The restaurant from my childhood that will always stay with me is less a restaurant and more an ice-cream parlour. Sno Cream was a kitsch 1950s dessert parlour in Nairobi, Kenya where I was born and grew up. My grandfather used to take me there for an occasional Sunday treat. It served sherbet-hued gelatos in cut-glass dishes and had bar stools at the counter you could spin around on until you were dizzy.
The first dish I learned to cook was probably nan khatais, which are a sort of cardamom-laced cookie of Persian origin studded with pistachios. I think baking with our older relatives is often our first clumsy foray into cooking.
The restaurant I revisit most often is The Wolseley. It always feels like an occasion when you are there. The service is exceptional and the vanity lighting always makes everyone look beautiful. I like to eat a chicken kiev, a schnitzel or a chopped salad and I always have to scan the dessert menu. I often go off-menu and have vanilla ice-cream with hot fudge sauce and wafers served elegantly in a silver coupe.
The recipes that really inspire me are by cooks and chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Henry and Nigel Slater. They have taught me so much over the years and I cook their recipes over and over again.
I don’t have a favourite new restaurant, but pre-Covid I had a wonderful meal at the new Padella. I am much more agreeable when there is a plate of silky pasta in front of me.
My most memorable meal was many years ago in Sicily. We got off a delayed flight, tired and in bad spirits. We were starving – what the kids these days call ‘hangry’, I guess. It was the middle of the afternoon – peak siesta – and everything was closed. There was one restaurant emanating a wonderful fragrance onto the street. We found the door slightly ajar and begged for a table. They were closed for a private party but after much whimpering they made us up a table on the outdoor terrace overlooking Mount Etna and what followed was course after course of seasonal delights – buffalo mozzarella with buxom tomatoes and the grassiest olive oil, homemade pasta with truffle and cheese, pork cotoletta and then my favourite ever pudding, tiramisu. It was the stuff of dreams.
The most decadent meal I have ever had was probably the one at Atelier du Joel Roebuchon at the Four Seasons in New York many years ago. I also had the pleasure of eating at Indian Accent with the owner Rohit Khattar who is like a Jewish mother – he fed us till we literally collapsed in defeat.
My death-row dinner would be anything cooked by my mother – even her simple dishes like dhal and rice make me swoon. I would also have to have bags of Manomasa’s green lemon and pink peppercorn chips – I had them instead of dinner recently and I am obsessed. They are so good!
And my food hell? Smoked haddock – I just don’t like it and Lord knows I have tried.
When it comes to bars, I love the Connaught Bar. My husband and I had our first date there, and it’s my top recommendation for people heading out as a couple. I’d also recommend a table at Jikoni. We’ve had many dates that have since turned into marriages. Ask for table eight.
My perfect Sunday is a lie in with the Sunday papers, a freshly cleaned house (preferably not by me), peonies in a vase, a cup of Clipper organic tea with Oatly Organic oat milk, followed by my mum’s stuffed potato parathas with her homemade lime pickle and homemade yoghurt. Next, a long country walk or a visit to Colombia Road Market, a terrific pub lunch, an afternoon of reading a great novel and snoozing, a film like The Lunchbox in the evening with a sushi delivery, a long bath with Aromatherapy Associates Oil and a Jurlique face mask. I am all about self-care Sundays.
For Sunday lunch, it has to be a classic roast. A Ginger Pig 100-day chicken roasted to perfection with crisp skin like taffeta, stuffed with tarragon, garlic, lemon and ricotta, perfectly roasted garlic and rosemary potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, honey and caraway carrots, towering Yorkshire puddings and plenty of good homemade gravy. Pudding would have to be the banana cake with miso butterscotch and Ovaltine kulfi from my book.
After a long, late shift I love to eat cheese on toast with chilli jam. I am also wild about putting Tonkotsu Eat The Bits Japanese chilli oil on anything .
My favourite dining companion would have to be my husband, but saying that I have eaten out with Jay Rayner a few times and it is highly entertaining to watch restaurant staff react to him. I suppose my dream dinner guest would be Salman Rushdie. He comes to the restaurant whenever he’s in London and loves our food, so he is great to cook for and always has great stories and opinions. I also love Madhur Jaffrey – I met her when she came to the restaurant last year and she has a brilliant mind.
The best party I’ve ever thrown was our pre-dinner drinks reception at Jikoni when we got married. The restaurant had only been open a few months, and it was brilliant to get so many of the people we loved into our space. My husband even took a booking for six in the middle of my niece’s very emotional wedding speech. We served our famous prawn toast scotch eggs with banana ketchup. If we’re entertaining at home, I love to serve Pol Roger champagne.
When it comes to quick midweek meals, my husband makes a mean fish finger sandwich. Good tartare sauce, a sliced of melted cheese, lettuce, dill pickle, tomatoes and fish fingers all smooshed up in thick slices of sourdough from the Dusty Knuckle. Growing up, my mother cooked everything from scratch – we never really had frozen food, so fish fingers have an allure of the exotic for me.
My most-used ingredients in the kitchen are Maldon sea salt and citrus – lemons and limes – zest and juice. If I’m buying ingredients, I also love to visit La Fromagerie on Moxon Street. Patricia the owner has exceptional knowledge and taste.
During lockdown, I’ve been baking a lot of cakes – it’s been like a bad episode of Bake Off in my kitchen. Plus, I have been developing the new menu for Comfort and Joy, my new home delivery brand. It’s packed full of flavourful vegetarian food made with wonderful produce, cooked using green energy and delivered in beautiful 100% home compostable packaging. Every time you order a meal box, we donate one to someone vulnerable through our charity partner NishkamSwat. It’s a takeaway that’s good for you and the community.
Jikoni is available to buy now.