Archive for October, 2005

Food

The Jolly Sportsman

TIMES ONLINE – October 29 2005
Ginny Dougary

Chapel Lane, East Chiltington, East Sussex (01273 890400)

My relationship with the country pub has been one of inconstant and mainly nostalgic affection. My parents, both long dead, had bought a house in the West Country and my first experience of pub grub was on school exeats around Cheltenham – Tewkesbury, Burford, Bisley – my dad in his old Daks shirt and cords, ordering mash and Gloucestershire sausages so improbably large they almost flopped over our plates.

My relationship with the country pub has been one of inconstant and mainly nostalgic affection. My parents, both long dead, had bought a house in the West Country and my first experience of pub grub was on school exeats around Cheltenham – Tewkesbury, Burford, Bisley – my dad in his old Daks shirt and cords, ordering mash and Gloucestershire sausages so improbably large they almost flopped over our plates.

My favourite schoolgirl country pub served scampi and chips in a basket; this did not set my father’s heart – which belonged to Elizabeth David – a-flutter. It was at that particular place, thronging with greengage-uniformed girls and their families, that an incident occurred which may have forever undermined my idea of the country pub being a place of innocence and old-fashioned charm.

The most eccentric classics teacher at our school – whom I shall call Mrs Penny – had arrived with a male companion who was intriguingly scruffy and saturnine. Her normal mode of transport was a very large tricycle – I have never seen a grown person ride one before or since – but this time she must have arrived by more conventional means. Mrs Penny herself was not petite and was given to strange, sometimes hurtful, outbursts. On one occasion, she touched one of my friend’s locks with a ruler and said, flicking each strand with distaste, “Drib… drab… drib… drab.”

I remember quite vividly the sense of hushed expectancy as my fellow pupils and I gawped at Mrs Penny and what we assumed was her boyfriend. Afterwards, we all agreed that it was, probably characteristically, odd of her to choose this particular pub for a Sunday lunchtime date. Our al fresco lunch was disturbed by a small child throwing a stone in Mrs Penny’s direction, which landed somewhere on her generous body; she shrieked, the boyfriend stood up and smacked the infant whose father rushed over and yelled abuse, and everything seemed to freeze. It was all rather shocking and un-English; Mrs Penny, in tears, left her basket of food unfinished and the garden, swiftly followed by her younger swain. I don’t recall her ever being quite so sharp-tongued again.

There was an interlude in my late teens of going to country pubs with various boyfriends: drinking a dizzying selection of horrid-sounding wines which tasted rather nice at the time: plum, elderflower, nettle, on tree stumps in fields; ordering nothing more substantial to eat than a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Throughout my thirties, when the children were small and life was London-centric, pubs of all kinds seemed to lose whatever allure they may have had. And then, as my blossoming interest in food coincided with that of the nation, came the gastro pub.

The Jolly Sportsman, in East Chiltington, Sussex, is in this mould but has also managed not to alienate its old drinking clientele – although there is a rather perplexing tradition of mass withdrawal by locals every Wednesday night. The manager was unable to explain why. (A friend in Shropshire told me of a legendary pub there where, one night a week, the local men
get very drunk and play shove ha’penny with their whatsits; one can quite see that this might not go down so well in Sussex. Then again…)

The first time I went to The Jolly Sportsman, a few months ago, was reminiscent of a school exeat: I became my father, grumpily chiding the driver for not knowing the way, and various friends started up the childhood chant of “When will we be there?” The restaurant was full, so we sat in the pub and had a lovely lunch, although the service was slow and various dishes arrived at peculiar intervals or not at all.

Despite these minor irritations, there was much to commend the place and I was looking forward to going back. All
went swimmingly at first, and I had that warm, faintly proprietorial glow that goes with introducing friends to somewhere
that you feel has been your own brilliant discovery.

