What restaurant from your childhood will always stay with you?
The Stockpot. It was a small café chain in central London, where I was lucky enough to grow up (my dad ran a pub in Covent Garden). I remember the café behind Leicester Square really well but the Dean Street one was my favourite. I vividly recall the omelette and chips for dinner, followed by jelly and pouring cream.
What was the first dish you learned to cook?
French toast with my mum – a very basic recipe using thick-cut Hovis white bread and lots of white sugar. We’d make piles of it and eat our way through it while watching Saturday morning television.
Which restaurant do you revisit most often?
Brawn on Columbia Road. It’s sort of our local and it’s one of a handful of places that can tempt me out on a rainy night. We (my partner Gabe and I) rarely book, but the team always try their best to find us a table. The menu is full of things you want to eat, and the wine programme is one of the best. It’s pretty much the perfect neighbourhood restaurant – we like to sit in the corner.
Do you have a favourite chef?
I’ve had the pleasure of eating food cooked by Anais van Manen (Bao, Snackbar and Bastarda) and right now, her cooking excites me the most in London. She’s Vietnamese via a European upbringing and has a thorough, dedicated but – most importantly – fun approach to food and flavour. Having just travelled Vietnam I think I understand some of her references more and the food seems all the more impressive for it.
What’s your favourite new restaurant or bar opening?
Bao just opened a new spot in Borough Market, and I think it’s the best yet. Anais is on the development team, my brother Cameron wrote the drinks programme, the JKS team make solid, well considered restaurants and the Bao guys are just creative, energetic forces. It’s a great collaboration of talent. I’m excited about the food there, and the vegetarian dishes blow me away.
What’s your most memorable meal?
Probably a taco truck in Mexico City. When I first went to Mexico, I was vegetarian, and I remember being wowed by how simple the taste of good corn tortillas, salsa and lime could be. That taco truck in Guadalajara, back in 2008, taught me so much of my love for the cuisine.
Where’s your favourite pub?
The Golden Hart in Spitalfields, or the Spaniards Inn between Highgate and Hampstead. It’s like being in the countryside, it looks hundreds of years old, has low ceilings, draft beers, haughty service and some questionable banter, but a nice zone if you can get a table by the fire in winter.
And what about your favourite London bar?
Bar Italia in Soho for a knock-your-head-off Negroni or Trisha’s for a very late-night gin and tonic.
What’s your go-to dish on a Sunday night?
I make a great coconut dahl, with lentils and turmeric and loads of corianders, mustard and cumin seed. I walk down Brick Lane and get a samosa and a naan bread and dive into a bowl of the dahl topped with crispy onions and loads of fresh herbs, toasted curry leaves, more coriander and mint. It’s comforting and life-giving and sets you up for a good night’s sleep ready to start the week I often have the leftovers with a hard-boiled egg for breakfast the next day. I’m a big believer of spice at breakfast time, it wakes you up from the inside.
What’s your top recommendation for a date?
Somewhere you can sit side by side and share loads of food, so you don’t have to do that awkward sit-and-watch-each-other-eat thing. Or a nice pub with good food and drinks so there’s lot of distraction and no pressure. Or just go sit at the bar at The French House in Soho and get into some calvados and snacks by chef Neil Borthwick. It’s an iconic spot with lots of character.
What do you like to eat – if anything – after a long, late shift?
I try not to work late anymore, but if I do, I am a classic fridge raider when I get home. If I have corn tortillas (in the freezer usually) I’ll make some sort of quesadilla hybrid. If not, it’s grilled cheese and a plethora of condiments. The best is Indian lime pickle.
Which spirit do you drink most at home?
I don’t drink a lot at home, it’s usually wine if I do but I have a very large collection of spirits, so it depends. Often when I’m working on a particular project, I will be developing drinks ideas so there are lots of open bottles everywhere. I’ve been working on a few different things lately, so I have quite the minibar on the go: there’s sake, mezcal and even a bottle of Soju in the fridge. It’s always fun to throw a little bit in while cooking and see what happens – tequila is great to add to salsas. We just came back from Bangkok and got talking to a bartender who kindly sold us a bottle from his stock of this amazing kind of Thai 'aguardiente’, an anise-flavoured liqueur. It’s made by a farmer he met, the base is rice and it tastes surprisingly like a mezcal. Smoky and sweet.
