The restaurant from my childhood that will always stay with me is Wimpy. I went to a lot of quite weird kids’ birthday parties at Wimpy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We didn't really go out to restaurants as a family, so after wracking my brain for childhood memories this is what stands out. Foodwise it was soggy burgers, chips and ketchup, which, of course, was fab.
I was definitely baking long before I learned with cook – mainly Victoria sponges, scones, soda bread, jams and fruit cake with my Irish grandma. Her recipes were very simple, and she always baked the same things, perfectly executed. I love that approach and still love simple British classics. I have developed my own versions inspired by those memories – my Victoria sponge recipe is my pride and joy and I love it best with English currants in the summer months.
I did a lot of baking in lockdown because I worked every day. I was solo, as my team was furloughed, but I wanted to stay open for orders as cakes can help a lot in times of stress and crisis, and it was good for my own mental health to be able to bake for other people.
The restaurants I revisit most often are probably Campania and Morito – they’re both my Hackney locals and I missed them so badly during lockdown. Recently, I’ve been to Morito twice in a day for the lamb chops and aubergine and polenta chips with whipped feta, date molasses and mint. They're so good, I made them at home while the restaurant was closed.
The one dish I always order if I see it on the menu is probably chips. I never think it’s a real meal unless there’s potato. That, or anything anchovy based.
When it comes to foodie destinations, my favourite city is Tbilisi, in Georgia. I have a bakery there and the restaurants are so chic, elegant, relaxed and really fun. The food is delicious and the wine is some of the best in the world. Keto and Kote is really special, it’s a beautiful site with a wonderful view of the city and a modern take on Georgian cooking. Try the kitchen’s kinkali (Georgian soup dumplings) – the chef makes them like little melt-in-the-mouth gnocchi. Check out Salobe Bia for the wine and the bean stew, and Alubali for the forest mushrooms. You can also take a day trip to the wine region of Khaketi for outdoor feasting, and there's a really good restaurant en route (also near the airport) called Kakhelebi, which serves homemade cha cha (Georgian grape brandy) and produce from the region. Make sure you order khatchapuri with every meal – it’s a Georgian cheese bread. My favourite is adjarian, which has an egg yolk cracked on top before serving.
As for my favourite place to travel to, it’s a toss-up between Mexico and New Orleans. In both, everyone is funny, friendly and fun. Plus, the food is good and the weather’s great.
My favourite chef is Carlo Mirarchi of Brooklyn restaurant Roberta’s. He’s more or less the reason I became interested in cooking in the first place. When we were in our early 20s, we met in New York and travelled together a lot. Long before Roberta's, he used to cook meatballs for me after hours at a Swedish restaurant in Chinatown, and taught me recipes while we were living by the beach in Australia. It was from him that I first got the sense that there was something fun happening in the kitchen that I wanted to know more about.
My most memorable meal was in lockdown, when I was working alone every day and isolating alone. It was super lonely and hard work, so one day my boyfriend brought steaks and wine and a tablecloth to the bakery and made me steak and chips. It was very sweet, and I’ll always remember it.
When it comes to pubs, I like the Marquis of Lansdowne in Dalston just because it’s the only dive bar left around here, and I can play pool. The drinks are awful though.
And my favourite bar is Pamela’s. It’s also in Dalston and is like dive bar, but with good drinks and good wine. The margaritas are great.
My drink of choice is a light, natural red wine. Or a margarita straight up and salty.
My top recommendation for a date is Andrew Edmunds in Soho. It’s cosy and candlelit with delicious modern European food and wine, then you’re in Soho and there are loads of fun bars to bounce around in afterwards.
Monday is my day off, so Sunday is the start of my weekend. Ideally, I’ll be getting a train out of London with my boyfriend and a bottle of wine, headed to the forest or the seaside. This summer we took a lot of trips to Ramsgate, Whitstable and Herne Bay. They're close enough to go to on a whim, but really feel like a holiday.
When I’m at home I hardly ever drink booze, unless I’m having a party. Instead it’s just endless cups of Yorkshire tea with oat milk.
My signature dish if I’m entertaining at home is big, pan griddled, medium-rare sharer steaks or a big roast fish, loads of seasonal salads and sides, and always some type of potato dish. And I like to grill the Turkish bread from TFC on Ridley Road in Dalston with olive oil and anchovies to make croutons or serve just on its own.
The secret to hosting a good dinner party is good food, lots of wine, as many people as you can fit around the table and the whole night ahead of you.
I love to buy my ingredients from Natoora for delicious, seasonal produce. I love the currants (red, white and black) in the summer, and citrus in the winter. Right now, it has glorious passion fruits and lychees from Sicily that are brightening up my autumn cake menu.
I think the only good takeaway out there is Pho. Everything else gets a bit sweaty and weird or is never as good as you’d get in a restaurant. I get the spicy chicken pho with greens – everything comes separately so you put it together just before you eat.
The most decadent meal I've ever had was the first time I had the ribeye at Campania. It was so good I ordered it again.
My idea of food hell is baked beans – or seeing people eat them. I'm not sure why I hate them so much, but school canteen dinners probably didn't help.
My favourite cake is my vanilla sponge – it’s buttery and flavourful but gravity-defyingly light and soft. I still can't get enough of it, ten years on from developing the recipe, especially when it’s fresh from the oven.
The Lily Vanilli Bakery, 18 Ezra Street, Bethnal Green, E2 7RH
Lily Vanilli’s collaboration with Shrimps will be available at Lily Vanilli Bakery on Sunday 25th October, with birthday brownies available to order online now. All profits will go to Unicef’s ‘Save Generation Covid’ fund, which helps vulnerable children who have been affected by the virus.