We sat in the pub proper, once again, while we waited for our table in the restaurant. There’s a board by the counter with a list of 70 malts: I have no interest in drinking the stuff but I am partial to lists and was impressed by all the fastidious headings and sub-headings. There are half a dozen different eaux de vie, grappas, calvados, armagnacs, as well as a comprehensive beer and wine list. For our driver: freshly-squeezed orange juice, elderflower cordial and various Fentimans potions. There was a large table of several families with young children who all seemed to be having a good time.

Our table of four was having a good time, too: launching greedily into a selection of pre-starters. A plate of sliced cured pork loin, with a drizzle of olive oil; guindillas (incredibly hot, sweet pickled chillis), good, spicy olives with the occasional bracing shock of a whole marinated garlic, three tiny glasses of Hemingwayesque oyster Bloody Mary shooters: slightly wasted, possibly, since none of us was wasted enough. We ordered bread but, as on the last occasion, none arrived.

The restaurant dining room is light and attractive: sage-green walls, undistinguished but inoffensive paintings by local artists, coir matting, slabs of waxed oak for tables, single pink gerberas in pale ceramic vases, a buff-coloured tongue-and-groove ceiling.

We were all, to differing degrees, delighted with our choice of starters. My snail, parsley and pancetta risotto was one of the high scorers: “really interesting, almost tastes like… soil” was meant as a compliment; “nice, firm risotto, lovely colour, really delicate, I would definitely order that” was a more obvious seal of approval. I was also dazzled by the intense dark-green wonder of the dish, which reminded me of a brilliant snail-lurking parsley soup I once had at Le Voltaire in Paris.

The Canadian had a plate of impeccable Irish oysters, large and creamy, served on a bed of seaweed French-style with red wine vinegar and shallots. The American had crab lasagne: “You can definitely taste the crab – and the cheese.” Perhaps I was too much in a temps-perdu state of mind, but it summoned another old memory of a Cheltenham boy’s dish involving layers of crisps, canned tuna and condensed cream of mushroom soup.

Oddly enough, my fellow Brit’s fennel soup reminded her of a bowl of cream of mushroom, with the fennel being so subtle it was almost like an aftertaste. So much so, she thought it should be renamed “soup with a hint of fennel”. None of us could decide how much we liked it but we liked it enough to keep tasting it. My verdict was that it was a bit of a culinary tease: enticing enough but promising more than it delivered.

The mains were, sad to report, a disaster. My American friend’s chargrilled Speyside Angus ribeye was cold and had to be sent back to be reheated. The Puy lentils that came with my stuffed pig’s trotter (from the pub menu; you can order from either menu in the restaurant) were in a liquor that was so dank and sour, it was inedible.

I opted instead for a starter of Stornoway black pudding, apples and port, which was a triumph: sweet and savoury, plain but decadent, the apples almost caramelised in their port-soaked sticky gorgeousness. It was probably my favourite dish of the meal; this seconded by the Canadian, partly perhaps because it reminded him of his late dad, who used to cook black pudding for breakfast.

The Brit who calls herself a demi-vegetarian had picked a tomato and piquillo pepper tart from the pub menu. This resembled a great unappetising wodge of hard omelettey quiche, but tasted softer and creamier. The accompanying vegetables – fennel and courgettes – were burnt. The Canadian’s venison sausages and onion gravy was the only main course that was an all-round hit – but even so, the mash was bland and nasty-textured.

The Sportsman redeemed itself with the puddings. The grappa pannacotta was evidently so good it was demolished before the rest of us had a chance to concur. The Brit had lemon polenta cake, which her husband pronounced “soggy-bottomed”. This, she insisted, was the secret of its success. The Yank went for the rice pudding crème brûlée, combining the best of both desserts. And I attempted the apricot, walnut and ginger toffee pudding – delicious, but daft of me to order after the black pudding.

