Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

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

Thank goodness pubs shut at 11

A group of four stagger out of a pub in Britain at around 11.20 on a Thursday night. The search begins for somewhere to have one more drink without a £20 entry fee. Men on doors say no by shaking their heads. Pubs show their appetite for more visitors by turning their lights up a

Lara Prendergast

With Anna Jones

25 min listen

Anna Jones is a food writer, food stylist and author. She is known predominately for her focus on vegetarian cooking, and her new book Easy Wins celebrates a capsule pantry of twelve ingredients.  On the podcast she tells Lara about her way in to becoming a food journalist, cooking vegetarian at home, and her desert island meal. 

Why celebrity restaurants so often fail

London has seen a string of celebrity restaurants, mostly with disappointing results. David Beckham and Guy Ritchie opened a pub in 2018 – the Walmer Castle – but it didn’t last. They handed it on in 2022 and the pub has changed hands three times since its opening. Ed Sheeran set up his grastropub, ‘Bertie

Stop worrying if your child is a picky eater

One parent in our class WhatsApp chat raised a pressing concern: her daughter was coming home every day with a full water bottle. Were other parents faced with the same unsettling discovery? There followed a lengthy discussion of how much water was left in each child’s bottle. Some children, when confronted, testified that they had

Olivia Potts

Tricky but delicious: how to make the perfect pretzels

My husband is obsessed with pretzels. The joy that a slightly warm, soft baked pretzel brings him is disproportionate. And, unlike in Germany and the States, where soft pretzels are ubiquitous, they are hard to come by here. So, for a while I have been trying to perfect the pretzel. It has not been smooth

The sad decline of BYOB

London’s food scene is a Petri dish of Michelin-starred bistros, gastropubs, and overpriced tourist traps where waiters crouch by the table and call you ‘bud’. The days of staying at home, watching Raffles, and eating tinned fruit with evaporated milk are long gone. London’s new culinary culture is an expensive one. But one institution has

Which came first? The egg, obviously

‘We English prefer brown eggs,’ wrote J. B. Priestley in the 1970s, ‘they seem to us to have a more reliable look of rusticity.’ The mottled chestnut shell of a Burford Brown is surely more genuine than the clinical, white-shelled variety favoured by the American market. It’s a charming point, but there’s really no relationship between

A fitting overture to Holy Week

Holy Week, but not everywhere. After reading that the diocese of Birmingham wanted to hire staff to help with deconstructing whiteness, only one conclusion is possible. Large parts of the C of E have become a theological and liturgical wilderness. The Devil is in charge and it is unholy week, 52 weeks a year. Anglican friends assure me

Lara Prendergast

With Gennaro Contaldo

24 min listen

Gennaro Contaldo is an Italian chef, cookbook author and television presenter. He is also known as Jamie Oliver’s mentor and Antonio Carluccio’s travel partner on Two Greedy Italians. His latest cookbook Gennaro’s Verdure – which celebrates seasonal vegetables – is out now.  On the podcast he tells Liv and Lara about his upbringing on the Amalfi coast, what

The snobbery of lemon supremacists

I love certain sour flavours, such as the sprinkle of lemon on a piece of oily fish, or fatty meat. It is perfect with food that is naturally sweet, such as brown shrimp, scallops, or young, fresh peas. But spare me the heavy hand with the acid, which seems to be getting more and more

The irresistible horror of the farm shop

Picture the scene; you’re Kate Middleton and it’s Saturday lunchtime. You’re out enjoying suburban Windsor. The Audi is safely stowed – along with hundreds of other cars mostly produced in Germany, the Czech Republic or the West Midlands – in a nearby car park the size of the deck of the USS Harry S. Truman and

In defence of ready meals

Earlier this week I read that, from the moment of pulling into the car park to exiting it, the average supermarket shopper reads just seven words. Seven words. My initial reaction was: who are these Neanderthals? So, for want of something to talk about over supper after nearly 20 years of shackles, I ran this

The trouble with apple cider vinegar

The snake oil salesman is back in town with an old favourite: apple cider vinegar – or ACV as it’s called by those in the know. The ‘wonder-juice’ has been around for centuries, peddled by Greeks and Romans alike. In recent years, it has become something of a panacea, a social media ‘superfood’. But just

What happened to the good old fashioned Chinese restaurant?

In 1909, London’s first Chinese restaurant was opened by Mr Chang Choy off Piccadilly Circus. Named simply ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ – so exotic! – Choy specialised in what was described as ‘imperial banquet’ style cuisine which required at least half a day’s notice to prepare. Customers were then required to pay a hefty deposit in advance to

Why the Romans loved asparagus

It is said that asparagus was Emperor Augustus’s favourite food. And France is, despite its Gallic spasms, a fundamentally Roman civilisation. Ask nine out of ten Frenchmen if they will have asparagus on their Easter table and they will say ‘mais oui’. The crunchy, slightly bitter stalk has enthralled humans for millennia due to its

Bored of generic hot sauce? Try these

Sick of sriracha? Try Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian chilli sauce that’s easy to make in minutes, by blending red chillies, salt and either vinegar or lime juice together. Or buy a jar ready-made. If I were to be consigned to a desert island and could take only one spicy condiment it would be molho apimentado

Lara Prendergast

With Alex Jackson

28 min listen

Alex Jackson is the founder of Sardine and currently head chef at Noble Rot, Soho. His cookbook Frontières: the food of France’s borderlands is available now.  On the podcast, he tells Lara and Liv why the smell of chip fat reminds him of home, how his interest in cooking was ignited during time spent at university France,

A Soviet guide to vodka

One of the perks – a perilous one – of visiting the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s was the cheapness of the vodka. I was used to paying London prices for it but in Estonia (where I lived for two years) you could find bunker-bars where they’d serve you a generous tumbler – enough

Rory Sutherland

The problem with self-checkout tills

Our national malaise arises in part from the poor state of many of Britain’s private services. No, not a misprint. I mean private services. Many on the political right berate public services, implying that were they only to be privatised everything would be sweetness and light. Yet modern technology now makes it all too easy

Idris Elba’s champagne makes the world seem less troubled

Gloom. Relentless rain out of a sullen sky enhanced an already pessimistic mood. We were talking geopolitics and agreeing that the West ought to brace itself for a hard landing. Try as we might, we could find no good news, anywhere. Where is the self-belief of the Reagan/Thatcher years? Instead, a culture war is taking

Lara Prendergast

With Thomas Robson-Kanu

29 min listen

Thomas ‘Hal’ Robson-Kanu is former professional footballer who was part of the Welsh team that reached the semi finals of Euro 2016, thanks largely to a memorable goal he scored against tournament favourites Belgium. He is also the founder of The Turmeric Co. On the podcast, Thomas tells Lara and Liv how his Welsh and Nigerian

Olivia Potts

Chelsea buns are the best of all buns

The Chelsea bun was first baked in the Bun House in Chelsea in the 18th century. It was a bakery which found particular favour with the Hanoverian royal family, as its pastries were reminiscent of those from whence they came. But these buns were for everyman: they were customarily bought by the poor on Good