St John Bread and Wine with Mary Shelley

“New year, new me!” is what I would say, if I completely lacked self-awareness. Alas, I am well aware of who I am, and whilst the clock of time may have ticked along another year, I remain the same me whose Spotify Wrapped cheerfully flagged ‘Angst’ as something they enjoyed in 2022.

When you’re younger, your resolutions for a new year are often less ambitious. You might resolve to watch a different classic film every month, or learn to cook five new meals, one of which turns out to be a regular pasta bake, and another of which is a pasta bake with mozzarella instead of cheddar. As you get older though, and you see the dreams you had get further away, suddenly your resolutions take on a more desperate delusion requiring you to cram in as much as you can as quickly as possible. Before you know it, you’re thinking ‘well if I just commit five hours to Duolingo a day, write six new novels a month and run two marathons a week maybe I’ll be Prime Minister by next year’. Inevitably this only leads to failure and disappointment, and as such over time I’ve increasingly given up. After all, you can’t fail if you don’t try.

Whilst I will be abstaining from any resolutions myself, this is still a new year, and many people are hoping that it brings a fresh start full of opportunity. With that in mind, today I’ll be dining with a woman who knows all about transformation and reinvention. A renaissance woman in the truest sense of the word, it’s Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Today we’ll be dining at the restaurant St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields. One of three restaurants in the St John group, whilst its name might allude to it being a place of simple, basic dishes, St John has actually got a reputation for being a pioneer of the restaurant industry, specialising in what they describe as a ‘nose to tail’ approach to food that avoids waste and ensures every part of the body is utilised. It should be perfect for Shelley.

We arrive and are presented with a selection of menus. St John changes its food menu every day so can be a bit of a lottery, but today there are some of the classics on the menu that I’d hoped to see. Drinks-wise, as you’d expect for a restaurant with wine in the title, there’s a wide selection of wines available (all from France), but their cocktail list is also very impressive, featuring a mixture of classic cocktails alongside interesting in-house inventions. Today we opt for a couple of French 75s, and order the chicken liver toast with brandied prunes, crumbed hogget, devilled moules and the beef mince on beef dripping toast.

Crumbed hogget with brown sauce.

“So, happy new year,” I say to Shelley when our cocktails arrive. We clink our glasses and have a sip. First things first, it’s a fantastic French 75. One thing I’ve learned recently is that apparently there is no one standard recipe for a French 75, with different ratios of gin, sugar syrup, lemon juice and champagne used wherever you look. Whatever they’re doing here works really well though, and is one of the best variations of it I’ve had. “I guess this is what you’d call a real Frankenstein of a cocktail!”

“What do you mean?” says Shelley.

“I mean it’s thrown together all sorts of elements to make something greater than the sum of its parts.”

“You know that Frankenstein was the doctor, right?”

“Yes, sorry, of course, I’m aware that Frankenstein was the name of the doctor. I guess perhaps I mean that actually it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a cocktail!”

Shelley stares at me silently for a while, then finally relaxes and exhales. “Sorry, I’m just very tense this evening,” she says.

“Really? Why?”

Shelley looks around warily, then leans in and whispers to me. “Because tonight, we create life.”

“Sorry if I’ve given you the wrong impression, Mary, but I’m a married man.”

“No, you imbecile! Tonight we put my theory into practice,” she says with a smile.

“What does that mean?” I say. She smiles and taps her nose. This kind of thing never bodes well, so I dare say this doesn’t fill me with confidence. My heart is mid-sink as our first small plates, the chicken liver on toast and the crumbed hogget arrive. I take my usual pictures, the quality of which has historically been reserved for children venturing into MS Paint for the first time, and move to take one of the two slices of toast.

“No, not yet!” says Shelley batting my hand away.

“Oh, sorry, did you want to take photos too?” I say. Alas, I am way off the mark, and instead of removing a phone from her pocket I watch in horror as she instead withdraws a taser that crackles with electricity.

“Let there be life!” she says, as she raises the taser high and then plunges it into the chicken liver toast. There are sparks and manic laughter, as the electricity surges through the dish. A good thirty seconds of this passes, with Shelley repeatedly zapping the plate, before eventually she lets it settle. This draws unwanted attention to our table, as the rest of the restaurant is now staring at us.

More than that though, I’m concerned that this may impact on some of the flavours, as I do not believe that this is how the kitchen intended for it to be prepared.

The chicken liver toast.

“Everything is fine, please enjoy your evenings,” I say. “I should have known you’d do this!” I add, turning to Shelley. “I can’t trust any of you dead historical figures to just enjoy an evening, can I?”

“Hmm… ok, so that didn’t work, so something must be wrong,” says Shelley, ignoring me.

“Could it be that you’re tasering chicken liver on toast?”

“No, it’s not that… No matter, I will figure it out,” says Shelley. I take a slice of the chicken liver toast, and half of the brandy-soaked prune. As expected, it’s delicious. It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s just a classic dish fantastically executed and then thankfully not spoiled by electrocution. The crumbed hogget too is just as good. Really flavourful nuggets of lamb, breaded and then served with a little pot of brown sauce.

“So anyway, it’s a new year, and as somebody who literally wrote the book on reinvention do you have any tips for people who are looking to make a change?”

“Maybe the electricity is the problem,” says Shelley.

“Oh, so you mean we should all take some time to disconnect from our devices? I definitely have a problem with that. I think when you find yourself refreshing LinkedIn then you probably do have to take a serious look at what the hell is wrong with you and-“

“Yes, that’s it! There’s not enough electricity!”

“Wait, so now you’re saying I should refresh LinkedIn more? Oh god…”

“No! We need to apply more electricity to the food!”

“Ok, well firstly, thank goodness, because I cannot deal with any more LinkedIn influencers telling me that if I’m not up at 6 am reading books as I work out and hustle my side hustle then I might as well be dead. And secondly, absolutely not.”

“We’re on the brink of a breakthrough, Andy! I can feel it!”

“Let me just start by saying, I am no scientist, but I am telling you, if you electrocute that beef mince there is only going to be disappointment.”

Shelley sighs. “Of course I know that,” she says.

“Then why are you doing this?”

“Have you ever read Frankenstein?

“Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster,” I say, nodding as if I am an intellectual who has of course read Frankenstein and not somebody who is currently reading a book about croissants.

“I’ll take that as a no. A lot of people think that Frankenstein is just about a mad scientist and his monster, but actually it’s a story about the dangers of ambition. As Victor dies-”

“Of course, Victor, the monster,” I say, as I take a sip of my French 75.

“The doctor. You had a 50/50 chance and you got it wrong. Anyway, as Victor dies, he cautions against reaching for the stars, saying that instead you need to find happiness in tranquillity and avoiding ambition.”

“Ok, so where do we stand on LinkedIn, because I’m a bit confused-“

“Certainly, tranquillity is a blessing, and there’s plenty of happiness to be found in a peaceful life with no ambition beyond just being content. But I also believe that in striving to be better we can find happiness, even should we not succeed. It’s about that moment of thinking ‘what if I do succeed?’ that can keep us going sometimes.”

“So what you’re saying is…”

“I’m saying we need to electrocute the beef mince.”

I can see the logic. If I look at all the things I’ve been failing to achieve for the last few years, be that learning a language, getting fit or writing, do I genuinely believe that any of them are going to lead to life-changing opportunities? Probably not. But is this blog a failure just because it’s never been picked up by a major publisher? No, of course not. It’s a failure for thousands of other reasons, but it’s that slim chance that this blog could lead to me sitting alongside all the other food critics on MasterChef and regaling Jay Rayner with the story about the time I took Thomas Jefferson to Five Guys that makes it a success, because it gives me something to dream about, even if it never happens. I guess the message is that happiness doesn’t just come from success, happiness can come from repeated failure too, and the only real failure is not trying. Oh god, I’ve overdosed on LinkedIn. If I’m not careful then soon I’ll be posting a black and white picture of Harvey Spectre from Suits overlaid with some meaningless quote about being a lion which I’ve somehow shoehorned into a humblebrag about my cold-calling abilities.

“You’re right, we need to electrocute the beef,” I say.

Beef mince on toast.

Our next dishes are served shortly afterwards, the beef mince on beef dripping toast, and the devilled moules. I take a bite of the beef mince before we potentially blow it to smithereens. It’s incredibly rich as you would expect beef served on bread soaked in beef fat to be, but it’s also just as delicious as I’d hoped. I take a rogue moule too, which is much lighter but just as flavoursome. What an excellent feast we have had.

“How do you want to do this?” I ask. Shelley smiles, and withdraws an extension lead from her jacket pocket.

“You plug this in, and I’ll do the rest.”

It’s not as easy to find a plug socket in a restaurant as you might imagine, but thankfully the extension lead is very long, and we’re seated just by the stairs that lead down to the toilet. I venture down there and find a plug socket in this more industrious area, before returning to our table.

“Before we do this, can I just ask one thing?” I say. “Can we please get dessert first? I’ve been absolutely dying to try the ginger loaf, and who knows, maybe that’ll be the thing that gives me my big break.”

Shelley accepts, and we order a piece of the ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce, which we ask to be served alongside our mains. It comes with crème fraiche, and is really nice (my contact details are on the website if this description has really caught your attention). We quickly polish that off and sit back, satisfied.

Ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce.

“Now what?” I ask. Shelley winks at me, before stabbing some wire cable into the toast, then tying them to a fork.

“Are you ready?” she asks. I nod, somewhat apprehensively, but we’ve come this far now. “THEN LIVE!” she shouts, as she stabs the fork into the plug socket of the extension lead. There’s a bright explosion of light, and then the lights of the whole restaurant go off. I pick myself back up from the floor and examine the smoking dish.

“Did it work?” I say, as we both hover over the plate.

“Moo! I’m alive!” says a voice.

“Oh my god, it worked! I can’t believe it worked! We did it!” I say, excitedly.

“That was me,” says an annoyed diner sitting at a table behind us. “Of course it didn’t work you f**king morons. Get the hell out of here and stop ruining our dinners!”

Even though we’ve failed, for a brief moment there life was a little brighter. Overall…

9/10 – Simply delicious.


The Man Behind The Curtain with Menes

If somebody said to you ‘it’s curtains for you!’ you would be well within your rights to assume that one of two things was happening. Either your death was imminent, or you’d just arrived in a home furnishings department. In some unfortunate circumstances, maybe even both. Today however, it’s neither of these things. Instead, I’m visiting the restaurant The Man Behind The Curtain, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Leeds, from the chef Michael O’Hare, who is the aforementioned man behind the curtain. Or so he claims.

