Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Who picks up the tab?

I tend to steer clear of large group meals but the last time I went there was a very awkward moment. When the bill arrived, I saw two individuals tapping away on a calculator app before announcing the exact amount of money they were prepared to put on the table. ‘I didn’t have a starter,’

Tanya Gold

‘An exceptional roast lunch’: Quality Chop House reviewed

The oldest and best chophouse in London was Simpson’s Tavern in Ball Court Alley off Cornhill (since 1757 on that site): Charles Dickens’s favourite chophouse, and mine. Simpson’s was locked out by landlords who impersonate cartoon villains at the end of 2022 for failing to pay pandemic arrears promptly. Simpson’s said they survived world wars,

Olivia Potts

How to make elderflower cordial

I have a complicated relationship with elderflower cordial. I love taking ingredients that have short seasons, preserving and squirrelling them away for future enjoyment. And I’m cheap, so the fact that the main component comes from the hedgerow is appealing. And it’s fun! It is a little like making a potion, dunking whole heads of

In defence of energy drinks

With Britain so sluggish, Keir Starmer and the Labour party should want to reenergise the country. Indeed, they are preoccupied with energy, and not just the dire state of the British electrical grid but energy drinks. Labour is set to propose a ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. Most British supermarkets have

The diary of an English pizza chef in Naples

At 5 a.m. one morning in December, I found myself cycling as fast as I could to the bakery I worked at in Clapham, trying to get keep the blood pumping. My fingers felt like frozen gherkins, which made using the brakes difficult. Shivering and exhausted, I asked myself: what am I doing? At work,

The joy of Portuguese wines

There was a wonderful old boy called John – Sir John – Wordie, who was a quintessential member of the establishment. A barrister, he spent much of his time defusing controversies before they had boiled over. In that enterprise, he never sought publicity, finding it much easier to dispense wise advice if no one knew

Jonathan Ray

Inside Portugal’s new theme park for wine lovers

I’ve always loved Porto and need little excuse to visit. Not uncoincidentally, I’ve always loved port and need little excuse to drink it and so, invited to stay in this fine city and road-test its latest attraction, the ambitiously-monikered World of Wine, who was I to resist? There’s been a mixed reception to Wow locally.

Olivia Potts

The not-so-French roots of chicken cordon bleu

We all have our quirks when it comes to cooking. I have clear mental blocks over what is and is not a complicated supper, many of which do not follow any kind of logic. I wouldn’t think twice about setting a sauce or ragu going early in the day, blipping gently, returning to it every

The best bottle to come from the Gigondas

One needs wine more than ever, yet when imbibing, it can be hard to concentrate. So much is going on. We were at table and the news came through about Slovakia. Was this an obscure incident, regrettable but below the level of geopolitics? Or would it become a second Sarajevo? Fortunately, that seems unlikely. In

Lara Prendergast

With Tim Hayward

44 min listen

Tim Hayward is an award-winning food writer, a broadcaster, and proprietor of the bakery Fitzbillies in Cambridge. He writes regularly for the FT Magazine and often appears on BBC Radio 4. Following the bestsellers Food DIY, Knife, and Loaf Story, his eighth book, Steak: The Whole Story, is out on the 23rd May.  On the podcast, Tim tells Liv

Olivia Potts

‘Terribly chic’: how to make chouquettes

I have become obsessed with the French idea of goûter, the time in the afternoon when French schoolchildren have a sweet treat to tide them over from the end of the school day until dinner. It’s just teatime, really, a pause for an afternoon snack – my kid has the same, but we don’t have

The food trends that need to die

Jacques – a tiny French restaurant in Finsbury Park – was the very first posh joint I ever ate at, back in 1987, and I have fond memories of it. The proprietor, Jacques, was a flamboyant 40-something: very gay, extremely rude to his customers (did I mention he was from Paris?) and partial to drinking

Gus Carter

The paradox of a novelty doughnut

There are moments when you realise the world is a more complicated place than you had previously thought. I had such moment earlier this week when I saw a new doughnut at a concession stand in Hammersmith station: a Krispy Kreme x Pretty Little Thing doughnut. Sure, you could probably get one in a town

How to become an old soak

Drink and longevity: there seems to have been a successful counter-attack against the puritans, prohibitionists and other health faddists. Indeed, there is virtually a consensus that red wine has almost medicinal properties. That said, a confusion about so-called units remains. When the measurement was explained to me, I said that it sounded adequate. ‘Really?’ ‘Yes,

