Booker Shortlisted Novelist signing at the Age Exchange

This post is still about food, but it is also a shameless plug of my mum’s latest novel. Clare Morrall is a Man Booker Shortlisted novelist, and her latest novel “When the Floods Came” is dead good.

I asked her for an extract from her latest novel that would relate to London to legitimise its existence on . I failed…. She lives in Birmingham, and in this novel London has been covered with water. So I suggested an extract relating to food.

Yup! That was a win.

We have food in common, me and my mum…

Front Cover Of Clare Morrall's Latest Novel

Front Cover Of Clare Morrall’s Latest Novel


Clare Morrall will be speaking and book signing at the Paperback  of When The Floods Came at the Age Exchange 24th September 5pm, 11 Blackheath Village, London SE3 9LA

(Tea and coffee will be provided and books for signing will be available to purchase)



Chapter 13 of When The Floods Came

The smell is coming from a spit turning slowly and methodically over an open fire.  The joint of meat, the remains of a large animal, crackles and hisses as it cooks, making a wordless protest about its treatment.  Several slow-burning logs are glowing in the fire below, not producing flames, but giving off a heat that’s so intense I can feel it from several metres away.  A  young guy with dazzlingly blond hair is standing at the side, turning the handle smoothly and methodically.  The same age as me, I decide, born pre-Hoffman’s like Paula and Joe.  I glance round, wondering if I can see them, but there’s no sign.  I need to talk to them – there’s so much to say.  The guy is gazing into a vacuum with an expression of utter boredom, but when his eyes drift towards us, he snaps awake.  He ignores Popi, Moth and Lucia, examines me with open curiosity and half-grins at Boris.  Then he turns his attention to Delphine, lengthens his neck, flexes his shoulders, and seems to stretch.  There’s a brief interruption to the movement of the spit.  He winks at her.

Delphine stares at him in surprise, clearly uncertain how to react.  She glances at me and widens her eyes in a silent question, but I don’t have any advice.  I’m as taken aback as she is.  Why’s he more interested in her than me?  Does this mean she’s attractive, special in some way that none of us have recognised?

“Hi,” he calls.  “I’m  Lancelot.”

“Hi,” I say.  Boris takes no notice of him.  Delphine doesn’t respond.  “Are you from Brighton?”

“What are your names?”

“Roza, Boris, Delphine.”  I indicate each of us in turn.  “My parents, and Lucia.”

“I’d come and talk,” he says.  “But I’m busy.”

“We’ve noticed,” I say.

He grins, almost shyly, wanting Delphine to speak, but she’s studying her shoes with unusual interest.  “What do you do when you’re not here?” I ask.

The owner of the meat stall steps out towards us, clearly delighted that we’ve come to him.  He opens his arms generously, almost as if he’s preparing to enfold us in a welcoming hug.  He’s tall and thin, almost bald, with a grey, sunken face, as if he’s harbouring some hidden disease.  “Hello!” he says.  “I’m Pete.  I hope you’re starving, because you’re standing in front of the best food at the fair.”

Popi peers at him, clearly suspicious.  “You’re a butcher?  Do you do this between the fairs as well?  Where?”

Pete ignores him.  He picks up a long knife with a blade so thin it’s almost transparent and goes over to the meat on the spit.  He cuts through the outer surface as easily as if he’s slicing tomatoes, catching each piece, thick and curled, oozing with juices, on a metal dish in his hand.   He divides the meat into equal portions and hands us each a small plate.  He stands uncomfortably close to me.

“Get that down you,” he says.   “It’ll put colour in your cheeks.”

He ought to take his own advice.  Shouldn’t he be plump and healthy if he has access to this kind of food on a regular basis?  I lift the plate and sniff.  My toes tingle, my mouth waters and my head spins.   I glance at the others.  Delphine starts nibbling at the edges cautiously, while Moth concentrates on helping Lucia to cool hers down.  Popi is reacting in the same way as me, testing first, slightly suspicious of the ease with which we were given the meat, but Boris doesn’t waste time.  He takes a large bite immediately.  It’s too hot.  He opens his mouth to let out the steam and flutters his hand up and down wildly to dissipate the heat.

“Patience has some advantages,” I say to him.

“Patience isn’t my type,” he says, continuing to stuff the meat in, chewing rapidly and swallowing.  “She can sort out her own problems.”  Grease coats his chin and he wipes it away on the back of his hand, grinning at us.  “Whizzario!” he says.  “Best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

“What is it?” asks Delphine .

“Haven’t you had meat before?” asks the man.