I say this because tonight we will indeed be meeting the man behind the curtain, but it’s not who you think. Menes was an Egyptian Pharoah often credited as the founder of the First Dynasty of Egypt. We know few things about this period of Egyptian history, however one thing we do know is that this was the first time in history that fabrics had been hung across doorways, making Menes the man who oversaw the birth of curtains. As such, today I am going to be visiting The Man Behind The Curtain with the man behind the curtain.

I find Menes sitting in the restaurant’s entrance, a selection of sofas and lounge chairs attached to the main dining area. The room is huge. It feels futuristic yet industrial, as if it wouldn’t be out of place in Blade Runner. Menes however, absolutely would be out of place in Blade Runner. A short, topless man in a tall hat and golden necklace, he’s made himself comfortable and is enjoying a Rum Manhattan cocktail.

“Menes,” I say, with a nod.

“Andy,” says Menes. Our interaction feels a bit cold, but there’s good reason for that, as myself and Menes have history. It was the annual Dead Celebrities Ball, an event that I host every year to thank all the figures who have participated in previous blogs, as well as network with potential future celebrities I’d hope to dine with in future. This was back in 2021 when I published a remarkable one blog all year, so the ‘thanking’ aspect of the event that year was restricted to just Pheidippides, however I’d invited quite a wide range of other guests because as ever, I believed that that one blog would be the springboard to much more regular blogging. Menes was one of these people, primarily then because I was aware of his role as the founder of the First Dynasty of Egypt. I wasn’t even aware of his involvement in curtains at the time. Anyway, I was making my way around the room when I happened to stumble into a conversation that he was having at the bar with Ada Lovelace and John Stuart Mill.

“-so anyway, my own dogs started attacking me, so I hopped on the back of a crocodile and escaped across the lake. When I arrived safely on the other side, I hopped off and founded Crocodilopolis as a way of thanking that crocodile for taking me to safety.”

I let out an audible chuckle. Menes turned to face me.

“Is there something funny?” he said.

“Sorry, you said you surfed on a crocodile and then founded a city called Crocodilopolis. I thought you were joking.”

“Why would I be joking?”

“Well it doesn’t sound very believable, does it?” I say, looking at John Stuart Mill for reassurance. He avoids my glance. I guess in an argument between two people it’s hard to know how to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

“It’s just as believable as your story,” says Menes.

“What the hell is my story?”

“That Channel 4 gave you an award.”

“Channel 4 DID give me an award!”

“And I rode a crocodile across a lake and founded a city called Crocodilopolis!”

“Fine,” I said, frustrated. There was no point in arguing this and what did it matter anyway? I certainly wasn’t going to see this man again, not after this incident. Sadly, I was not aware at the time who the inventor of the curtain was, and had little choice but to invite him for this soirée.

The Rum Manhattan.

“I must say I was surprised to receive your invite,” says Menes, taking another sip of his Rum Manhattan. “I assume you became aware of my history with curtains.”

“I did,” I say, somewhat through gritted teeth. “What a legacy you have.”

It’s now that we’re told our table is ready, and we’re ushered into the main dining area, where we’re given the first of our courses, an oyster paired with a strawberry broth. I’m not especially into oysters, but this one is very pleasant. Shortly after this comes our next course, which is much more to my tastes, given as it is, mostly potato. This is followed by a tuna handroll with truffle and wasabi. Again, it’s a nice, light and tasty start to our meal.

“So, I’m guessing you’re in Leeds for work,” says Menes.

“No. Why would you assume that?”

“Oh, I just thought Channel 4 was based here now,” he says, smirking as he takes another sip of his drink.

“Ok, so we’re going to have this argument are we?”

“All I’m saying is there’s absolutely no evidence there ever was a ‘4Talent Awards’. It even sounds made-up.”

“Whereas there’s plenty of evidence that you sailed on a crocodile?”

“Why else would I call it Crocodilopolis if I hadn’t sailed on a crocodile!”

“To make people think you had!”

“You know what? I’m going to prove this to you the only way I can. Once we’re finished here, we’re going to go down to the river, and I’m going to ride over it on a crocodile.”

Menes downs the rest of his drink and signals for the same again. “Ok, and where exactly are you going to get a crocodile?” I ask.

“You think I can’t rustle up a crocodile at short notice? I founded Crocodilopolis!”

“You know this was meant to be about curtains, right?”

Menes shrugs, and with that, our next course is served, a tiny, raspberry sugared donut with a duck liver pate.

The Raspberry Doughnut.

“We should at least talk about curtains, since you’re supposedly the man behind the curtain at The Man Behind The Curtain,” I say. “We need to give the people what they want.”

“And what you think the people want is a man who invented curtains discussing curtains at a place with ‘curtain’ in its name?” says Menes. “I can see why Channel 4 would shower you with awards. But fine, what do you want to know?” he adds, taking another bite of his donut.

“I guess how did you come up with them?”

“It wasn’t difficult. There was nothing there. It didn’t take a genius to say ‘we should have something to stand things on.’”

“Stand things on?”

“Yes. What’s better to stand things on than a really sturdy curtain?” he says, knocking on the table. It’s then that I realise, this man has absolutely no idea what curtains are. He didn’t invent them, that’s just a lie to give himself an exciting legacy. I already suspected that his crocodile story wasn’t true, but this just seems to confirm it. As such I am now confident that this evening I will be going down to the River Aire in Leeds to watch a man be consumed by an angry crocodile who does not want to be ridden. The question now is, do I say something?

“You know I invented writing too, right?” says Menes. “So actually anything you’ve ever achieved has been thanks to me. You’re welcome.”

No, I don’t think I will, I decide, as our next course of aged beef arrives. It’s a beef tartar dish, which again is a new experience for me. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s as good as cooked beef, but I refrain from giving this feedback, as I don’t believe that me asking a famous chef if he’s considered cooking his beef would be any more helpful than if he came to me and asked me if I’d considered not being a depressed shell of a man. Still, our next course could bring a smile to anybody’s face, served as it is in a truly unique way.

“Ring, ring! Hello, prawn?” Says Menes, picking up the prawn that sits upon the telephone served in front of us. To his credit, as much as I dislike the man there’s no doubt that holding a prawn to your face and pretending it’s a telephone receiver is undoubtedly A-grade comedy material. Beyond its comedy potential though, the dish is also delicious, which isn’t always the case in a dish designed to be so visually striking. We enjoy that, followed by the seventh of our fourteen courses, a refreshing iced tomato consommé. We’re halfway through now, and everything has been wonderful.

The ‘Dali To Delhi’ prawn dish.

“Excuse me, I’m going to the bathroom,” says Menes. I use this moment to order myself a Rum Manhattan. It looked great when Menes had it, and I do love a maraschino cherry. I sit there sipping my cocktail when our next course arrives, scallop and lobster in a Thai bisque. They do say that the courses will come out as they’re ready (which makes it sound more Wagamama than it is), but this wouldn’t have been a problem had Menes been back already. I want to enjoy the food at its best, so tuck in whilst it’s hot, and I’m glad that I do, as this might be my favourite course so far. The bisque is just the right level of spicy for me (which is to say, not too spicy at all), and goes wonderfully with the scallop and lobster. It’s a real delight, as I’m sure Menes will agree.

Except he doesn’t, because he still hasn’t returned by the time our next course comes up. This is perhaps the most famous of all the courses, having featured on The Great British Menu back in 2015. At its core, it’s essentially fish and chips, a piece of cod topped with crispy potato, and seasoned with dashi and vinegar. I’m not usually a fan of basic dishes done ‘fancy’, as often I find that the basic dish can’t be improved upon. This most often happens with desserts. It’s the ‘law of eclairs’ as I have only once called it just now, where the fancier an éclair becomes, the worse it gets (I have tried many a fancy éclair, but I would say that not one has yet been better than a standard M&S chocolate éclair). Here though, it’s more of a tribute to fish and chips than a fancy version, and it’s delicious. It’s a shame that Menes is missing it. Where the hell is he?

‘Fish and Chips’.

I leave the table and head towards the toilet. As I open the door, I hear a familiar voice.

“Look, all I’m asking you to do is come to the river dressed as a crocodile! Well, I don’t know where you’ll find a costume! Buy something, make something, I don’t care! You owe me, you remember? You owe me! Just be there, ok?”

With that, he hangs up and I quickly close the door before he notices me. I get back to the table before he returns.

“Sorry about that, what did I miss?” He asks. I point at the two dishes that have been sat waiting for him while he was gone, which he quickly gobbles with gusto. “Very good. It’s important to get as much energy as I can now, ready for later.”

“Yes of course, I think we’re all excited about that. Hey, maybe you should invite more people. I’m sure others would love to see it.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“How about John Stuart Mill? I bet Mill would love to see it.”

“Mill is busy.”

“Busy with what?”

“Mill things.”

“I’m just going to give him a call and see,” I say, dialling the number for the afterlife. “John Stuart Mill, please.” There’s a short silence whilst I’m connected, and then I hear Mill. “Mill, it’s Andy from Dead Dining and… The 4Talent Awards,” I say, giving a look to Menes. “What are you up to in an hour or so? Well what are ‘Mill things’? Ok, fine, never mind.”

“I told you.”

“Look, I know you’re lying about all of this stuff. You don’t even seem to know what curtains are.”

“How dare you say that, while I’m sat right here at the curtains!”

“This is a table. Those are curtains,” I say, pointing at some fabric hanging nearby. “If you’re lying about the curtains, I know you’re lying about Crocodilopolis too. Just admit it, and you don’t have to go through with this.”

“Never! Now let’s finish this meal and get down to that river so I can show you.”

One of the desserts, the chocolate lavender honey potato.

Our next course is a squab pigeon with a rhubarb hoisin sauce, served on a star-etched plate. It’s nice, but not my favourite of the things we’ve eaten tonight. With that, we’re through to the beginning of the desserts section. First up is something truly unique, a chocolate dessert with a potato foam, topped with lavender puffed rice. Somehow, all these ingredients combine in a way that works fantastically, making me wonder whether we should be using potato more often in desserts. After this we’re served a tiny passionfruit and praline cupcake which is a refreshing little delight, followed by a tasty little stroopwafel. After this comes an exciting ‘petit fours’ section, whereby they bring out a tray of various coloured macarons, and we have to decide which one we’d like to eat without any information, choosing purely based on which colour we like the look of. I choose a blue macaron and Menes goes for gold.