We walked very slowly back to the car, by the courtyard with mosaic tables and Moroccan lamps, through the large well-stocked garden with swings and lots of space between the tables, past the Jolly nursery with rows of rocket and herbs and salad leaves. On this visit, the food may have been a bit hit and miss – but when it was good, it was very, very good and it most certainly is jolly.

Cost: £183.32 – three courses for four; including drinks, a bottle of Sancerre, half of Brouilly, and coffee.

General

Taking coffee with the Reverend Billy

THE TIMES – October 25 2005
Ginny Dougary

The Reverend Billy of the Stop Shopping Church leads our correspondent on a campaign against the multinationals.

There’s a man in a cream polyester suit and dog collar causing a bit of a rumpus in Oxford Circus. “Brothers and sisters,” clap clap, he goes with his pale outstretched hands. “This is the SHOPOCALYPSE! Stop your shopping NOW! You are BOMBING Bahgdad with your shopping! It is YOU who are responsible for the SWEAT in the sweatshops! For this — Huh, yuh, yuh, huh (wild eyes rolling) — THIS is the SHOPOCALYPSE, brothers and sisters.” The youthful tourists stopped in the doorway of the large shop — one of the many retail chains proliferating worldwide — are grinning and taking photos of this happening with their mobile phones. Security guards appear; the police, who have other reasons to be around, mutter into their walkie-talkies. Reverend Billy, founder of the Stop Shopping Church, sweat dripping off his face, exhausted by the raging torrent of his words, backs off.

We have spent an unusual day together. It started in a relatively low-key manner when I attempted to interview William Claire Talen, the fake Reverend’s real name, assisted by his wife, Savitri D, in a private members’ club frequented by the media. We had been corresponding with one another for several months via e-mail and telephone. I had read his entertaining book — What Should I Do if Reverend Billy is in My Store? — heard the CD of his choir, and seen the DVD. We had reached an agreement that for the purposes of the interview itself, he would attempt to be plain old Bill rather than his Southern fire and brimstone preacher-man persona. But the Rev — like the ventriloquist’s dummy who wants to show who’s really in charge here — keeps threatening to take over.

I want, in my boring journalist’s way, to pin down this mesmerising fellow in detail, biographical data, facts, provenance. What was it, precisely, that led this particular forty-something New York actor, writer and political activist to transform himself into a pastiche evangelical, with a church and a choir and disciples. In other words, I want to blow his cover.

In one of our conversations, Bill had mentioned that about half of his 40-strong gospel singers were in recovery from the trauma of being the offspring of ministers or preachers. Was he one of them? Well, yes . . . but, actually, no. His father was a banker who loaned money to farmers so that they could buy seed and tractors, and — for reasons that are not forthcoming — was always being sacked, which meant that the Talens were forever picking up and moving on from place to place in the mid-West.

He says his parents were Dutch Calvinists — and so I assume did not employ the florid rhetoric of the evangelical Bible-bashers that Bill has appropriated for his act. Were they strict and abiding about their religion? “No, they were a-bidding,” he laughs. “In the sense that they said, ‘I bid you do this and I bid you do that.” Were Mr and Mrs Talen consumed with the idea of sin? “The only sin IS consumption, ” he says lightning fast.

When he was around the age of 6 or 7 — the sort of age when a child may wander away from his parents and climb up a tree in the back garden to gaze at the stars in the night’s sky and lose himself in the inexplicable wonderment of it all — the young Bill’s imagination was terrorised by his Dutch Calvinist instructors. “I was told that a very old man will decide whether I will go to H eaven or to Hell for eternity when I die, “ he recalls. “And I might die at any moment. And I never got a description of Heaven but I got a HELLUVA description of HELL! ‘You will be standing in a lake of fire and you will be burning forever.’ And I asked, ‘You mean like putting my hand in the stove and hurting my hand but I can’t take my hand off?’

