This food blog. The what and the why.
Since becoming slightly obsessed in an unhealthy way with my lowly place on the Urbanspoon London Food Blog leaderboard, I have been giving some thought to the what and why of my blog. My fairly competitive nature meant that I was unhappy with that lowly spot and as a consequence, I looked at other people’s blogs to work out what, if anything, made mine different. And what I might do better. That, in turn, has made me think about why I am writing about food at all.
I always thought that I would do something with food. For years, I thought I’d like to open a cafe. I thought that I would work for 10 years as a lawyer and then change. I realised fairly early on in my legal career that food was a passion and that I didn’t have sufficient of it to take the risk and ditch the law. I’m not proud of that.
I started non-legal writing through connections made on Twitter. I felt that I needed a little writing practice, so I started writing about food and hotels, entirely for my own pleasure.
Shortly after I started, The Lawyer magazine requested volunteers for their new food review section and I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the reviewers. I found that not only did I enjoy writing about food, there was a two-birds-with-one-stone element, as I could use it as a marketing tool and invite clients to join me for a review lunch/dinner. So far, so practical.
Obviously most lawyers don’t write about food, so this was a novelty. Also, I started to get quite a lot of positive feedback for the writing from clients and also random Lawyer readers. The feedback was really encouraging. What was really pleasing was that I seemed to be able to make people laugh.
And the intention was never to write a detailed, step-by-step analysis of every mouthful. Neither was it to create a visual record of the meal in glorious Technicolor. Lots of people do that already. I wanted my blogs to be entertaining, informative, truthful and irreverent. I wanted them to be ‘me’ frankly.
And my credentials? None, other than that I’ve eaten out on a regular basis for over 30 years and I’ve been a food obsessive for longer than that.
I realise that the food thing has always played a disproportionately large part in my life.
Given the limitations of my mother’s cooking, I’ve cooked since I was a child. And not being happy with my primary school catering , I used to go home at lunchtimes and concoct my own meals, whilst watching Crown Court on TV. My very limited repertoire included cheese omelettes, French toast and toasted bagels with cream cheese. Or peanut butter. Or both. I was 7 when that started. Control freakery about what I ate, even then. Some things never change.
And we always ate out. My earliest memories are cafes and tea rooms.
Cafes. I remember sitting with my mother in the basement cafe in Kendals, Manchester, with a silver pot of hot chocolate and a toasted tea cake. And the Kardomah, fuggy from smoke and always damp from the Manchester rain. There, poached eggs on toast
And then there were the places the likes of which don’t exist anymore and which would be closed down now, on health and safety grounds. Black’s, next to the Odeon in Manchester’s Oxford Road. You went upstairs to a tiny room, past the plastic flowers. It made Blooms look like the Ritz.
Salt beef and latkes is what I remember, with chrain (horseradish and beetroot). There was a dumbwaiter. And the waiters had been there for a thousand years.
It was such a dive. Once, needing the lavatory, I had to go through the kitchen. Sliding across that greasy floor in my rubber-soled shoes I landed under a counter, on which rested massive cauldrons of chicken stock. Even as a small child I knew it was a little bit disgusting, but the food was sublime. And if it was still open, I’d be there right now.
And JS Salt Beef bar. I used to bully my sister into ordering chocolate pudding for me, as she was always too full for dessert. This was, of course, in addition to to the double chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce I had already ordered for myself. When I look at pictures from that time, I look like a pig with a ponytail. Which is what I was.
And as a teenager, there was the excitement of finding out about new food. I vividly remember a family outing to the Yang Sing in Chinatown. I couldn’t believe what I was eating. Dim sum, on trolleys. From someone who had grown up on basic Eastern European cuisine, this was incredibly exotic.
And places like the Fifth Inn, where we used to sit in loaded silence but where we always had a large grilled Dover sole meunière, with creamed spinach and a baked potato.
And then the best.
When I was 16, we went to The Box Tree in Ilkley for a family meal. I’d heard about it from my father, who used to go for the New Year’s Eve dinner, which was legendary in its raucousness. I remember being amazed by the description of the assiette plate for dessert. It had never occurred to me that you could get all the desserts. One one plate. I was desperate to go.
I had quenelles of pike, followed by a steak, with a wine and mushroom sauce. Well, it was1978. And I remember every detail, even though it was nearly 35 years ago. Food like I’d never tasted before. Delicate, but with intense flavours and nothing like I’d ever tasted. This was a complete revelation. Grandma’s chopped and fried fish just didn’t cut it anymore. And the place? Camp, cluttered, atmospheric and sophisticated. I bloody loved it.
I realised that there was a whole different world of food and restaurants out there. I started to read the Good Food Guide as if it were the Bible, and fantasize about where I might go. Fancy names and fancy places – I never thought I’d ever be able to try all those “dead posh” London restaurants, but it didn’t stop me reading about them – absurdly fascinated by the rankings and who went up or down and why. I still am.
I have come to realise that this blog is not actually a new departure , but almost a return to a previous passion. A return to a time when I found new food really exciting. A return to a time when I’d be desperate to share my latest new discovery with friends.
And in my eating out, I’m eternally trying to recapture the excitement of that first time I ate at the Yang Sing; or tasted bang bang chicken, or had the perfect medjool date.
And we’re so incredibly privileged, those of us in London, to be living in this spectacularly vibrant city, with its diverse ethnic and cultural mix; giving us more variety in food than most other places. Frankly, it would take me a year just to get through all the restaurants in my postcode, never mind London itself.
And even now, I sometimes eat something that takes my breath away. Or I find a place that just feels good and makes me very happy to be there. When that happens, I want to share it. And that’s why I’m doing this. Bugger the rankings.