“What flavour did you get?” I ask.

“Coconut I think,” says Menes. “You?”


We decide to share our macarons. Just because we have an ongoing feud that doesn’t mean we’re savages (though I admit my definition of a savage as being ‘one who won’t share their macarons’ is perhaps the most middle-class thing I have ever said, and that’s coming from somebody who has spent this review extolling the virtues of potato foam). Menes nods. “Bubblegum,” he confirms.

The staff later come over to try and tell us that it was actually blue raspberry, but all I’m saying is that I know what I tasted, and it was the most bubblegum flavour I’ve had since Hubba Bubba. As such, it looks like I’m taking another grievance to my grave. Our meal now concluded, it’s been a wonderful experience, but now it’s time for the main event, and off we go to the River Aire.


As we take the short walk down to the bank of the river, I notice Menes looking anxious and even a little despondent. It’s no surprise really, since his supposedly legacy is about to be blown apart. I find myself feeling sorry for him. As somebody who also feels like all of their glories are behind them (the aforementioned 4Talent Awards) I know how it feels when somebody questions those things that you look back on so fondly. As such, I somehow find myself rooting for him. Maybe he really did ride a crocodile over a river and found Crocodilopolis in honour of that event, and even if he didn’t, wouldn’t it be great to see him now live out what may be his wildest dream?

This hope is somewhat dashed when we arrive at the bank of the river to be greeted by a six foot ‘crocodile’ standing on its hind legs, that gives us a wave when it sees us approaching, evidently forgetting the whole charade that’s going on here, then suddenly remembering and dropping on to all fours. “Wonderful, my crocodile is here!” Says Menes, gesturing to what is quite clearly a man in a green body suit, dressed in the head of a dragon. The crocodile responds with what can only be described as a half moo, half roar sound, which is evidently what they think a crocodile sounds like. I so want this to be a success now though that I don’t say anything. “Right, are you ready for this? Let this be the end of all debate on this matter,” says Menes. The crocodile crawls into the water, and Menes jumps onto its back, immediately knocking the dragon head off to reveal John Stuart Mill underneath. All of us steadfastly refuse to acknowledge it, and so I watch as Menes and Mill tediously thrash around in the water, meandering slowly and ungraciously from one side to the other, water flailing everywhere like it’s a beginner’s swimming class where instead of a pool float you’re holding on to the writer of On Liberty. Against all odds, after what feels like two hours but is probably closer to ten minutes, they somehow make it to the other side, cheering and hugging as they make dry land. “I told you so! Crocodilopolis!” Shouts Menes. I still don’t believe he’s ever done this before, but I clap for them anyway. It’s a heart-warming reminder that we can defy expectations and achieve our dreams, even when nobody believes in us. As I reflect on my own achievements, I realise that maybe it’s time to let go of the 4Talent Awards and stop reminiscing about the past. It’s finally time to have my ‘Off-Air Radio Winner 2008’ tattoo removed and move on to something better.

“Menes, I’m coming over!” I say, as I wade into the river. He and Mill wade back in from the other side, and before we know it we’re all splashing about and laughing together in the River Aire.

“It’s time I let go of my 4Talent Award and moved on!” I say.

“Oh Andy, we both know you never actually won a 4Talent Award though, did you?” Says Menes.

“Yes I did!”

“No you didn’t!”

“I won for a series I wrote that got commissioned for E4 Radio!”

“E4 Radio? Do you even hear yourself? There’s no such thing as E4 Radio!”

“Yes, because it got canned because of the 2008 recession and the credit crun- you know what, you’ve ruined this moment. I’m getting out,” I say, as I wade out of the river again. Overall…

9/10Delicious, fun and unique food.

Ice Creams of London with Agnes Marshall

It’s been very hot recently. The kind of hot that puts soup on furlough. The kind of hot that makes Nelly ask everybody to put their clothes back on and go somewhere else with better ventilation. The kind of hot that sees you questioning whether £400 is a good investment for a Dyson fan that is at once both shockingly overpriced for something that blows air, but also a terrible fan from the man who brought you other ideas such as ‘why not dry your hands in a valley of everybody else’s questionably washed hand germs’ and ‘let’s remove most of the UK’s science funding’.


Today I aim to overcome the heat with a true legend of ice cream. Agnes Marshall isn’t a household name, but Heston Blumenthal has described her as “one of the greatest culinary pioneers this country has ever seen”. A cookery writer from Victorian times, she was known as ‘the Queen of Ices’ for her work in the field of ice cream and frozen desserts. Credited as the inventor of the edible ice cream cone, she was also the first to suggest using liquid nitrogen for making ice cream, a technique that’s only really taken off in recent times. Having these ideas back in the 19th century, to say she was ahead of her time is an understatement. After all, the liquid nitrogen boom didn’t happen until Terminator 2 was released in 1991, so she missed that by around 100 years.


Today I’ll be taking Agnes on an ice cream tour of London, aiming to show her how far the ice cream has come since her time. As the writer of the book ‘Ices Plain and Fancy’, I’m sure she’s going to be excited to see the innovation that continues to happen within the ice cream industry, across ices both plain and fancy.


I meet Agnes in Shoreditch, the location of the first ice cream shop on our grand tour of London. Arriving on her penny farthing dressed in full Victorian garb, locating her is like trying to find Woof in The Land of Woofs, as she blends in almost perfectly with the rest of the crowd. Finally locating Agnes (though not before first finding a wizard and scroll), we proceed to our first spot.


Dark Sugars on Brick Lane is primarily a chocolate shop, but it also has a separate ice cream parlour on the same street too, that offers an amazing range of delicious flavoured gelatos. I thought this the ideal place to begin our journey, somewhere innovative in flavour but still fairly traditional in style. Here, I opt for two scoops of chocolate ginger and butterscotch whilst Agnes goes for the salted brownie and stracciatella. She smiles excitedly as they hand her ice cream cone to her. Truly, this is a woman who loves ice cream and it shows. We have a taste. You can clearly tell the chocolate ice cream is using super high-quality chocolate. It’s really rich and flavoursome, whilst the ginger studded through is just the right amount, resulting in an ice cream that’s delicious and not too overpoweringly gingery. The butterscotch meanwhile is a delight. Creamy but swirled through with large, thick blobs of caramel, it’s a conical sensation. “It’s good, isn’t it?” I say. Agnes nods.


Dark Sugars Ice Cream
Chocolate ginger and butterscotch ice creams from Dark Sugars.


“I’ve never had such flavours before,” she says. “Wonderful. What a treat.”


“Did you hear that?” I say, turning to the line of people queuing for an ice cream. “This is Agnes Marshall approved!”


The line of people looks at me blankly. “Who?” Says one of them.


“Agnes Marshall.”


“I don’t know who that is.”


“It’s her!” I say, pointing to Agnes. “Ladies and gentlemen, Agnes Marshall!”


Agnes gives a sheepish and slightly embarrassed wave. There is silence. “Come on! She invented the ice cream cone!” Further silence. “I’m sorry, Agnes, I really thought that would go better than it did. Clearly these philistines need to brush up on their ice cream history,” I say, as if I myself didn’t just find out about Agnes Marshall two days ago.


“It’s fine, really,” says Agnes, as she finishes off her ice cream. “This was marvellous. Where are we going next?”


Next on our list as we progress through the evolution of ice cream is Yolkin in Soho. Yolkin have become famous not just for their interesting flavours (flavours such as matcha Oreo, soy sauce caramel and Horlicks), but also for their ice cream sandwiches and ice cream cakes. Here I want to showcase to Agnes how people have started thinking outside of the cone and serving ice cream in non-traditional formats.


Arriving at Yolkin, I want to avoid some of the embarrassment we experienced in Shoreditch and ensure Agnes gets the recognition she deserves, so I hatch a clever plan. “Ok, you’re going to go in first ok and we’re going to pretend we don’t know each other,” I say to Agnes.


“What? Why?”


“All will become clear.”


I send Agnes in to the queue by herself, whilst I join a few places behind her. As she gets to the front of the queue, I take my opportunity.


“Oh my god, are you who I think you are?” I say, excitedly looking at Agnes. Agnes looks confused. “Can I get a picture with you?” Agnes shrugs, and I wander over to take a picture of us together. “Wow, my friends are not going to believe this! What an exciting day!” I say. I don’t want to say my acting is wooden, but the Trojans have enquired about hiding thirty soldiers in it.


“Excuse me, are you famous?” Says somebody else.


“Don’t you recognise her? Wow, this is embarrassing for you,” I say. “I’ll give you a clue, she invented ice cream cones.”


“Are you… Mr Whippy?”


“No! For goodness sake it’s Agnes Marshall!” I say, annoyed. “How is nobody getting this?”


“It’s fine Andy, honestly.”


“You know this person?”


“Yes, fine! This is all an elaborate ruse and it is I, Andy from Dead Dining!” I say. There are further blank stares. “Ok, I don’t know why I thought that was going to go any better. Let’s just get our ice creams and go.”


We order a couple of macaron ice cream sandwiches. I opt for a Milo flavour, whilst Agnes goes for Red Velvet. They’re both very nice, the fudgy brownie pieces within the Milo ice cream particularly are a highlight, whilst the macarons provide a nice additional sweet crunch. Agnes’s red velvet particularly is fantastic, with pieces of red velvet sponge dotted through the ice cream. It really tastes just like the cake, which is to say it’s delicious. All in all, very impressive.


Yolkin Ice Cream Sandwich
A Milo flavour macaron ice cream sandwich from Yolkin.


The next stop on our ice cream tour is Milk Train in Covent Garden. Milk Train describes itself as ‘home to the UK’s first candy floss ice cream cones’. Quite what that is I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out.


Despite my excitement at the prospect of a third ice cream in a day, my excitement is still tempered by the fact that Agnes hasn’t received the recognition that she’s due, despite my best efforts. Externally she’s putting on a very brave face about it, but internally it must be very upsetting. I’m going to need to ramp this up if I want to make this day truly special for her, and for that I’m going to need help. I get out my phone and quickly make a call. “Hi, it’s Andy. Andy. From Dead Dining. I’m calling in that favour. Meet me at Milk Train. No, Milk Train, as in a train of milk. It’s in Covent Garden. Milk Train. M, I, L, K. Milk. T, R, A, I, N, Tra- you know, I really thought this was going to be a shorter phone call, just look it up and meet me there. And bring your invention, you know the one. As many as you can.”