“Of course we have,” I say, wanting to take a bite, but determined not to be patronised.  “All the time.”  Actually, that’s not true.  We have the hens and Edward the goat, but it would be counterproductive to kill them for meat, since they provide our eggs  and milk.  One or two of aunties and uncles catch wild animals, and offer us cold leftovers, but we’ve never been very good at finding our own meat.  Popi is not a hunter.  “It’s not goat meat, is it?”  I don’t want to eat one of Edward’s relatives.

He considers before answering, as if he can’t decide how much information to give us.  “Wild pig,” he says eventually.

“I thought all the pigs died with Hoffman’s,” I say.

“Not the domestic pigs,” he says.

There’s something about the way he says this.  As if he’s hiding something.  I study the meat on the  chipped china plate in my hand, trying to work out why he would lie.  Was the animal diseased?  Has it mutated so that no one knows if it’s safe or not?  Or has he acquired it in some illegitimate way?  Tom, Tom the Piper’s son, stole a pig and away did run-


Review in the Independent:

Link to Amazon:

“We asked because it was the name on the menu.” Review of L’Oculto SE13


A Review of L’Oculto (Lewisham or Brockely?)

L’Oculto apparently means hidden one. We asked because it was the name on the menu. There wasn’t a name on the door, unless you count ‘pharmacy,’ which did mean that the restaurant was really kind of hidden. We walked past about three or four times without realising that was was tapas place we were looking for.

Apparently the name reflected more than how easy the tapas place was to find. It reflected the wines and the food sources. All of these were intended to be small unknowns to bring unique experience.

The restaurant was also filled with unusual crafts that one could purchase.

It was definitely a unique experience. Out of all of the dishes we chose from, not a single one failed to be special.

We managed to eat several large plates of bread… well, the bread was excellent. The bread plates were enormous, but fortunately only came in at £1.80 per person. What an unpretentious price for excellent food.


The mixed platter and the bread board at L’Oculto

The platters came out first, and our cheese platter came with a magnificent detail on each of the cheese sources, including which order to eat them in. This was not just a service offered on the cheese, but also on the cured meat. And no introduction to a cheese board could beat the one at L’Oculto

Combinations were unusual, but perfect. For example the mojama with pear and capers, was actually tuna with pear, in elegant spices. The dish of octopus and potato was enormous and served in the shape of an octopus. This was one of my favourite dishes.


Octopus at L’Oculto


Anchovy and Pepper at L’Oculto


The earthy flavours of the leeks with almonds made a great vegetable dish, and the peppers with anchovy were a great combination.

Desserts were simple, and that is all good with me when they have been prepared properly with attention to detail. The poached plum in red wine is normally something I skip because, well, it is a pear, in red wine. But I stole some of my husbands and it was delicious, someone had really though about what to use in the recipe. I had chosen the caramel flan with cream mixed with sherry in a jug in the corner. That was petit but marvellous, nearly as good as the pears.


Sherry, cream, caramel flan at L’Oculto

But L’Oculto has one massive downside, that is keeping me awake at night. It is that visits to competitor tapas bars will feel pale and insignificant in comparison. I may feel that I can only eat tapas here ever again… but I might not have any choice in the matter. The place was booked out, with a relatively strict approach to bending the rules.

Be sure to visit the rather petite library just nearby… squeezed into just one red telephone box…

Venice isn’t Local , but…


So, this is not a local food review, but having recently returned from an anniversary trip to Venice, here are some food photos to enjoy…

Exotically dressed pasta, in Italian, rather than English sized portions:


Pasta at the Guggenheim

Every guide book told us to go to the fish market early in the day as the boats came in to get the real fish market experience. Whatever. We reached there at 10am. It was stunning, although we were laughed at for taking pictures.


Delights at the Fish Market

…And Cafe Florian on St Mark’s Square is apparently the oldest coffee house in Venice, and is full of beautiful (if kinda gaudy) interiors. The catch is, there are too many people in there to see anything but the ceiling. And you have to eat quickly to avoid being herded out by a door man.

The tea, affogato and (not very Italian) sacher torte were however delicious.


Sacher Torte and other Treats at Cafe Florian

“Shopping ain’t my bag” A Review of L’Orchidee


This gallery contains 4 photos.

A Review of L’Orchidee in Westfield Shopping ain’t my bag, so you will not be shocked to learn that I have only just visited Westfield in Stratford despite its proximity on public transport. I shan’t review Westfield itself. Suffice to … Continue reading

What I hoped to find in Masala Mart I did find in Masala Mart

Screwfix, Plumbase, Masala Mart. They sound like they are all from one conglomerate, don’t they? They certainly all sit in the trading estate in Ramac Lane Charlton. But there is one name in that which doesn’t make me feel like I am in boredom land (unless re-furbing the house which is hardly a regular occurrence). Can you spot it? No? Er, this is a food blog, and you can’t eat pipes…?

