t say. Did she look after animals? No, wait, didn’t she heal the lepers? No, of course, she was the one who travelled back through time to find love! No, I realise, this was respectively St Francis of Assisi, Jesus of Nazareth, and Domhnall Gleeson in About Time. Alas, I have no idea whatsoever what she did, so I go with the same tried and tested gem of conversation as ever. “Have you seen Stranger Things?”

“I once saw an owl with the face of God.” She says.

“Ok, err… I mean I guess that’s technically a stranger thing. Tell me more.”

Mother Teresa begins to tell me the tale of the time she saw an owl with the face of God. I’m sure it’s a very interesting story, but I’m distracted by what’s going on elsewhere, as people are excitedly chattering and looking around the restaurant. I attempt to eavesdrop on one of the tables.

“No, really! I heard one of the waitresses say it!” Says one.

“I can’t see him anywhere.” Says the other, scanning the restaurant.

“Well they definitely said it. He’s here! Patrick Kluivert is here!” They say, excitedly.

Oh god. They had clocked the name after all, and now somehow they’d let it spill to the rest of the restaurant. I kept my head down. I knew I should have given a different name, like less well-known 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Boudewijn Zenden, or almost completely forgotten 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Wim Jonk. Alternatively, I could have gone with a name not based on the Dutch World Cup squad of France 1998, but for some reason that didn’t seem like an option right now.

“…and then it hooted ‘if you need me, I live in that barn over there. I may be omniscient, but if you could point me in the direction of some mice I’d really appreciate it’.” Continued Mother Teresa.

“What? Oh, sorry, yes, the God owl.” I said, as I snapped back to the table.

The conversation faded out, and we stared at each other in silence again. Several minutes passed. “Any holidays coming up?” I asked.

“No, nothing planned.” Said Mother Teresa. The conversation faded out again.

Meat Liquor Black Forest Milkshake.jpg
Black Forest milkshake.

“Ok, look, I’m going to be honest with you.” I sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you today so I really don’t know much about you. Why don’t you tell me about your life?”

“Of course! I’d be glad to!” Said Mother Teresa. “I was born in Albania back in 1910. I always believed I had a higher purpose, to do God’s work, and so I devoted myself to a religious life from a very young age, leaving my family to pursue missionary work at the age of 18. I gave my life in service to the poor, founding the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to care for all of those who felt unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We started with 13 of us, but by the time of my death we’d grown to over 4,000 members caring for people around the world. We opened orphanages, hospices, leper houses, at one point we even brokered a temporary peace between Israel and Palestine! In 1979 I was recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize, but the real achievement for me was always the sense of helping people and doing good.”

“Oh, wow, ok.”

“How about you?” She asked.

“Oh, you know, nothing special…” I said.

“All work has value in that it contributes to society and grants life a purpose.” Said Teresa, with a smile. “Tell me about what you do.”

“I work in advertising sales at Microsoft.” I sighed. Her face plummeted. “Have you heard of Bing?” She shook her head, which was actually a little bit of a surprise, as an 87 year-old who didn’t know how to change their default browser was typically our demographic.

“Ok, so you help charities to advertise their causes to the world?”

“Err… I guess it depends if you count Amazon as a charity.”

“The rainforest, of course!”

“Yes… the rainforest…” I said, as I gestured to the waitress to bring a shot of whisky or five.

Mother Teresa smiled a polite smile at me. Despite what she’d said, I feel like even she was slightly unsure whether my life had a purpose. Here was a woman who had devoted her life to fighting poverty, who abhorred the gluttonous greed of the wealthy who had so much when the poor had so little. It was this that made it infinitely more awkward when our food arrived.

“Ok, I’ve got some monkey fingers, a dead hippie burger, a Tower Block burger, some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, deep fried mac and cheese, hash browns, a black forest milkshake, and a classic martini?” Says the waitress, as she arrives with a feast that Henry VIII himself would be embarrassed by (I know this as we recently over-ordered at Wahaca and Henry was so mortified he left without playing Greensleeves).