We make the short walk to Milk Train, around ten minutes’ walk from Yolkin. This should give ample time for my assistant to set themselves up. Approaching, we round the corner to see… Bunsen burners?


“What the…”


“Ta da!” Says Michael Faraday, famed scientist, as he sets another Bunsen burner down outside of the shop. “I brought as many as I could carry, as you asked.”


“I meant BALLOONS!” I say, aghast. “Damnit Faraday! What the hell would I want with this many Bunsen burners?”


“In my defence I had a lot of inventions,” says Michael. “And what would you want with this many balloons?”


“I’m trying to create a celebration for Agnes Marshall!”




“Oh, don’t you start.”


“Well look, if we just try this…” says Michael, as he plugs the Bunsen burners into the local gas supply, having done at once a remarkable and somewhat terrifying job of digging up the road in the space of ten minutes. “Then ta da!” He says, igniting the Bunsen burners. It looks exactly as impressive as you’d expect a display of around twelve Bunsen burners to look, which is to say it looks as impressive as a Year 9 chemistry lesson. I turn to Agnes with a sigh.


“Let’s get an ice cream and talk,” she says.


We order our ice creams from Milk Train. Here we both opt for the Rocky Train Track, a combination of chocolate soft-serve ice cream, served with marshmallows, pretzels, Oreos, caramel sauce and a wafer, all in a cone topped with a candy floss cloud. It’s quite something to behold, but thankfully for something clearly designed with Instagram in mind it’s also still very tasty, especially the addition of salty pretzels, which are a really nice pairing with the chocolate ice cream. Unless you really like candy floss that doesn’t add too much beyond the visual, but overall it’s a treat that really embraces the fun spirit of ice cream and makes the world a slightly brighter place. Even so I still feel the day could have gone better for Agnes.


The ‘Rocky Train Track’ ice cream from Milk Train, on a candy floss topped cone.


“I’m so sorry, Agnes, this really hasn’t worked out how I imagined at all.”


“I already told you, Andy. I really don’t care.”


“But doesn’t this make you sad?”


“Why would it?”


“Because you changed the world and still nobody remembers you!”


“Just because not everybody knows who you are, it doesn’t mean you didn’t have an impact. You don’t think I know that if Joe Swash walked in here now he wouldn’t be mobbed by hundreds of adoring fans?”


“I don’t even know where to begin with that question.”


“But fame isn’t everything. So long as you’ve had a positive impact on those around you, and the important ones remember you then that’s more important than any widespread fame.”


“So what you’re saying is… even if a blog only gets ten views a month, it can still be incredibly important?”


“No, that’s a real problem. In that instance you have neither fame nor recognition. I don’t understand why anybody would plough on in that scenario.”


“Ok, that’s fine, I mean… I was just asking for a friend anyway…” I say. “Come on, let’s go to the last place. I think you’re really going to like this one.”


Our final stop is Chin Chin Labs in Camden. Chin Chin Labs specialises in liquid nitrogen ice cream, one of the first ice cream parlours in the UK to do so. It’s the perfect place to end our trip, showing Agnes how the innovative idea she first posited over 100 years ago has come to fruition in spectacular style now.


“Oh my god, is this…?” She says, noticing the various tanks, beakers and scientific assemblage that makes up Chin Chin.


“It is!” I say. We stand and excitedly watch them adding the liquid nitrogen to the mixing bowl, sending clouds of steam pouring out of the sides. It’s an emotional moment, seeing your lifelong dream achieved. Or at least, I imagine it is. I don’t really have a lifelong dream. If you’d asked me when I was 10 years old what my lifetime dream was it would probably have been something childish and naive, like scoring a hat-trick in the FA Cup Final. But I’m an adult now, I need to be more realistic. FA Cup Finals are rarely high-scoring affairs. Scoring one goal will be enough.


The quality you can achieve with liquid nitrogen is something else. Because it freezes so quickly you avoid creating ice crystals within the mixture, resulting in a much smoother ice cream. Here I opt for a toasted marshmallow-topped cone, with chocolate ice cream, honeycomb and chocolate fudge sauce, whilst Agnes opts for burnt butter caramel topped with grilled white chocolate. The ice cream is delicious, smoother than freshly ironed silk pyjamas that have been washed in butter, and the honeycomb particularly is exceptionally good, probably the best honeycomb I’ve had in my life. “What do you think?” I ask.


Chin Chin Labs Ice Cream
Marshmallow cone topped with chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge sauce and honeycomb from Chin Chin Labs.


“It’s everything I ever dreamed of,” says Agnes.


“Hear that? It’s Agnes Marshall approved!” I say. Applause breaks out throughout the market. “Oh my god, finally!” I say. It’s then I turn to see they’re not applauding Agnes at all. “Joe Swash?!” I say, as he strolls in to a rapturous reception.


“You know what, that actually hurts more than I thought it would,” says Agnes. Overall…


Dark Sugars – 9/10 – Simple but excellent. The tastiest butterscotch ice cream I have had.


Yolkin – 9/10 – Really tasty, fudgy ice cream. The red velvet is particularly great.


Milk Train – 9/10 – Really nice, and a fun ice cream that can’t help but make you smile.


Chin Chin – 9/10 – Delicious, innovative, and with honeycomb worth making a day trip for.

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


“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.

Afternoon Tea with the Sun God, Ra

“Hahahaha! That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!” I say, as I slap the maitre d’ on the back. Alas, it is lost to the sands of time as I introduce my review a line too late. Today I’m in Chelsea for afternoon tea at the Cadogan Hotel. Since February 2019 it’s been run by Adam Handling, a multi-award-winning chef, who’s now added to his awards collection with an award for Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea at the Afternoon Tea Awards 2019.


Afternoon tea was designed as a mini-meal to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner, a tiny treat to stave off afternoon hunger. With its origins in the mid-19th century, it really took off after Queen Victoria started having her own afternoon tea parties. Thanks to her influence, the world at large soon became aware of the activity and its popularity soared from there. As such, who could possibly be a more ideal guest to enjoy a contemporary twist on an afternoon tea with than Queen Victoria herself? Well, since she declined to attend, I can think of nobody better than the Ancient Egyptian Sun God, Ra. It was the Ancient Egyptians who really began the process of measuring time. Eventually, they came to see each hour as a specific region of sky or underworld through which Ra travelled on his ‘solar barge’, a sort of ancient dinghy. Without Ra, we might not even have the afternoon, so to Queen Victoria who thinks she’s too good for this blog because she thinks she invented the concept of eating a cake in the afternoon, you’re not all that.


I sit in the foyer of the Cadogan Hotel awaiting Ra, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a solar barge pulling up outside. I see a smartly dressed human falcon hybrid throw an oar to a confused valet, and waltz in through the doors. “Andy, great to meet you, I’m Ra,” says the falcon-headed man, shaking my hand. “I’m excited to be here. Shall we?”


We sit ourselves down in what historians would probably refer to as the ‘theatre of tea’. It’s a smaller room compared to other tea theatres around London, but succeeds in feeling both very fancy and very casual at the same time. In a very welcome twist on the traditional afternoon tea, today’s tea will also be accompanied by a free-flowing champagne supplement, starting from an extra £25 per person (and going all the way up to an extra £195 per person depending on the champagne), for as much champagne as we can drink within a 90 minute window. I’m something of an alcoholic aficionado of drinks, so I feel confident that I can get my money’s worth, but even without my liver-destroying, borderline binge-drinker status love of the old grape juice, £25 for unlimited champagne is extraordinarily good value when a single glass of champagne at some of the other afternoon tea establishments will set you back nearly as much. It’s a lovely differentiator, something ideal for a regular Tuesday afternoon special occasion.


Afternoon Tea Sandwiches
The sandwich selection.

Ra is my oldest guest yet, coming from way back around the 30th century BC. His status rapidly declined since the fall of Ancient Egypt however, and he’s hardly been seen nor heard from since the year 0. Today is a good chance to understand more about where he’s been, what he’s been up to, and what’s next for history’s favourite Sun God.


“So, where have you been, what have you been up to, and what’s next for history’s favourite Sun God?” I say, demonstrating once again the quality of writing that’s seen this blog become a global sensation, racking up five page-views in Belgium and one in Namibia.


“Oh, things have been great, really great,” says Ra. “Just taking some time out from it all, you know?” He says, as he takes a swig of the champagne. “Mmm… Biscuity, wouldn’t you say?”


“Yes, I guess it is a bit biscuity,” I say. “Like fizzy biscuits.”


“Yes, fizzy apple biscuits,” says Ra. “Truth is, I haven’t needed to work in a long time, I’ve just been living off my royalties.”


“What royalties?”


“For the afternoon. I invented it, so I take a cut of every afternoon.”


“How does that work?”


“Well let’s see, how old are you? 4000?”


“I’m 33!” I say. “You think I look 4000 years old?”


“You look like you’ve died a thousand deaths behind the eyes.”


“Ok, that I understand,” I say. If anything a thousand is understating it. Most days I die a thousand deaths internally before I get to lunchtime.


“Ok, so you’re 33, which means you’ve enjoyed what, 12,000 afternoons?”


“Err… I guess?”


“So 12,000 afternoons at around £2 an afternoon means… ok, so you owe me £24,000.”


I laugh, but Ra remains stony-faced. “What, you’re serious?” I say.


“Of course I’m serious. You think £2 for an afternoon is too much? Try telling that to all of your treasured afternoon memories! You want me to take them back? I’ll take them back if you want me to!”


“What? Wait, no!” I say. “Look, let’s just take it easy, ok? I’ll get you your money if I have to, just… let me just figure this out, ok?”


“Fine, you have until we’re finished,” says Ra, just as the platter of sandwiches and cakes emerge, stacked on an ornate, golden tree. It’s a very beautiful arrangement. You get the traditional, non-negotiable elements of an afternoon tea such as finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, but there’s also a selection of savoury treats too, such as a salt cod croquette, a mini cheese and onion tart, a chicken liver parfait and a chicken sausage roll. I begin with the chicken sandwich, which to be more specific is roasted chicken with tarragon mustard mayonnaise, smoked garlic and tomato jam. The bread is pillowy soft, spongy and light enough to doze away on, a tempting floury gateway to a world of savoury dreams. It’s lovely, as are the other sandwich friends it’s brought along, including smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, egg and cress and rare roast beef. It’s tasty, although the company is something of a distraction.