Where do you like to buy ingredients?
I am very lucky to own and run a food business so if I want something special, I can usually use our suppliers to order it in. Otherwise, I like to visit Taj Stores off Brick Lane for fresh herbs, exotic fruit and veg and all the spices that I use regularly. When it’s mango season I’m in there quite regularly fighting over the best boxes.
Who’s your favourite dining companion?
A good book! I love dining out alone, I think it’s such a treat.
What’s your signature dish or drink if you’re entertaining at home?
I’m in the habit of making fresh pasta for my guests, so I’ve been trying that out a lot. I like a nice stuffed pasta, ravioli or agnolotti with really simple sauces that rely on good olive oil and fresh herbs and usually some kind of seed or nut.
Who would be your dream dinner guest?
US congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez – I have so much to ask her and to take from her. I watched Knock Down the House on Netflix and I cried all the way through, not just at her, but at all the women on there just doing what they feel they need to. I don’t want to be naive about it but she opens the doc talking about how working in hospitality prepared her for a life in politics – long hours, people giving you shit all the time, thinking on your feet – and it makes a lot of sense. There’s also proof in the film that she’s a really good bartender, which is a great life skill. I bet we could drink a few margaritas together after dinner.
What’s the secret to hosting a good dinner party?
A well-curated guest list, plenty of wine, planning, preparation and making sure you have the music sorted out well in advance because that can throw things off balance the most. I like going for large sharing plates for starters, ones which are easy to get out and look amazing, so I can get on with something hugely overcomplicated and stressful for the mains.
What’s the best party you’ve ever thrown and what did you serve?
My partner and I hosted New Year’s Eve last year and I have to say I think it was one of the best. We went for a loose Italian theme, so I spent hours making fresh farfalle pasta with a simple tomato, anchovy and olive sauce and a hand-shaped bread centrepiece. It was time consuming but simple, rustic and felt so good to make food for the people I love. Gabe made huge platters of the most delicious risotto, along with some beautiful salads, lots of fresh fruit, cheese, a glittery panna cotta in the shape of a pig and a few other desserts that people brought with them. We started 2019 full and happy and we ate leftover risotto until 5th January.
What’s your favourite takeaway or food on-the-go?
Samosas: hot, cold, meat, veg. Even the crappy ones from supermarket. They’re all my guilty pleasure.
What’s the one dish you always order if you see it on the menu?
Clams or crab – both things I became addicted to when I lived in Hong Kong for six months. If someone is willing to throw some black bean and chilli in there, then I thank them for it.
What’s your drink of choice?
Fresh, homemade iced tea with fresh fruit, a hint of honey and maybe a pinch of salt.
Quickest midweek meal?
You can’t really go wrong with a simple stir fry. I like lots of ginger, spring onions, garlic, chilli noodles, tofu and a tonne of sesame seeds. You also need some soy or tamari, rice wine, sesame oil and an egg for protein.
What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday lunch?
I’m not a massive meat eater, but Sunday lunch has to be rich and hearty and I love lamb, so I’d say a lovely slow-cooked lamb shoulder with roasted vegetables and some chickpeas to add a little Middle Eastern touch to it, a la Morito. Plus, a nice bottle of a bright, juicy red wine.
And the most decadent meal you've ever had?
We went to Bo Lan in Bangkok recently and it wasn’t decadent per se, but the food was absolutely delicious, made with local, simple, fresh ingredients and was absolutely worth every penny. I like nice things, but I do draw the line at extremely expensive tasting menus.
What's your death-row dinner?
A steaming bowl of chicken pho and a pile of herbs so I can die feeling my most alive.
What's your food hell?
I don’t eat lots of meat and pork especially is something I have never really developed a taste for, so I’d have to say those weird wobbly tripe-y pork bits that other people seem to love so much.
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