Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Big Lunch

Imagine a summer’s day on which millions of us, throughout the UK, sit down to have lunch together – in the middle of our streets, around our tower blocks and on every patch of common ground. The food, entertainment and decorations we will have grown, cooked or created ourselves. This will be a day to break bread with our neighbours and to put a smile on Britain’s face. It’s called The Big Lunch and this is your invitation!

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This morning in Covent Garden piazza, dozens of volunteers helped build this invitation out of 35,000 pieces of fruit and vegetable, including cauliflower, turnips, garlic bulbs, cabbage, carrots, oranges, lemons and apples. The boxes of veg were given away after these photoes were taken, so expect an awful lot of cauliflower cheese being eaten tonight across the UK.

Go to The Big Lunch website, which will go live tonight, and type in your postcode to find out about Big Lunches in your area. I will be hosting a Camden Town Big Lunch and if you would like to get involved, please do get in touch with me at abigail@yourlocallondon.com

I’m calling on local musical, theatrical, artistic, horticultural and culinary talents, to name but a few. Sharing a meal with neighbours is something rarely done in London, where many people don’t even know who their neighbours are. The Big Lunch is a brilliant excuse for introducing yourself to those people that you’ve seen on the street or in the shops for years, but never quite managed to speak to…

dsc_0119The idea was thought up by Tim Smit, co-founder and chief executive of the innovative Eden Project in Cornwall and resident of the bustling port town Fowey.

The seed for The Big Lunch was sown when Tim heard an inspiring story at a party in the Netherlands:

A man was walking along a notoriously rough street in Amsterdam and was mugged. In an effort to get revenge, the man decided to go on a hunt for his mugger, taking a video camera with him, hoping to confront him about the crime on film. He went to the house where the mugger was said to live, but found it was not the right place. Instead, he met the people that did live there and they offered to join in the search party. They ended up going from house to house, with people joining in the quest at each stage, until nearly everyone on the street knew each other through this unlikely and epic quest. This was turned into a program on Dutch community television and attracted a cult following. It got Tim thinking about how a shared aim can make it easier for neighbours to start talking to each other.

The Big Lunch is about “the symbolic power of breaking bread with your neighbours. Be brave – meeting new people is an act of will“, says Tim, “But there are good results and it makes streets safer.

For more photos and details see my Camden Town blog for YourLocal London.

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long pepper at longleat

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This felt like some sort of strange dream and I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t, but last Sunday I found myself attending a garden party at Longleat. I think the pictures say it all really…

Well not quite. I sampled a couple of edible treats. One of which was called long pepper and was offered around the table for nibbling. These Indian catkins looked remarkably like the droppings of the ‘dangerous rutting deer’ that we saw at the safari park on the estate later that day: small, black and knobbly. They tasted of chilli, peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg and tingled on the tongue – a great wake-up call.

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I also tried some of the most delicious all natural chocolates made by Mike and Radek of Radek’s Chocolates. These dark and divine treats, which are supplied to The Hilton in London, had inventive fillings such as raspberry jam and hazelnut with maple syrup. Mmmm – I might have to have a go at making chocolates.

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I’d wanted to see the lions of Longleat all day, but the safari park was closed. I did see this one though…

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the secret ingredient

 

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One dark and wintery Wednesday after work I made my way to Newington Green. It took me a while, some unnecessary rattling of a locked gate and the asking of a couple of passers-by before I found the entrance to The Secret Ingredient. One of my friends was equally confused and we had a couple of exasperating mobile phone conversations:
– Well where are you?
– I’m here, where are you?
– I’m here…
– Well you can’t be because I’m here and I can’t see you…
– What direction are you facing?
– Ah, there you are.

Strangely, the other four didn’t seem to have any trouble finding it, but hey, it was living up to its name so far for two of us. At ground level, around the back of a block of flats, a turquoise sofa finally drew me to the right place. From outside I could see into the kitchen, where our host Horton Jupiter was rushing about in a cool stripey apron, chopping, mixing, plating and gesticulating wildly at a girl in a chic flowery dress. This turned out to be his lovely girlfriend Rachel, who welcomed us in and was our gracious waitress for the evening. She led me through to the dining room, where two other guests had already arrived and were chatting about naked bingo or something similar. 

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Our party of six had a table for four and a sofa for two. Although we appreciated being able to sink into the cushions and liked the small home-made circular tablecloth laid on a mini-table on wheels, the two of us on the sofa did feel a bit left out. However, Rachel was happy to let us turn the wheelie on its side, use it as a chair and squeeze in around the bigger table. The whole restaurant seemed to join in and had suggestions on the re-arrangement of the furniture too.

We cracked open the bubbly we’d brought and toasted several things – two new jobs and one successful CRB check (don’t ask). Meanwhile, in the kitchen… Horton, who had originally announced:
– I’m more organised than I’ve ever been tonight! I really do feel rather relaxed about it all…
…was becoming increasingly frenzied as the time ticked by and the food wasn’t quite ready yet. He popped his head around the door every once in a while to check that we were okay and we certainly were. The dining room was cosy – softly candlelit with tea-lights and three tables of excited diners.

The menu was a vegetarian Japanese feast. We began with a small starter of pickled onion each. Some didn’t eat much of this at all for fear of onion breath, while others ate two portions and could’ve eaten more. Next came a dish stunningly presented on a mirror: crunchy cabbage maki, sesame-flavoured carrots delicately tied in seaweed, a beautifully cut radish with a mini lemon slice and some raw apple chutney. I won’t spoil the rest of the seven-course menu for those that want to go there, but it was good.

There was a second sitting after ours and the diners arrived as we were still eating our star fruit. Luckily for us, and unluckily for the hungry arrivals, these were friends of the cook, so he sent them packing to the pub down the road while we finished the last drop of hot sake and ambled out.

Not only a talented cook, Horton Jupiter is also in pop band They Came From The Stars. I met him at the opening of The Underground Restaurant a few weeks ago, another private dining room which is opening its doors to the public once a week. These two super supper clubs might be just the start of something new on the London restaurant scene and I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye out for more popping up. But get in there fast, as the prices are rising. The Underground Restaurant (every Saturday) is already charging £25, while the minimum suggested donation at The Secret Ingredient (every Wendesday) has gone up to £15.

Personally, I think this one is worth every penny.

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beard papa's

dsc_01061This Japanese-founded chain makes Oxford Street bearable. When surrounded by hoards of  jostling elbows and face-swiping department store doors, when you’ve tried to walk the wrong way up the escalators or are boiling hot from being togged up in scarf, coat, hat and gloves and from squeezing in and out of clothes in sweaty changing rooms… remember there’s always a cream puff at the end of the tunnel. This humble fast-food joint might not look like much, but it produces cream puffs to die for. The choux pastry is fresh and crisp, and as you bite into the puff a cool, creamy vanilla custard oozes into your mouth. Mmmmmm.

143 Oxford Street, London W1D 2JB

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Filed under cafes

beard papa’s

dsc_01061This Japanese-founded chain makes Oxford Street bearable. When surrounded by hoards of  jostling elbows and face-swiping department store doors, when you’ve tried to walk the wrong way up the escalators or are boiling hot from being togged up in scarf, coat, hat and gloves and from squeezing in and out of clothes in sweaty changing rooms… remember there’s always a cream puff at the end of the tunnel. This humble fast-food joint might not look like much, but it produces cream puffs to die for. The choux pastry is fresh and crisp, and as you bite into the puff a cool, creamy vanilla custard oozes into your mouth. Mmmmmm.

143 Oxford Street, London W1D 2JB

7 Comments

Filed under cafes