The selection of savoury treats.

“Excuse me,” says Ra, summoning over the waitress.


“Would you like more champagne, sir?” Says the waitress, noticing Ra’s semi-empty glass.


“How many afternoons have you had?” Says Ra.


“Do not answer him,” I say. The waitress though is too polite.


“I don’t know, around 10,000?”


“You owe me £20,000,” says Ra. The waitress laughs. Again, Ra remains emotionless.


“He’s serious,” I sigh. “Apparently he takes commission for inventing the afternoon…”


“But I don’t have that money,” says the waitress, nervously.


“Then I must take back all your treasured afternoon memories,” says Ra, getting to his feet.


“No! No, look, we’ll get you the money, ok? We’ll all get you your money!” I say. Ra sits back down again. He’s proving to be somewhat unpleasant so far, in stark contrast to the delightful chicken liver parfait. I can see why the Ancient Egyptians stopped worshipping him. “Also, could I have more champagne, please?”


I’m topped up as I reach for a salt cod croquette. Cylindrical and covered in breadcrumbs, it’s a croquette containing salted cod (good evening, Belgium!). It’s certainly a bizarre addition to an afternoon tea, but it’s nice enough, although perhaps my least favourite of the savouries. I’m snapped out of my croquettish haze by the reminder that so far between myself and the staff we owe Ra £44,000, and that’s surely only going to spiral further out of control when he sees the elderly couple seated to my right.


Afternoon tea more than anything feels like a nice escapism from a pretty mentally-draining world. The ritual of taking a couple of hours to just sit down, have a cup of tea and a cake and briefly forget about the myriad problems that exist away from your table is a lovely thing. A lovely thing which is currently being spoiled by Ra’s insistence that even the passing of time be taxed. This kind of thing is depressing enough when encountered in the real world, but it Trojan-horsing itself into my sweet treat bubble via the medium of a long-dead god is the final straw. The only problem is, how do you stop a billionaire sun god who controls the passing of time? Thankfully I have a plan.


Afternoon Tea Sweets 2
A tiny tasty apple sweet.

If I’ve learned one thing from the TV series The Apprentice, it’s that there’s only one thing that the rich love more than money, and that’s making people scour the streets of London for random items armed only with a Yellow Pages. If I’ve learned two things from the TV series The Apprentice, it’s that more than anything, the rich want status, and what offers more status than an internationally-renowned food blog?


“How would you like to own a food blog that none other than WordPress themselves have called ‘your domain needs renewing, please pay us £15’?”


“A food blog? A chance to control the media and influence the masses you say?”


“That I did not say, but sure.”


“What’s the catch?”


“A wager. If you win, you get my food blog. If I win, I get the afternoons.”


“You want me to gamble my entire fortune on a food blog? Why would I do that?”


“Because like all other billionaires, you’re a risk taker. You live for the thrill of losing it all, of crashing a country just for fun, or accidentally asphyxiating yourself in a cupboard-based sex play. It’s what you do.”


Ra looks at me, contemplating. “Ok, but I choose the challenge,” he says. “And I choose a race. My solar barge vs your… whatever.”


“Ok, fine, but I have two conditions,” I say. “Firstly, I get to choose my racer, and secondly I would like to eat this tiny sacher torte first.”


“Very well, then we have a deal,” says Ra. We shake hands, and then I reach for the tiny sacher torte. Sacher is one of my favourite tortes. Often when I’ve had it in the past it’s been more promising in concept than in execution, a chocolate sponge cake with a layer of chocolate covering a layer of apricot jam, but here it’s made very well. It’s top torte.


“Ready?” Says Ra. I nod, and we head outside to where Ra’s solar barge is parked. “Your racer, who have you chosen?” He asks.


“For my racer, I have cho- oh, bloody hell.”




“I forgot to eat the scone. Who comes to review an afternoon tea and forgets to taste the scone? Why do I do this…” I sigh. “Anyway, for my racer, I have chosen… Mr Ayrton Senna!” I say, as I gesture towards the corner of the street, where Ayrton should come screeching in on cue. He does not. “Ayrton Senna!” Silence. Finally, a fancy-looking woman walks around the corner. “Oh no…”


“Good afternoon to you all! Shall we indulge in some afternoon fancies?” Says Queen Victoria, as she approaches.


“You said you weren’t coming!” I say, despairingly.


“Can a monarch not change her mind? Who else could be more fitting than myself?”


I gesture to my right, where Ra is sat in his magic canoe.


“Goodness! What is that?” Says Queen Victoria.


“It’s a solar barge, and since I assume Ayrton Senna is no longer coming, you’re going to be racing against it for the fate of humanity,” I say, as Victoria goes as white as the bread on a salmon and cream cheese sandwich.


Afternoon Tea Sweets
The Sachertorte.

I know what you’re all thinking. ‘Oh, here we go again, another food review taking the departed monarch in a foot race with a solar barge angle. When is this trend going to end?’ And yes, I can only apologise that we find ourselves here, but here we find ourselves, stood on the streets of Chelsea, watching a 19th century head of state race against an ancient falcon man. Ra and Victoria line up at the traffic lights, him in his barge, her in her flat shoes. As is customary, I drop a handkerchief and it’s go, go, go. Ra immediately tears off in his solar barge, as we all watch Queen Victoria slowly meander away.


“Maybe it’ll be a tortoise and the hare situa- no, no, wait, he’s already won,” I say, disappointedly, as we all watch Ra do doughnuts on the finish line in the distance. Ra comes back towards us in his solar barge.


“The keys to your blog, please,” he says, triumphantly.


“Who the hell has keys to their blog?” I say. Ra looks at me, knowingly. I sigh, and throw him the keys to my blog.


“Thankyou, and from all of you I shall also be requiring all of the money that you owe me too, which I believe comes to around £242,000. I take all forms of payment including cheque and direct debit.”


“Can I make one last request?” I say. “Can I please at least eat my scone? It would be a shame to come for afternoon tea and not actually review the scone.” Ra kindly agrees, and me, Ra and Victoria all go back inside to our magical tree of treats. I shed a single tear, followed by around two-hundred more as I realise it’s the last treat I’ll ever review. It’s a wonderful way to end though, a beautiful beacon of butter coated in thick cream and a lovely strawberry jam homemade on the premises. “Thankyou, scone,” I whisper to the scone.


Afternoon Tea Scones
Scones without their jam and cream coats.

“It’s my pleasure, Andy,” says the scone. Oh dear, I’ve had too much champagne. Ra and Victoria sit opposite me, sharing a sacher torte, laughing as if the world isn’t collapsing in on itself. Then, I hear a voice from the foyer.


“Sorry I’m late, Andy! Somebody stole my solar barge!”


I turn to see a falcon-headed beast in a silver suit striding into the theatre of tea. “Ra?!” I say, confused. “But you’re already here?” I say, staring at the two Ras before me.


“Who is this imposter?” Says blue-suited Ra, angrily. “Get him out of here, immediately!”


“I’m no imposter! This is the imposter!” Says silver-suited Ra. “Look!” He says, as he grabs the other Ra’s head and pulls it off to reveal none other than…


“PEPYS!” I shout, stunned, as I see that it’s none other than Samuel Pepys, famed diarist. “I should have known it was you!” The last time I saw Pepys he was filling up several two-litre bottles with Fanta in a Nando’s despite saying he just wanted tap water. He’s a grifter, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he didn’t write his own diaries.


“Yes! Yes, it is I, Samuel Pepys!” Says Pepys. “And we would have got away with it if it weren’t for this bloody bird!”


“We? You were in on this too?” I say to Victoria. “You’re not even from the same era as Pepys!”


“He told me I could make a fortune!” She says. “All I had to do was decline your invitation and then stop Ayrton Senna from coming!”


“How dare you! You have both brought… I want to say shame but let’s be honest, that ship sailed a long time ago… you’ve brought further shame on this blog, something none of us even thought possible! I’ll be taking these!” I say, taking back the keys to my blog. “Get them out of here!” I say, clicking my fingers to summon the interdimensional food blog police. They step out of a portal that looks remarkably like a pain au raisin and lead Pepys and Victoria away in chains. In front of me now stands Ra, and some very relieved staff, free from their financial burden.


“You’re not going to charge us for the afternoon are you?” I say to Ra.


“Charge you for a basic human need? Who do you think I am, any existing member of the British Conservative Party?” Says Ra. We laugh, yet internally we both die a little bit.


“Excellent, then the champagne is on me!” I say. Everybody cheers.


“Your hour and a half of bottomless champagne is over, sir. You’ll need to pay for additional glasses,” says a waitress.


“Just the bill then, please.” Overall…


9/10 – A delightful and unique afternoon tea.

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 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’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!”




“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-“




“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?”




“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?”




“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.

Bancone with Leonardo da Vinci

Pasta has always been a favourite of mine. I’ve always said that if I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be World Buffet, but my second choice would definitely be Italian, so I’m excited to visit Bancone. Having opened near Charing Cross station in 2017, it’s joined a range of great Italian restaurants in London including Padella, Lina Stores and Via Emilia in providing high-quality, freshly made pasta at reasonable prices, earning itself rave reviews from respected food reviewers including The Guardian, The Evening Standard, and if they’re lucky, my self-published WordPress blog that receives up to 50 page views a month.


Today I’ll be dining with Leonardo da Vinci. Painter, inventor, architect, raconteur and hopefully lover of pasta, Leonardo was ahead of his time, coming up with early concepts for devices such as helicopters, tanks, calculators and solar power. He’s one of the earliest examples of what’s come to be known as a ‘renaissance man’, somebody defined by their desire to embrace knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible. In that respect we’re not so different, Leonardo and I. He, unquenchable in his thirst for knowledge, reflected in the legacy he has left within arts and science, and me, being borderline sarcastically praised by a cartoon owl for completing a two-day streak on Duolingo. We’re one and the same.


I sit at the counter and await Leonardo. Counter dining is always a nice experience. You can sit by yourself and not have to feel self-conscious about being alone. You could be with clowns to the left of you, or jokers to the right, but here you are, stuck in the middle with your own morbid and self-destructive thoughts. Bancone’s counter-dining situation is pleasant. Often counter-dining can be a fast track to staring at a bottle of Bailey’s for an hour or two, but here I’m practically sat in the kitchen, to the extent I’d almost want to ask if I can do anything to help, were I not to cooking what Norovirus is to a day at Thorpe Park.