“Is this ours?” Said Mother Teresa.

“Yes, it looks like they’ve made some kind of mistake with the ordering.” I said. “They must have misheard when I said ‘being alive is nourishment enough for me’. Since it’s here though, how about you have the Tower Block burger and we share the rest?”

Teresa nodded, and we began to tuck into our feast. The dead hippie burger is always a winner, juicy enough to require that the tables all be equipped with a kitchen roll, but still having enough flavour to ensure it’s not just juicy for the sake of being juicy. The mac and cheese balls too are superbly cheesy and somehow just work in the form of fried balls. The monkey fingers are good, but as a replacement for buffalo wings they do lack some of the crunch and flavour. I look over at Teresa as I take a sip of my milkshake. Her face is covered in strands of hash brown from her Tower Block burger. “Good?” I say. She nods, emphatically.

meat-liquor-chilli-cheese-fries.jpg
Green chilli cheese fries.

“Goodness, I would never have thought that a ring of onion could work so well in combination with a fried chicken burger, but somehow it does.” She says. “And this chocolate milkshake is such a blessing, so rich and chocolatey.”

“Excellent, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” I said. We continued to crunch our way through our feast until there was nothing left.

“That was great, thankyou.” I said, as the waitress took our plates.

“Can we see the dessert menu?” Said Teresa, at this point making a bold claim to be the patron saint of food disposal.

“We’ll bring it shortly.” Said the waitress with a smile. “Is it your birthday today?”

“Me? No. Not today unfortunately.” Said Teresa.

“No, you.” She says, turning to me. “There’s a group of people over there who said it’s your birthday today.” She says, pointing. I turn to see a group of twenty Dutch football fans, all dressed in the familiar orange shirt. Oh god. “We’ve got to go.” I say to Mother Teresa, panicking as I stand up.

“Go now? But why?”

“Happy Birthday to you!” Sing the staff as they emerge from the kitchen, clutching a cake. “Happy birthday to you!” The whole restaurant begins to join in, their gaze following the staff as they begin to make their way towards the hidden celebrity. “Happy birthday, Patrick Kluivert!” They stop at our table. “Happy birthday to you!” The rest of the restaurant stops singing as everybody stares at a man who is quite clearly not Patrick Kluivert. A deathly hush descends over the restaurant, as I awkwardly blow out the candles on their signature Filth Pie, a concoction of Oreo, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate served with ice cream that I would be very excited about trying were the eyes of the restaurant not judging me for having pretended to be Euro 2000’s joint top-scorer.

“That’s not Patrick Kluivert!” Shouts a Dutch football fan.

“He’s a liar!”

“Boo!”

The entire restaurant begins to boo me, which to be honest I think is unfair, as they haven’t even read my review at this point. Without warning, Teresa stands up on a chair.

“Silence!” She shouts, the restaurant immediately quietening down. “How dare you boo this man! This man who works so hard to support the Amazon rainforest!” Again, I do not correct her. “And after all, who amongst us has not once pretended to be somebody they are not? Who amongst us has not once wished we could be somebody more famous, more confident, more impressive? So let us all forgive him, for ultimately are we not all frauds in the eyes of God?”

The restaurant nods solemnly, ashamed of themselves, and everybody sits back down to their own meals.

“That was amazing, thankyou.” I say to Mother Teresa. “You really are a saint, aren’t you? I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“I knew you weren’t Patrick Kluivert the whole time.”

“Really?”

She stands up and shows me her feet, revealing a pair of Adidas Predators. “Never judge a book by its cover.” She says, with a smile. She pulls a football from a bag and attempts to do some keepie-ups, performing them with all the skill and dexterity you’d expect of an 87 year-old Roman Catholic Saint, immediately losing her balance and crashing through a table. It seems like a fitting place to leave the review. Overall…

9/10 – Great burgers and sides.