Sunday, December 26, 2021


This being the season of good cheer and good food ...

...I found myself reading a wonderfully sour article by Jonathan 

Meades, titled ‘Meat on Canvas.’  Here’s a good bit about food 


‘As a result of the food photographers who see themselves as heirs to Archibaldo and Miro … chefs have submitted to the dictates of art direction. They make food which is to be looked at … They talk about presentation, all the time, believe me they do.’




Of course he was talking about professional food photographers and professional chefs, and this was written in 1986 when ‘social media’ were a sci-fi writer’s fantasy.  But these days, half the world seem to be food photographers, and a quick riffle through the social media of people I follow has brought up all manner of pleasures, that are a long way from being Archimbaldian

Here, for example, is William Basinski’s  ‘Xmas schorgasboard … root beer glazed ham, quiche lorraine, buttahmilk buisquits, brie and Italian salami and crackers & what-not for noshing and grazing.’


This is Christmas Gumbo as eaten by Lynell George:


This is a mutant Santa from Food Sake Tokyo:



And this also Tokyo, and more or less unimprovable, is a photograph Carl Stone put on Instagram labelled 熊すき焼きwhich I gather translates translates as Bear Sukiyaki.  


And since you ask, this was my pheasant and chestnut casserole; which could have been better, though I’m not sure what I’d have done to make it better.  I don't think snazzier presentation would have been the answer, though it could have done no harm:

Wednesday, December 15, 2021


 I had another Christmas sandwich, this one from Costa.


It called itself ‘Turkey & The Trimmings’ but really it was more trimmings than turkey.  The cheese on top could have overwhelmed a meatier sandwich than this one, and if you’d told me I was eating a stuffing sandwich I’d have believed you; and actually that would be OK. I think I prefer stuffing to turkey, but even so ….


And then there was this:


Have you ever thought of taking piece of Wensleydale cheese and mashing a spoonful of mincemeat into it? No, of course not but if you did, it would taste very much like the ‘Yorkshire Creamery, Limited Edition, Yorkshire Wensleydale Mince Pie.’  It looked like this:


And it tasted exactly the way you’d imagine it would.  It was strange but you know, it wasn’t altogether bad.  This is a list of the ingredients.


It just wouldn't be Christmas without fructose.







Tuesday, December 7, 2021



         Oysters haven’t been especially easy to get at my local farmers' market lately.   The fish man hasn’t had any.  The autumn was warm and he lost a fair bit of stock, he says, so he stopped selling them for a while.  But on Saturday he had some – well, just six, so I bought them.  They were biggies – and cost 1.50 rather than the usual pound.


Photo by Luna Woodyear-Smith.

When I say they were whoppers I should perhaps say they were monsters, which is also to say it was one heck of job to get them open.  And one of them looked a bit dodgy so here are the other five.


Photo by Luna Yearwood-Smith.

In fact the job was so Herculean that I broke my oyster knife on one of them.  My oyster knife isn’t especially treasured but I’ve always thought it was pretty serviceable.  So I was reduced to using the point of a knife and that broke too.  This adds to the pain (and the cost) of the pleasure.

The oysters' revenge.


Tuesday, November 30, 2021


 This chap’s been in the news lately: 

It's David R Chan – a 72 year old, LA–based, retired tax  lawyer, of Chinese heritage. The BBC report said he ‘claims to have dined at nearly 8000 restaurants across the US and counting.’  It’s the word ‘claims’ that’s a problem, as though there might be some doubt, but I believe him.  Lawyers have money, they can afford to eat out a lot, and in any case he’s got an honest face.


The BBC also seems unusually crass in using the headline ‘What I learned eating at 8000 Chinese restaurants’ as though obsession and food consumption had anything to do with learning.


Of course I’m deeply fascinated by obsession, collecting and accumulation, by ordering and organization, and in this case by the fact that according to the article, ‘Each (restaurant visit) is archived in a spreadsheet that he has maintained for four decades, along with thousands of restaurant business cards and menus.’