I’m snapped out of my thoughts by a flash of blinding blue light as a portal opens in the centre of the restaurant, and out steps Leonardo da Vinci.


“Ciao, Andy!” Says Leonardo, as he enthusiastically hugs me. He is dressed in a three-quarter length red metallic coat, sunglasses, and what appear to be hover boots.


“What was that?” I say, as the portal closes behind him.


“Time travel, I invented it recently. I’ve just now got back from the year 3000.”


“Oh, has not much changed but they live underwater?” I say, jokingly.


“It’s all changed, Andy. It’s all changed,” says Leonardo. “The sun is no more, water and any other kind of natural resources ran out a long, long time ago. Now it’s just a never-ending free-for-all where people drink the blood of their enemies from their skulls, and the only source of heat is their burning flesh, piled high, corpse upon corpse.”


“Oh… err… that doesn’t sound great.”


“Oh, I did see your great-great-great-granddaughter though!”


“Oh, that’s nice! How was she?”


“She was throwing an old man onto a burning flesh pile.”


“Maybe let’s just not talk about the future anymore.”


The Burrata.

“Ok. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to use the bathroom,” says Leonardo as he disappears up the stairs. I flag the waiter down.


“Ok, so we’d like to start with the burrata, then let’s go for the silk handkerchiefs, the cacio e pepe, the morel ravioli and then maybe the strozzapr-”


I’m interrupted as there’s a blinding flash of red light, and another portal opens in the centre of the restaurant. Through this portal shuffles a man, maybe 60 to 70 years old. He is tall but apologetically so, hunching over like a troll poised to offer a riddle. His skin is pale to the point where you can nearly see through it, and his body is slim, with long and wiry arms that are clearly too long for the poorly-fitting shirt he’s wearing that he’s forgotten to take the price tag off. All in all, he looks like a less well-dressed Slenderman.


“Who the hell are you?” I ask.


“Andy, I’m you,” says the figure. “I’m here from the future.”


“Me? How do I know you’re telling the truth?”


“Ask me a question, something that only you and I could know the answer to.”


“Ok, what’s our biggest fear?”


“Oh wow, where to start? There’s spiders, obviously. People thinking you’re boring, people thinking you’re stupid, everybody secretly hating you, giant squid, people asking what you got up to at the weekend and you having to find new creative ways to say ‘I sat and stared into space for 48 hours, wastefully running down the clock to my own demise and achieving nothing’…”


“I tend to go with ‘it was just a fairly chilled one’.”


“… then there’s not achieving your potential, testing your potential and realising you never actually had any, being called out to a house in the middle of nowhere, getting locked in and realising it’s full of zombies – that one’s very specific, I guess Resident Evil had more of an effect on us than we realised – there’s expressing your emotions, scorpions, the Scorpion King, scarab beetles – there’s a lot from The Mummy Returns here – sand clouds with faces in-”


“Ok, you’ve proven your point! But why are you here?”


“I need you to kill Leonardo da Vinci.”




“I’ve just come from the year 3000. Things are not good and it’s all Leonardo’s fault. Did he tell you that he stole the sun?”


“No, he just said it was gone. Why would he steal it?”


“For one of his inventions. You know the Dyson Airblade? It’s like that, but it dries your hands quicker by directing harnessing the power of the sun.”


“That seems wasteful.”


“To be fair, it really does dry your hands quickly, but it’s turned the world into a lawless dystopia, full of misery and death. Oh, I’ll tell you who I did see though!”


“Oh god, it’s not-“


“Our great-great-great-granddaughter!”


“Dare I ask how she was?”


“She was gorging herself on a severed leg.”


“I shouldn’t have asked.”


Cacio e pepe.

“Now that he’s come back to the year 2019, if we kill him now we can prevent any of this from happening, so you just distract him with your food review? I’ll hide somewhere around here and jump out and kill him, alright?”


“But I-“


“You won’t even know I’m here until I leap out and bludgeon him to death,” says future Andy, as he takes up a seat at a nearby table, puts on a baseball cap and shades and opens a huge newspaper. Shortly afterwards, Leonardo returns from the bathroom.


“My hands are sopping wet! Honestly, just you wait until you see what we have lined up in the future!” Says Leonardo with a wink. “Have you ordered?”


“Yes, I have,” I say, sheepishly, as Leonardo takes a seat, just in time for the food to begin arriving. We begin with the burrata and the silk handkerchiefs. The burrata is served with puffed rice on a plate smeared with balsamic vinegar. It’s wonderfully wobbly and creamy and the puffed rice adds a lovely crunch to the dish, the two opposing elements coming together fantastically. It’s overshadowed however by the silk handkerchiefs. Thankfully not actual fabric, these are thick squares of pasta folded in on themselves, slathered in walnut butter, crushed walnuts and topped with a confit egg yolk. Stirring in the yolk results in a sauce so rich it’s probably evading tax. It’s spectacular, and worth coming to the restaurant for by itself. I momentarily lose myself in it as I forget what lies ahead.


“So Andy, anything interesting going on?”


“No, not really,” I say, anxiously. “I saw a cat that looked like a snow leopard the other day.” The waiter returns with our cacio e pepe, morel ravioli and strozzapreti. I look over his shoulder and notice future Andy get up and start slowly creeping towards us.


“So nothing out of the ordinary?”


“…Yes,” I say, as I go to pass Leonardo the cacio e pepe. As I do, future Andy grabs a pepper mill and swings it towards Leonardo. Before it connects though, Leonardo spins around and zaps him with a bolt from his glove, freezing him in place.


“I KNEW IT!” Says Leonardo. “You brought me here to kill me, didn’t you?”


“What? No! I brought you here to help me review pasta!”


“Then explain this!” Says Leonardo, pointing to the frozen, older version of myself looming aggressively over him with a pepper mill and murder in his eyes.


“Ok, well that’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s actually quite funn-“


There’s another flash of light, and I find me (cacio e pepe still in hand), and my future self stood in a cold and dark wasteland.


Silk handkerchiefs
The ‘Silk Handkerchiefs’.

“Welcome to the year 3000,” says Leonardo, emerging from the darkness with a pistol in hand.


“What? Why are we here?”


“To show you what you’d be missing,” says Leonardo. He picks up a bucket of water and throws it all over my hands, soaking them in the process and ruining the cacio e pepe.


“Hey! It’s freezing out here, I’ll get chapped hands!”


“Will you?” Says Leonardo. He gestures to a wall, onto which a small device is mounted. I warily plunge my hands into the slot. There’s a loud whirring sound and I immediately withdraw them in panic, only to find my hands completely bone dry.


“What the-“


“A Dyson Airblade takes a minimum of 10 seconds to just get your hands damp, all the while whirring them about in the dregs of everybody else’s hand gunk. I’ve cut that time down to less than a fraction of a second. And this is just the beginning! There are so many stars across the galaxy, think of what else we can achieve! Ovens that pre-heat in seconds! Toasters that don’t require a defrost button! Grills that cook all four sides at once!”


“But do we not need the sun for… you know… everything?”


“Urgh, you’re all the same. ‘We need the sun’, ‘we can’t grow our crops without the sun’, ‘my whole family fell into a ravine because they couldn’t see where they were going’. Do you know how long it takes to dry your hands naturally in the sun?”


“About two minutes?”


“Two minutes! That’s twelve times as long as the Airblade, so don’t you tell me the sun is worth keeping!”


“Why are you so obsessed with dry hands?”


Leonardo fixes me with a stare. “The year was 1498…” he says, and with a click of his fingers he transports us back to 15th century Florence. “I had just completed painting The Last Supper, and was at the peak of my powers. Today was the day when I would be revealing it to the world,” he continues, as he leads us to a town square where there is a crowd gathered, and a man who I assume must be the mayor stands on stage, alongside a curtain-covered easel. “But all did not go to plan.”


“Ladies and gentleman, Leonardo!” Says the mayor. The crowd all begin to applaud as a young Leonardo walks onto the stage excitedly. He walks over to the mayor and shakes his hand.


“Urgh, your hand, it is so moist!” Says the mayor, grimacing. “Leonardo da Vinci, more like Leonardo da wet hands!” Says the mayor. The entire crowd laughs uproariously, as the Mayor mimics going to shake Leonardo’s hand only to topple backwards.


“Wet hands! Wet hands! Wet hands!” Chant the crowd.


“I’m sorry, I just washed my hands!” Shouts Leonardo. “Do you not want to see my painting?” He continues, struggling to make himself heard about the noise. It is futile, the crowd continues to chant and perform slapstick gestures relating to wet hands, until Leonardo is forced to slink off stage in shame, his painting remaining fully covered.


The Morel and Ricotta Ravioli

“I was forever known as Leonardo da wet hands after that day. After all I’d done for civilisation, to be entirely defined by having wet hands ONE TIME!” Says Leonardo. “Everything I did since that day was designed to solve the problem of wet hands. The helicopter? A large fan to dry your hands. The parachute? A way to use wind resistance to dry your hands. The Mona Lisa? A woman showing off her hands, freshly helicopter-dried after a dip in the lake.”


“You’re insane,” says Future Andy.


“Insane?! You think this is insane?!”


“Well, I mean… you’ve destroyed the planet to make a single hand-dryer, so…”


“It doesn’t matter,” says Leonardo, as he shoots a flare gun into the sky. “Farewell, Andy.” There is a howling, shrieking noise in the darkness as the hordes of scavengers are alerted to our position. Weirdly, my first thought isn’t about my impending death, it’s actually about how hungry I am considering we paid around £30 per head for our meal, excluding drinks. The pasta dishes were not huge, and so whilst the restaurant does bill itself on being very reasonably priced, the price can quickly rack up as you do need to order a fair amount of food. It’s a frustrating last thought to have, but then it reminds me, we do have one course remaining.


“Wait!” I shout, as Leonardo reaches for his time-travelling glove.


“What now?” Sighs Leonardo. I quickly grab the soaked cacio e pepe from the floor and throw it at Leonardo, striking him in the face with the plate. It’s a remarkably violent scene that would cause the blog to be rated at least a 15, were there any point to classifying a piece of work that would likely never be seen (if a food blog falls in the forest, does it make a piercing, self-indulgent sound?). Leonardo falls to the ground, as Future Andy goes and tears the glove from his hand. He grabs me and we start to teleport out of there.