Lara Prendergast

With Michael Zee

28 min listen

Michael Zee is an author, cook and the creator of SymmetryBreakfast, which started as an Instagram account, before amassing over 670,000 followers and becoming one of the ‘most popular food books of 2016’. He is now based in Italy and known for his particular brand of British-Chinese fusion food. His third book, Zao Fan: Breakfast of

The great posh food con

I had taken a friend out for a significant birthday, to a high-end French joint in London. We ordered the tasting menu, an eight course extravaganza with wine pairings. It was not a cheap date, but a special occasion. The third course was a tiny bowl of herb risotto, and as it was served, a waiter appeared

In praise of the 1/3 pint

The worst thing that happened to me over the pandemic was I got ‘really into beer’. I was already into it in the most straightforward way: I liked drinking it and I liked getting drunk. I liked the ceremony of it: walking into the pub, ideally at noon on a balmy Saturday, inhaling that rich

Damian Thompson

The real reason I don’t drink

It’s been 30 years this month since I last touched alcohol and I still can’t face the prospect of a social event without drinking. Other people drinking, that is. I’m terrified by the thought of going back on the sauce again, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang around with teetotallers who’ve never had

Tanya Gold

‘Vital but fraying’: Five Guys reviewed

Five Guys is a burger house from Arlington, Virginia, based on the premise that if you can serve a drink, cut a fringe, or make a hamburger, you will always make money in America. Thirty years and 1,700 restaurants later, it sits on Coventry Street off Piccadilly, soaking up the alcohol of a thousand British

Olivia Potts

How to make ham and parsley sauce

Poor old parsley sauce. As someone who writes regularly about old-fashioned food, it often feels that we are living through a golden revival of vintage dishes. You can’t move for cookbook concepts pinned on comfort and nostalgia, or restaurants attempting to take the diner on some kind of Proustian journey. Whether it’s nursery food, school

Why we love hideous food

I’m sitting on a stone terrace in the winsome south Breton port of Sainte Marine, which oversees France’s prettiest river (the Odet), and I’m excitedly tucking into a dozen gleaming Morbihan oysters. I am doing this partly because I am writing about travel in Brittany and oysters are very much part of the package here

The case for Churchillian drinking

Churchill. No disrespect to Andrew Roberts’s more recent work, but I set out to look up a point about drink in Roy Jenkins’s biography and ended up rereading it. I think that it is Roy’s best book and extremely well written. There are also passages where he slips in points from his own experience of

Lara Prendergast

With Joel Golby

39 min listen

Joel Golby is a journalist who has written for – among others – Vice and the Guardian, where he has a regular column, the watcher, reviewing television. He has since translated his skill for wry observations and self-reflection into the new book Four Stars: A life reviewed which hilariously grapples with our fascination with opinions On the podcast Joel tells

Melanie McDonagh

The young are missing out on a proper breakfast

More proof, if it were needed, of the gastronomic generation gap. It seems one in ten young persons has never had a full English/Irish/whatever cooked breakfast and one in five only has it once a year. They are, of course, missing out on one of the pleasures of life. The cooked breakfast and afternoon tea

Olivia Potts

How Linzer torte stood the test of time

Linzer torte has quite the claim to fame: some assert that it’s the oldest cake in the world; others that it’s the oldest to be named after a place. It feels churlish to split hairs, but those two assertions are quite different, aren’t they? In any event, it’s certainly very old. For a long time

Tanya Gold

‘Five stars, no notes’: Arlington reviewed

Arlington is named for the 1st Earl of Arlington and his street behind the Ritz Hotel. It used to be Le Caprice, which was opened in 1947 by the Italian Mario Gellati, who would not, by the new rules, get into Britain now, but this is not a column about pain. In 1981 Le Caprice

Italian food purists need to calm down

Last year, a large group of young people gathered outside the Trevi Fountain, one of Rome’s most popular attractions, to protest against ‘food crimes’ committed by tourists in Italy. Armed with signs reading ‘No more cream in carbonara’, ‘No more cappuccino with pasta’, and ‘Putting chicken in pasta is a crime in Italy’, they drew the attention of

The glory of German wines

I have had three recent conversations, all lively if unrelated – and all well lubricated. The first concerned Anglo-Saxon England around ad 700. Recent discoveries of coin hoards suggested that economic activity during that period of the Dark Ages was more extensive than had been supposed. Without damaging the coins, it had been possible to