Now, there have been times in my life when I’ve accumulated (or even collected) large numbers of food books, menus and business cards, but I suppose it’s an indication that I’m not truly obsessed, that most of these items were ditched in various acts of nomadism and downsizing.  All I’ve kept are a few favorite books, and a box of restaurant business cards. The latter are especially satisfying because they’re small and compact.  But I’m not sure this constitutes a collection, much less an obsession, and there’s certainly no organization


I’ve been following David R. Chan on Instagram, which is a reasonable way of being obsessed (both for him and for me) and (for him) also a way of sharing or showing off his obsession.  When I last looked, i.e. a few minutes before I wrote this, Mr. Chan had 9242 followers which is impressive by my standards if not by Kim Kardashian’s.


His photographs are wonderfully artless such as this ‘Chicken and fried egg sandwich on a Hong Kong pineapple bun at Alice’s Kitchen in Monterey Park.’


Or these ‘Cheeseburger dumplings with cheese crispy at Ms Chi Cafe in Culver City.’


It all made me realize how rarely I eat in Chinese restaurants.  Below is a spread from one I went to in L.A’s Chinatown after a slightly grim night organised by Lucky Peach (Kim Gordon had recited a recipe for corn with miso butter and bacon while making guitar feedback - don’t ask).  I’ve forgotten the name of the restaurant though I think I could find it again.


         And here’s the food at a wedding reception I went to, some years ago also in an L.A. restaurant.  I’ve no memory of where the restaurant was, or what it was called.


Kind of makes me wish I had a spreadsheet.


And yes, that is shark fin soup, though I didn’t know it at the time,  And yes, I am ashamed.






Sunday, November 28, 2021


 I’ve been thinking about gravy.


A few years back there were reports of a restaurant about to open in Manchester called the Gravy Bar selling nothing but gravy.  It turned out to be a hoax and frankly I found the satire a bit broad, but I don’t think a gravy restaurant is the worst culinary idea I’ve ever heard.


I know there used to be a restaurant in Manhattan called Gravy and I went there once, and although I don’t remember what I ate, I know they didn’t only sell gravy.


And then just the other day an advertising leaflet came through my door for the Mistley Fisheries, a local fish and chip shop, with a menu that’s more interesting than some (battered burgers, saveloys, rock eel), and there on the list of extras is gravy to go on your chips or pie.  


The price as you see is £1.80 which I couldn’t help thinking was a bit high a helping of gravy.  I mean, a jar of Bisto Best Beef Gravy only costs 2 quid. 


And then Ann Fishbein, of Culver City, a very fine photographer often of food and drink put up this picture of a leaflet that had been slipped into her door the day after Thanksgiving.  “I buy Leftover Gravy.”

The satire’s still a bit broad but I like it. 


Of course the average English person finding themselves in an American diner can be very confused by the concept of biscuits and gravy.  But heck, they’ve got to learn sometime.

Thursday, November 25, 2021


 It’s a wonderful trope isn’t it? 

You’re in unfamiliar territory and you go into an unfamiliar pub or bar, a bar that 

doesn't look too terrible, but where nevertheless, terrible things happen.  

Maybe it’s a cliché, but it still has legs.


I find myself thinking about American Werewolf in London. 

Full disclosure, Griffin Dunne worked his little socks off trying to convince somebody in Hollywood to make a movie of my novel The Food Chain. With all too predictable results.


I also think about the Edward Woodward  The Wicker Man


This is only to say that a couple of days ago I was in Harwich on the Essex coast, a place I scarcely know at all, and me and my pal Mel were looking for somewhere to have lunch and a sit down, and we found a pub called the Hanover Inn.


It looked all right, and the lady behind the bar was very friendly but some of the locals did give us ‘funny looks.’


But let’s face it, Mel and I are harmless looking men and we sipped our ale and ate the fish and chips we ordered and we survived unmolested.

The fish was great – the batter was described on the menu as ‘tempura’ which I believe is a very good thing, the chips were chunky, and the mushy peas were not especially mushy which strikes me as a real plus.


We had a good time.


No titties were twisted in the course of this blog post.

Sunday, November 21, 2021


 I just ate my first Christmas sandwich of the season.