“Cacio on the flip side!” I say, and immediately regret it. Like, there’s a little bit of me that’s kind of proud, but mostly I feel the same kind of sad cringe I feel whenever I decide to click on the ‘Memories’ section of Facebook.


“You haven’t seen the last of Leonardo da Vinci!” Shouts Leonardo, as the hordes begin to emerge from the darkness. A young woman leaps upon him, sinking her teeth into his neck and pulling his arm from its socket as we disappear back into the past.


“That woman looked familiar, was she…”


“Just… don’t even ask, ok?”


Overall, I have to say…


8/10 – Tasty food but pricier than you expected.

Cakes & Bubbles with Marie Antoinette

Cakes And Bubbles

I find myself sat alone, drinking champagne in the window of a fancy hotel in Piccadilly Circus. Outside, people stop and peer through the window. I give them a half-wave as if to say ‘yes, it is me, the man who coaxes the dead back from the grave for potato dauphinoise’, but realistically I know they have no idea who I am, and why would they? Six blog entries in and my flat remains distinctly Oscar-free. There are those who would say ‘why would you have an Oscar? You know that just celebrates the film industry don’t you?’ or ‘seriously, have you even looked at the categories? Have you researched this at all?’, to which I would say ‘please, stop shattering my dreams’.

I think everybody suffers from self-doubt from time to time, the feeling of not being good enough, of being a fraud, of not being qualified to lead a space mission but you joked to a guy at a party that you were an astronaut and he thought you were being serious and things kind of snowballed from there and now you’re going on a solo mission to Mars that’s clearly going to be a disaster as you don’t even know how to open the bonnet of a car let alone pilot a multi-billion dollar spaceship but you don’t want to say anything because the nice old Commander in the hat called you ‘sport’ and you don’t want to let him down even though he’s pretty old and senile now and you kind of suspect he may have been one of the racist characters from Hidden Figures. We’ve all been there. Right now my self-worth and motivation is through the floor. The blog has not been the success I had once hoped. Every day my editor calls to angrily bark down the phone at me. Perhaps hiring a dog editor is part of the problem, but right now I need a win, a blog that rekindles my self-confidence and gives me back my belief in the importance of food reviewing. Hopefully this shall be that win.

Today I’ll be dining at Cakes & Bubbles. A recent opening within the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street, it’s the first UK addition to the restaurant empire of Albert Adria. One of the creative forces behind elBulli, a five-time winner of the World’s Best Restaurant, Albert is also a former winner of the World’s Best Pastry Chef, so this restaurant, a dessert-themed café and bar, comes with high expectations.

My guest today is famed for her love of cake. Hated by the French population for her lavish spending in a time of financial ruin, she was famous for her utterance of ‘let them eat cake’ in response to learning that the peasants had no bread to eat, a phrase so markedly out of touch that it could have come from Iain Duncan Smith circa 2011 (#satire #lol #whatamIlike). There’s some historical debate as to whether she actually said it or not, but from there the rest is history, and she was later executed for high treason by French revolutionaries. I’m intrigued to see how she reflects on this now, and whether she feels any remorse for her actions, as Iain Duncan Smith should for his actions circa 1954-Present (#truthbombs #haveIdonethisalready?). My answer comes as the door swings open, and there she is.

Chocolate Cork
The Chocolate Cork.

“Let them eat caaaaaaaaaaaake!” Shouts Marie Antoinette, excitedly, as she waltzes in. “Take this,” she says, as she throws her coat at a member of staff and heads to my table.

“Hello, good to meet y-”

She clicks her fingers at a passing waiter. “Waiter, your finest champagne, and hurry up” she says, brusquely, as she takes a seat.

“So, thankyou for joining me tod-”

“So, you review food?” Says Marie, interrupting. “What sort of career is that?”

“Well, it’s not actually my career, I just do this as a hobby.”

“So an amateur food critic?”

“Well, yes, for now, but Oscar season is approaching and-”

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve read some of your work. You don’t seem to have the first idea how to describe food. Some of your descriptions are vague at best, and completely confusing at worst.”

“What are you talking about?” I say, as I have another sip of my champagne. It’s jam-packed with bubbles, like a diver with the bends, whilst the palate is surprisingly rich and buttery, like an Undercover Boss in a dairy farm accident.

“You’re wasting your time pursuing this, you need to give up,” says Marie.

“What? But I-“

“No more reviews,” she says, as she grabs my pen. The next moments pass in slow motion as she snaps it in half and I watch it fall to the floor.

“My pen!” I scream.

“You’ll thank me later,” she says. “Waiter, we’re ready to order now,” she continues, as she dings a glass with her spoon to summon the waiter. I’m stunned, but maybe she’s right. After all, if you haven’t succeeded after six barely publicised WordPress blogs posted at irregular intervals over the course of the last 10 months, then maybe you never will. In some ways I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders, the pressure to heal the divisions of the world through describing spinach is gone. The world doesn’t need food reviewers, let alone one such as myself. I put my notepad back in my bag and allow the dream to quietly die.

The Carrot Cake.

“What can I get for you?” Says the waiter.

“We’ll have everything,” says Marie.

“One of everything, a great choice.”

“No, I mean we’ll take everything. I want all of it.”

“Madam, I would recommend maybe five to six dishes in total to share or else-“

“I said we’ll take everything,” says Marie, closing her menu and thrusting it into the chest of the waiter. “Chop chop!”

“Everything? Isn’t that a bit much?”

“You’re with royalty now!” She says. Shortly afterwards the dishes begin to arrive. We’re quickly surrounded by tray after tray stacked high with chocolate corks, eclairs, ‘After Eight’ marshmallows and the restaurant’s fabled cheesecake. Everybody is staring at us as we become citizens of our own personal pastry metropolis. I take a bite of the chocolate cork. It’s- No, my reviewing days are done now, I simply sit and enjoy the food. I’m at peace, relaxed and free of obligation, until I hear a noise from next to me.

“What do you mean you’re out of cake?!” Says a nearby diner, angrily.

“I’m sorry, madam, that lady over there bought everything,” says the waiter, apologetically.

“We came here to try your cake!” Says another diner, standing up. “Now you’re telling us that she has all of it? She’s never going to eat that much!”

“Perhaps she’d be willing to share with us?” Says another voice, providing a reasonable tone to the debate. “Excuse me, madam, would you allow us to share some of your cake?”

“Madam?” Says Marie, annoyed. “Peasant, you will address me as Your Majesty or you will not address me at all!”

“Who the hell are you?” Says another. By this point the whole restaurant is on its feet and surrounding our table. My sense of tranquillity is somewhat shattered by this.

“My name is Queen Mary Antoinette and I am your superior!”

“I think we should let them have some of our cake,” I whisper, trying to defuse the situation. “To quote somebody I once met, ‘let them eat cake’,” I say with a smile.

“Who was that?”

“It was you.”

“I never said that!”

“What did you say?”

“I said f**k the peasants let them all die.”

“You know you really should meet Iain Duncan Smith, you two would have a lot to chat abou- you know what, now’s not the time.” (#oncetwicethreetimesasatirist) “Look, we have way too much here, there’s plenty for all of us.”

“Over my dead body! Guards, detain these peasants immediately!” Shouts Marie. There is baffled silence. “Guards! Guards! … Guards?” There is no response. I didn’t invite any guards as they weren’t celebrities.

“Get her!” Shouts the crowd. They surround her and grab her.

“Let me go at once!” Shouts Marie. “This is treason!”

“Off with her head!” Shouts one member of the public, escalating things a lot quicker than I’d thought, as they throw her down over a counter. I stand, stunned and helpless. What am I to do with an angry mob who have been driven rabid by their desire to experience cake? Then I’m struck by an idea.

The restaurant’s famous Cheesecake.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Stop this nonsense!” I say, as I take a stand upon a table. The crowd turn to face me as I grab a cheesecake from one of our trays and begin to devour it. “The cheesecake is a delight, a delicious trick of the mind that encases all of the sweet flavour of white chocolate with all of the savoury flavour of cheese in a confusingly tasty cheese-disguised package, leaving you questioning what exactly it is that you’re enjoying,” I say.

“What the- what is this?” Says a crowd member, confused. I grab a chocolate cork and consume it whole.

“The chocolate cork is not a cork at all, but a perfect mix of chocolate and coffee fondant all rolled within a delightfully light chocolate sponge!”

“Oh my god, I can taste it… but I’m not tasting it,” says a confused member of the mob, holding their temples. “What is this witchcraft?”

“The chocolate éclair with peanut praline is like the finest Snickers you’ve ever eaten, combining a lovely mix of textures from smooth chocolate to crunchy peanut in one tasty tube,” I shout. The mob unhand Marie as their rage is soothed by an emotional taste sensation. I watch as they all calmly take their seats and focus on me.

“Tell us tales of the carrot cake,” says one. I grab a carrot cake from my tray.

“The carrot cake has a sponge so delicate that it’s hard to believe they’ve managed to condense so much flavour into it, and like a bagel’s coffin it’s carried by cream cheese.”

The crowd break out into spontaneous applause. “Now please, help yourselves to cake,” I say, as I get down from the table. Marie, slightly shaken from nearly being executed in broad daylight in an upper-class café in 21st century London, rejoins me at my table.

“It looks like I was wrong,” says Marie. “Maybe you’re not so dreadful after all.”

“Excuse me, sir, that was amazing. How did you do that?” Says a waiter, approaching our table.

“I remembered what I’ve always known all along I guess,” I say with a shrug. “That food criticism is the most important profession in the world,” I say, as I throw down some cash, grab my coat and head for the door.

“But what about doctors and nurses? What about aid workers, farmers, teachers, scient-” they protest, but I block it out as the door closes behind me, my self-importance rekindled.

The most important profession in the entire world.

Mince Pies with King Herod

Close your eyes and think about Christmas, what do you see? Many of you will have said baubles, mulled wine, mistletoe, Mariah Carey, reindeer, log fires, turkey, pigs in blankets, pigs out of blankets, wrapping paper, Santa Claus, A Christmas Prince 2: Royal Wedding, all sorts of things. But how many of you said attempted infanticide by the King of Judea? Probably only 30-40%. It’s fair to say that on Christmas morning, most people’s first thought isn’t ‘today is the day that King Herod tried to murder a baby out of spite’.