I have been planning to go to Masala Mart for a while. I thought I would pop in while my husband was buying something really useful from Screwfix. But the Wholesale part of the title was putting me off. Eventually my husband offered to make reconnaissance mission and just asked them if they were a supermarket too. They said that they were and they seemed to think this was a daft question, but at least we got the answer.

Now what I hoped to find in Masala Mart was exactly what I did find in Masala Mart, a treasure trove of spices in proper sized packets at considerable better value than Ocado was prepared to offer. 10g of something 1.79 for 10g at Ocado, but 100g is 1.39 at Masala Mart. I’m always looking for flavour. I’m always looking for something different. I knew there was a pretty good chance I’d find it here.

It’s a quirky old place, like stepping back into the supermarkets of the 80’s, with sellotape for closing plastic bags, and little dips in the counter for the wire basket, which was weighing us down by the time we reached the tills.

And there are some things that Ocado just don’t stock, like multipurpose seasoning which has been invaluable in my cooking of stews. It makes the most ‘really shouldn’t have tried that in the slow cooker recipe’ taste good. (although I will admit that I since saw msg on the label which has put be off a bit). And I was thrilled to get gnarled ugly black cardomon pods, in addition to the green. The experimental purchase was of the Indian sweets which I have had only a couple of times in my life. They very obliging offered a ‘mixed pack’, leaving us to eat the very rich, tablet-like sweets over a very long period of time.

The challenge now is finding decent sized spice jars, I need one that can hold 400g of cinnamon sticks that only cost… Recommendations welcome…

A Tale of Two Restaurants, Eating out in Jumieges, France

A tale of two restaurants. (but only one city, well village)

I’m going to talk holiday. I’m allowed. It happens. I’m sure that you go on holiday and eat out too.

And this is all about food really because we made a terrible faux pas early on in our trip to the Loire valley in July. We chose a restaurant according to its Michelin star. Now I am not one of those people who goes bemoaning the Michelin star world. I like good hearty honest food, and ethnic food, but I also love innovative food with special attention. What this all comes down to is that I like food, and unlike when choosing where to live as either relaxed or busy, modern or traditional, or quirky, it’s one area I can change what I have every day.

However, despite picking the top end tasting menu at La Gambetta in Saumur we found the Michelin starred restaurant hugely disappointing, with elegantly designed dishes, that had nothing interesting to offer in terms of taste or flavour combinations.

Pretty but dull at La Gambetta

And this put us on a bad footing all holiday. We started searching for more homely type offerings, but when deciding on a location we would find it was not open on the night we were looking for.

So this was the mood we were in on our return home via Jumieges checked into our spa hotel and were offered the option of booking into Auberge du Bac, described as having beautiful views, and Auberge des Ruines described as being a gourmet restaurant. We were flummoxed. We asked for more time to consider the question.

Eventually I suggested that we book dinner at Auberge du Bac. This was because my La Gambetta experience had left me a little jaded about the use of the word gourmet, and Auberge du Bac scored well in trip advisor with words like ‘authentic’

But it worried me at night. It disturbed my massage and jaccuzi trip. (OK, I am exaggerating a bit for the elevated purpose of making sure you know how great a trip I had) and eventually I reasoned, well, we had to have lunch somewhere… so why not at the gourmet restaurant? And we could exercise restraint by having their cheapest set menu this time. My husband agreed with this readily and that was the plan we went for.

Let me just underline that we chose the cheapest menu at Auberge du Ruines that was EUR25, and a Euro isn’t going very far at the moment. This was how it went: Refreshing tomato salad with tomato sorbet, an exciting fish dish, strawberries with popping meringue discs , and other delights. It was flawless. It was exciting.

Refreshing tomato salad with tomato sorbet,

We ordered off ipads –now that bit was pretentious. They weren’t interactive (saving valuable wait for the waiter time) and they occasionally crashed. Although I liked the connect 4 sugar balls presented with the coffee, the petit fours were a bit stodgy.

This was one of the nicest meals we had all holiday, under the shadow of the impressive Normandy ruins.

So I was pretty glad I squeezed in that lunch. We walked down to the Seine in the evening to ensure that we tried to burn off room for dinner at Auberge du Bac. And here we picked one of the more mid-range menus, that was of a similar price to lunch. Let me begin with the starter, seafood profiterole. Now profiteroles are just pastry, and yep, this starter was mostly pastry. However it is more usual for profiteroles to have some sort of flavour, and one might expect this to hold true when they are named after seafood. But, nope, there was no flavour in this profiterole. You know it didn’t have to be seafood flavour, it could have tasted of garlic, or cheese, or just basic seasoning. It did however bring one unique feature: sogginess. I saved the top in case it tasted better. It didn’t. The waiter didn’t even bother to ask why we hadn’t finished our starter. He swept it away without giving us a chance to comment. I figured he’d tasted it too.

