When did books start fuelling your interest in food?
‘Very early on. I read Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” about a hundred times when I was little, and I still go back to it occasionally. Enid Blyton writes brilliantly about food too. All those sunny picnics are pure fantasy.’
What food books do you find yourself returning to?
‘There are two voices really – Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. They paved the way for absolutely everything foodie that followed. Their books still make me feel hungrier than anyone else’s. Some of them are now out of print and getting quite hard to find, which is a shame, as they are beautifully written and thoroughly researched. They were food-loving writers rather than chefs, but between them they covered a lot of ground.’
Do you use cookbooks?
‘If I want a recipe for something specific, I quite like Googling and reading two or three, then deciding which one I like best – and it’s usually Jamie’s that I turn to. But books are still the best source of information. I’m currently working my way through Claire Kelsey’s ice cream book “Melt” with the kids. They want to try everything in it. It’s getting pretty sticky, though.’
Which recipes do you turn to for dinner?
‘I really love “A Taste of Mey: Recipes and Memories Inspired by the Castle of Mey” – the castle was the Queen Mother’s old schloss in Scotland, and the recipes were some of her favourites. I also think Peyton and Byrne’s “British Baking” is a modern masterpiece. Whenever I read it, I want to start cooking immediately.’
Which do you prefer reading, books about music or food?
‘Music theory is best served cold, really – it’s maths. Food writing needs to be warm.’
Do you find kitchen inspiration in fiction?
‘Loads! I love the way food is written about in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series – every time Reacher has a cheeseburger or a coffee, I want one. The French renaissance writer François Rabelais was the best describer of food – he depicted the most spectacular feasts in history. And Ian Fleming was a great foodie. He did more for champagne than anyone – apart from Dom Pérignon.’
Jamie Oliver and Alex James present The Big Feastival on Aug 31 and Sep 1. For info and tickets see our Big Feastival listing.
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Clarendon Cocktail Cellar
Tucked away in a residential dead zone near Victoria station, this subterranean bar is cute and cosy, but unfortunately lacks pizzazz. The decor attempts to trick people into forgetting they’re still in Pimlico – it’s a mishmash of circa-2010 Shoreditch-by-numbers elements, with the triple whammy of exposed brickwork AND wood panelling, plus metal signs pinned all over the walls. The lack of a solid theme extends to the menu (printed on coasters), where cocktails, all £10 or less, are named after famous paintings – from the Scream (mezcal, lime, cassis) to A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (gin, Oleo Saccharum, lapsang souchong). While these were both overwhelmingly smokey – though they did go down easy – the Son of a Man was a winner. Combining both three- and ten-year aged apple cider brandy with amaretto, peach juice and cinnamon, it was like a perfectly tart, totally potent fruit pie. Staff were warm, and kept us topped up with popcorn to nibble. And props to the playlist: we were lulled with a drinking soundtrack of gentle Americana from the likes of the Shins. A perfectly pleasant bar, but its location – and lack of self-assurance – won’t draw the kind of crowd it seems to be looking for.
Venue says: “A hidden cocktail bar beneath Artist Residence and the streets of the ever changing Pimlico neighbourhood.”