My dining companion today is that King himself. Usually I choose the guests myself, but last week I received a call from his representatives that he was interested in doing the blog, and who am I to decline? This could be my Frost/Nixon, a chance to interrogate one of Christmas’s most notorious figures and understand more about him and his motivations. Today we’d be sampling three of London’s most premium mince pies in a quest to understand just which is the best.

I meet Herod at Konditor and Cook on Goodge Street. Konditor and Cook’s mince pies have been called ‘the best mince pies in Britain’ by The Telegraph, so it seems like a fine place to begin our tour. When I arrive, Herod is seated inside sipping a coffee. I’m surprised to see that it’s not just him though, but he’s arrived with four other smartly-dressed people.

“Hi, I’m King Herod, good to meet you.” Says Herod, extending his hand.

“Hi, I’m Andy. Who are these people?”

“This is my PR team, they’re going to be joining us today.”

“Oh, err… ok.” I say, taken aback. I hadn’t anticipated that we’d have company, what was this about? “I guess that’s fine… shall we get started then?” I say. Herod nods, and I order us a couple of mince pies that they bring to our table.

Konditor and Cook mince pies wrapped
Konditor & Cook’s Mince Pies.

“So, thanks for agreeing to be part of this.” I say, “I guess my first question is, when you wanted to kill Jesus-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold it!” Says one of the PR team, stepping forward. “That topic is off limits.”


“Our client agreed to this interview on the basis that there’d be no discussion of that.”

“But.. it’s the main thing we know him for.”

“And we don’t want to discuss it. People have a very negative perception of our client due to the biased mainstream media choosing to focus on stories about him trying to kill children and not on his many other achievements.”

“What achievements?”

“His many other achievements.”

“Such as?”

“There are lots of them.”

“But what are they?”

“Look, all I’m saying is that you all willingly choose to focus on one small incident that’s been blown out of proportion, because of your liberal agenda.”

“You think not wanting to kill children is a liberal agenda?”

“Just don’t discuss it, or we’re leaving, ok?”

“But then why are you here if you don’t want to discuss it?”

“We want people to see the real Herod, the Herod of the people. He’s just a regular guy, like me and you, you know?”

I sigh. What option do I really have now that we’re here with the mince pies in front of us? It’s not like I can just draft in Joseph Aspdin at the last minute (hi everybody, welcome to the call-back section of the review). “Fine, let’s do it.” I say, with a shrug. I take a spoon to my mince pie. In appearance it’s surprisingly small and flat, but with a beautifully golden crust, ever so slightly toasted at the edges. It crumbles well, but in flavour terms it’s actually a little underwhelming for something that’s been billed as the best mince pie in London, with not quite enough flavour in the pastry, and whilst the filling is nice there’s just not quite enough of it. At £12 for 6 mince pies, you would hope for more.

Konditor and Cook mince pie
A Konditor & Cook Mince Pie with Cream.

“What do you think?” I ask Herod.

“So this is a mince pie?” Asks Herod. I nod. “It doesn’t taste anything like minced grouse.”

“Minced grouse? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Ok, ok, scratch that.” Says a PR person, intervening. “We need a minute.” Herod and the PR person stand up and walk away from the table. I see them whispering away in a corner, before Herod comes back to the table.

“I love minced pies.” Says Herod. “They are a wonderful combination of dried fruits and spices and pastry that I enjoy every festive season.”

“Ok…” I say, confusedly. “Yes, they are a Christmas treat.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Says one of the PR people, intervening.

“What now?”

“What did I just say about the killing children thing?”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“Christmas? Christ? As in the alleged murder victim?”

“Oh for goodness sake! We’re reviewing mince pies and now you want to ban me from saying Christmas?”

“Hey! Our client just wants to be treated fairly by the media, ok? You’re the one who keeps being negative here.”

“He tried to murder a child!”

“This whole ‘killing Jesus’ thing is a witch hunt, there’s no proof that our client was ever involved.”

“Oh come on! It was his idea!”

“No King has ever been treated as unfairly as King Herod. You need to stop being such a snowflake and give our client a fair hearing. No mention of that, and no more mentioning Christmas, ok?”

“Well what the hell do you want me to talk about then?”

“Why don’t you ask him what music he enjoys listening to?”

“Ok, fine, what music do you like listening to?”

“I enjoy listening to the Arctic Monks and Drapes.” Says Herod.


“Ignore that!” Says a PR person, who again goes over to whisper to Herod.

“Sorry, I mean the Arctic Monkeys and Drake. I love it when they sing the songs, I own all of their albums.”

“Oh my god, seriously?” I sigh. “What the hell is this?”

“Our client is telling you about the music that he enjoys listening to.” Says a PR person.

“Oh really? Which albums does he like the most then?”

“Do not answer that!” Shouts a PR person. “You are walking on thin ice, mister!” They say, pointing angrily at me. “You’re deliberately trying to make our client look bad! He’s just a regular guy who likes regular guy things and you come in here with your left-wing spin and want to portray him as some kind of monster!”

“He doesn’t even know what a mince pie is!”

“He has been quite clear that he loves mince pies, so why don’t you just move on?”

“Ok, fine let’s go to bloody Gail’s then shall we?” I say, angrily. We all up and leave Konditor and Cook, and head over to our second location, Gail’s, which is just around the corner in Bloomsbury. Gail’s is a popular chain that started in Hampstead back in the 90s but now has over 40 locations around London. They’ve always been very highly-rated, but today will actually be my first time trying their bakes.

Gails Mince Pies Wrapped
Gail’s Mince Pies.

We take a seat and I order a couple more mince pies and some coffee. We sit in silence just staring at each other until our mince pies arrive. They look very nice, very good pastry with a sugared top, and with a bit more depth than the Konditor and Cook mince pies. I break the mince pie with my spoon. It’s well-filled, not too dense, not too sparse. The pastry is buttery, and the filling is beautifully flavoured, rich and fruity without being overwhelmed by alcohol. All in all, it’s a fantastic mince pie. “Ok, what are your thoughts?” I ask Herod, more out of hope than expectation.

“I have to say, they’re all winners in my eyes. Small business is the backbone of the economy and I support our troops.”

“For f**k’s sake, we’re talking about mince pies! You’re killing this review!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Says the PR person intervening. “What did we say abo-”

“Oh, come on! This is pointless PR spin! He’s not a regular guy, he’s a madman!”

“Our client is not a madman, he’s the kind of guy that people would like to have a beer with. Tell them Herod, what’s your favourite beer?”

“Ice cold beer on a hot day.” Says Herod. “Or a cold day, I forget which.”

“I give up, I’m leaving.” I say, as I finish my mince pie and go to leave.

“Hey, hey! Don’t be hasty!” Says a PR person, grabbing me as I go to leave. “Look, ok, I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement for a blog like yours.”

“What do you mean a blog like mine?”

“Your blog, it gets what, millions, tens of millions of views, right?”

“What? Well, tens, definitely…” I say. Even that’s not true, there are weeks where I barely hit double figures, and I’m pretty confident half of those are me logging on to check whether I’ve hit double figures.

The PR person thinks for a moment, then walks off to a corner with Herod and the other PR people. They chat amongst themselves for a couple of minutes and then come back to me.

“Ok, we’ll allow you to ask one question. One. No follow-ups, nothing else. How’s that?”

“It can be anything?”

“Anything. But only one.”

“Ok, fine.” I say. “Now come on, we’ve got more mince pies to eat.”

We leave Gail’s and begin the walk towards Soho. I spend the walk deep in thought. One question, no follow-ups, what do I ask? Before I know it, we’re at Bread Ahead. Famed for their incredible doughnuts, they’re also rumoured to make a great mince pie, and so here we find ourselves in one of their newer locations just off Carnaby Street. I order us a couple of mince pies and we take our seats. Again, we sit facing each other in silence for a while, this time with me anxiously combing my mind for a great question as I prod at my mince pie. In appearance it’s the grandest of all the mince pies, with thick crust and tall sides. Whilst visually imposing though, it’s not quite to my preference taste-wise. Whilst you can’t accuse them of being stingy with the filling, if anything they’ve gone the other way and packed too much into it. It’s incredibly compact, leaving it with the texture of a Christmas pudding. The flavour is still nice, but it’s not quite what I’m after in a mince pie.

Bread Ahead Mince Pies Wrapped
Bread Ahead’s Mince Pies.


“What? Oh, yes, the question.” I say, snapping back out of my haze.

“Any question you like.”

“I just need a few more minutes, ok?”

“We don’t have all day. I’ll give you ten seconds and then the deal is off the table.”

“Wait, please, just give me-”

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four-”

“What’s your favourite Christmas film?” I blurt out.

“That’s it? That’s your question?”

“No, hold on, I want another one!”

“No, we agreed you got one question. Herod, please feel free to answer the question as you wish.”

Herod scratches his head for a minute. He really seems to be thinking it through.

“Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.” Says Herod. I’m genuinely taken aback that he’s chosen something unexpected that also happens to be one of my own favourites.

“Satisfied?” Says the PR person. I’ve blown my chance. There’s vomit on my sweater. Mom’s spaghetti.

“It’s just a shame that it ended the way it did.” Sighs Herod.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Herod, no, stop right there!”

“I can’t believe that bloody kid got away with it! The BASTARD!” Shouts Herod, quietly shaking with anger.

“Herod! No more!”

“Harry and Marv would have been set without him! They could have lived as kings were it not for that boy! Oh, what I would have given to have slain that Kevin McAllister myself, the little s**t! He had to ruin it all! THEY WERE KINGS AND HE RUINED IT ALL! THE RIVERS WILL RUN RED WITH HIS BLOOD!” Shouts Herod, slamming his fist on the table. Bread Ahead goes completely silent as Herod sits fuming, his face red with rage. He suddenly comes back to his senses, and looks at his PR team with horror. “I’m sorry, I mean, I love the Snowman.” He stammers. “The Snowman is my favourite. Aled Jones is a national treasure.”

“We need to go.” Says a PR representative. They whisk him away and then they are gone, leaving me sat alone with my mince pie. What a Christmas this has turned out to be. Outside, the first drops of snow begin to fall, as somewhere in the back somebody hits a jukebox and Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas begins to play. A young boy nearby stands on a chair.

“Merry Christmas to us all! God bless us, every o-”

“God is dead, sit down.” Says his father, as the boy sits silently back down. Overall…

Konditor & Cook – 7/10 – Tasty, but too pricey for what you get.


Bread Ahead – 6/10 – Too densely packed.

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!”




“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.”




“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.