It was from Pret A Manger and it was all right, I suppose, though it didn't seem wildly festive.  In general, I think a turkey sandwich is usually preferable to an actual roast turkey dinner.  And I always think that the stuffing is the best part of Christmas.  This stuffing was OK without being great.  And as always, I could have done without the cranberry sauce but it seems I’m the only man in Christendom who feels that way.


And then, a couple of days later, in the middle of a sleepless night, I started rereading a short story by PG Wodehouse titled ‘Jeeves and the Old School Chum.’ Bertie Wooster is speaking about his pal Bingo Little, and the relevant passage runs as follows:


‘If young Bingo has a fault, it is that, when in the society of a sandwich, he is apt to get a bit rough.  I’ve picknicked with him before, many a time and oft, and his method of approach to the ordinary tongue or ham sandwich rather resembles that of the lion, the king of beasts, tucking into an antelope.’


Is there nothing that Wodehouse doesn’t understand about the human condition?



Wednesday, November 17, 2021


 I was in Whitstable in Kent at the weekend.  


There are many things to do in Whitstable but eating oysters is top of the list.  There were two kinds of oyster on sale: the native oyster and the rock oyster.  


The natives (Ostrea edulis) are about twice the size of the rock (Crassostrea gigas), so I went for the big ones first (above).  They were grandly excessive – one of them bigger than I could fit in my mouth in one go.  Some of them were very sweet, some less so, all of them profoundly briny, you know, just like an oyster,


But size isn’t everything so we returned for some more, and this time went for the rock oysters (below).


I don’t know that they were better than the natives but they certainly weren’t worse – I suspect there would be some days I’d chose one, some days I’d choose the other, depending on mood.  It's good to have options.


Perhaps we were lucky to find any oysters for sale at all.  Earlier in the year there had been closures after a lot of people went down with food poisoning.  That really would have ruined a trip to the seaside.


And then, back home, more or less coincidentally, I came across a menu I’d saved from the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, New York, which I can date precisely to Tuesday October 22nd, 2013, because it says so on the menu.  How time glides.


Now I’m not saying that the American version of the English langauge is necessarily always zestier than the British version but OMG – just look at those names the Cuttyhunk, the Kumamoto (and yes OK, that probably isn't English), the Lovers Creel, the Witch Duck, and above all the Naked Cowboy which apparently looks like this:

and is named after the man who looked like this in Times Square:


We didn’t see any of that in Whitstable.

Thursday, November 11, 2021


To celebrate publication of my book The Suburbanist - see below, and yes it does contain a chapter about 'suburban food,' my editor took me out to a pub for lunch; the Mistley Thorn, in Mistley - witch finder territory.

My lunch included some Mersea oysters which were everything an oyster should be.

And because my editor belongs to the hunting and shooting class (not sure whether or not he fishes) he brought with him a brace of recently bagged pheasants,  My job, in a day or two, will be to debag them.

The book:

Thursday, November 4, 2021


 And speaking of sandwiches ...

 One of the minor but significant pleasures of living in Los Angeles was driving around in the middle of the day listening to Jonesy’s Jukebox on the car radio. That’s Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols.


And I remember him once talking about ‘National Days’ as in National Martini Day, National Take Your Iguana to Work Day, etc. etc.  I think these are largely inventions of the American marketing industry but of course the rest of the world is free to join in. 


And Jonesey said in his soft London drawl, ‘But wot I don’t understand, there’s only 365 days in the year but there’s more than 365 fings in the world.’  No arguing with that.


Now, as you may or may not know, yesterday November 3rd was National Sandwich Day.  Yes, yes I know, every day is sandwich day in some homes, my own included, and I can’t honestly believe that millions of people suddenly decided to celebrate this special day by eating a sandwich.  But for all I know perhaps they did.


As you may know, I mean I talk about often enough, I regularly consider writing a 1000 page book on the history, aesthetics, semiotics, cultural meanings, and probably ecological status of the sandwich.  I even discussed it with my agent, who wasn’t thrilled.  The one problem I see, it would probably have to contain recipes and I don’t think a sandwich needs a recipe, or rather you only need one – you get some stuff you like and you put it between slices of bread.  Job done.


Incidentally, not only is there a National Sandwich Day there’s also a National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  Some might think that was too much of a good thing. Not me.  Here’s one I made earlier.