Here is the cod in chorizo. I hope you are comparing and contrasting with the pictures above, because these meals cost exactly the same. I think that it would be more accurate to call this cod with chorizo dumped on top, any benefit in flavouring the cod by frying it in Chorizo juices was lost on this chef, bless him. Kind of.

And the cheese dish. You know I don’t want to harp on about it, but this meal did cost the same as the last dish.

The lemon soufflé was alright. The tarte tatin, yeah well you can see the picture.

And at no point did anyone ask if we had a good meal, even though it was obvious we had left some of the dishes. Only the very young trainee waiter asked as he took our payments. We looked at him sadly and said, not really, but that was nothing to do with you.

Review of Ice Cream at the White House Bakery in Greenwich Park

The White House Bakery in Greenwich Park

Is it possible to have a walk in Greenwich Park in summer without wanting ice cream? Really, if it is possible, this is an experience I have yet to achieve. And I don’t just mean because Black Vanilla is at the road at the bottom, because to me, Black Vanilla is quite so-so. Instead we had in mind the ice cream stall in the herb garden, which has recently re-opened after an extended absence.

The White House Bakery did sound like you might go in with an ice cream desire and come out with several cakes and coffee stowed away in your digestive system. The posters within the White House Bakery compounded this impression, showing layers of rich cake with thick fillings.

The White House Bakery in Greenwich Park

The reality is that there were three cookies going on a glass plate in a corner. Not three types of cookies, but three cookies. We looked around the café to see if perhaps they had just had a huge party of bakery lovers who ate all the promised cake. The café was empty but for us.

Oh, yeah. There were also rows and rows of pre-packed sandwiches.

Which is all a little bit sad because the ice cream was delicious. My blackcurrant and clotted cream ice cream was exactly what is should have been, biting blackcurrant with rich clotted cream texture. It was spoilt only by a too sweet cone, a common phenomenon. 

Clotted Cream Icecream

We ate them in the herb garden surrounded by bees, debating whether bumble bees make any honey at all.

Empanda Masterclass at Cau

A Review of Empanada Masterclass at Cau, Blackheath

Have you ever had the experience of not actually ordering for ages, despite hunger, because there are so many exciting options on the menu. Cau, in Blackheath presented the most impressive solution to solve this problem I have ever seen, they invited us to a master class where they presented the steak cooked in most of the ways of the menu. 

They called this an Empanada Master Class. I like empanada’s but I think they undersold themselves in the name here, no?

Wee..ll okay, they didn’t offer us everything off the menu, just  a hefty chunk of the crowded speciality cut steak menu, followed by the empanada’s they cooked (Cau wisely provided takeaway boxes for the ones their guests prepared, although please note that my husband won a bottle of wine for his efforts as joint 2 best empanadas.)

They certainly demonstrated some impressive cuts. We saw them raw first:

Got talked through how the cut is used by the chef – how to cut around the muscle, and slice and how to spice. My favourites were Asado de Chorizo. Alert Chorizo sign! always a good reason to seriously consider a dish from a menu. However no sausage featured in this Chorizo, this dish was sirloin with chorizo type flavours (paprika, chilli, garlic); and   Tapa de Cuardril, thinly sliced, well salted rump steak which drew frequent comparisons to bacon.

So that when Cau then sat us down for our main courses (yes, the sampling the entire menu and eating emapanadas was generally considered the starters), we ordered these as our mains. Brilliant. I was then presented with a brick of  Asado de Chorizo. 

  More steak than I could ever consider ordering… I’d remembered the flavour and forgotten to check the size: 500g.  Fortunately i had left a little room by declining the side of chips and ordered tomato salad, allowing me to steal my husband’s chips. 

  My husband  I had more reasonably Tapa de Cuardril endured its deliciousness throughout the meal.

None of this stopped us ordering desserts. Had they been a bit more boring, i might have considered skipping them – THATs how full I was. But the menu had a few intriguing options, including frequent use of the dulce de leche phrase. I settled on three-milk cake. All good. This was kind of a lemon meringue in basic ingredients but the added cream, condensed and evaporated milk (and no pastry) took the flavour in a completely different direction. And, no offence to Lemon Meringue Pie it was a good direction.

Shamefully, knowing that we started our meal at the same time as everyone else, we were the first to leave. Ah well, happy people eat steak fast.

*The  meal and masterclass at Cau were entirely complimentary to promote August’s #CAUnival (try getting that past spell check) and you should know that ‘free food’ always makes me happy (even if it was free cabbages). #CAUnival has been introduced to support the charity Action Against Hunger.

10-12 Royal Parade, London SE3 0TL