“They said, ‘No, you can never take your hand off. It continues and continues and you don’t get to die and you stand there for an eternity in utter pain and shame’.” Well, that’s lovely. “And this is such an extreme nightmare to tell a child at that age that it fries out your circuits. It makes you a consumer of that imperial God. You don’t DARE have an imagination. You don’t dare go back out to those stars and say: ‘What is this?’ That is tyrannical,” he says. “But somehow I did get back to that place — to that tree in the back yard.”

Bill’s escape from the lake of fire into the tree of life was via the well trod route of teenage rebellion: “The civil rights movement and the protests against Vietnam brought me out back into the stars.” He started hitch-hiking away from home to go to Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead concerts and on one occasion ended up in jail when his parents put out a missing persons alert: “And I’ve been going to jail ever since! ” The teenage years were followed by years of hitchhiking between the East and West coasts of America. He once spent ten months in Hollywood, where he sought out likeminded counter-culture figures such as Harry Dean Stanton and Spalding Gray. But the endless round of auditions was dispiriting, “finding myself in lobbies with 40 other Kurt Russell lookalikes all up for the same armoured car driver part doing a fart joke in Beverly Hills Cop I”. Still, the rejections were good fodder for his own monolgues which he acted out back in New York City.

The volume of Bill’s speech has been steadily rising and I am moved — brothers and sisters — to ask him whether he always talks so loud. This is a mistake since he now starts to yell at the top of his voice, “AMEN! ALLELUIA! PRAISE BE!” and then walks over to the window, opens it and preaches to the passers-by below: “SAVE YOUR SOULS, CHILDREN! SAVE YOUR SOULS! AND YOU, SIR! KEEP YOUR CREDIT CARD OUT OF YOUR WALLET. AMEN!” “Come back, Billy,” Savitri says quietly. No more coffee for you, dear, I think to myself.

Ah, coffee. We will return to that vexed theme later. Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping is part of a broader church which encompasses the concerns of writers such as Naomi “No Logo” Klein, film-maker Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock, Kurt Vonnegut, John Pilger, the McLibel Two and all the thousands of anti-global capitalisation protesters around the world.

Billy started out preaching on his own in Times Square, targeting Disney as public enemy No 1. But through his theatre friends and contacts, and because of the peculiarly American nexus between right-wing politics and religious fundamentalism, he hit upon the subversive notion of creating a ministry of his own to mimic the tools of what he considers to be the opposition.

Savitri explains why these sorts of actions are the new theatre. “We don’t think that theatre is changing the world any more,” she says. Apart from the very occasional new work, such as Angels in America, and the annual Arthur Miller revival, “where are the political plays today?” she asks. Even if the subject is political, there’s a feeling that the theatre experience itself has now become such a sponsored corporate event that it dilutes or even taints what you see. “So we ‘politicised fools’,” Billy says, “are trying to perform in the contested spaces between the private and the public domains.” The couple talk about the Madison Avenue advertising culture and how the marketing gurus are now looking to the right-wing, apocalyptic “Christ’s Cowboys” of the South for tips on how to run their campaigns. “For many years the advertising industry resisted the televangelists because they were considered to be insufferable lowbrow hicks,” Billy says. “But now, with George Bush, we’re beginning to see the ‘Hickification’ of Uptown New York. And together they’re going to take over the world.” Who are you talking about when you say “they”? Billy: “Starbucks.” Savitri: “ Marketing in general. Corporations. Celebrity and pop culture. Politicians. All of them are wondering what it is these Christians are doing which is getting them all this power.”

McDonald’s, The Gap, Nike, Wal-Mart . . . I have read or seen exposés of their work practices, but Starbucks? What’s so wrong with them? “Shall I take this one?” Bill asks Savitri, who nods. “We feel that Starbucks is the villain because it epitomises the neo-liberal lie. They have managed to persuade us that they are a green company — even though they are 98 per cent not fair trade. And they have mediocre coffee and mismatching furniture so they look a bit beatniky — and a few avant-garde grace notes — but it is really a manipulation in appropriating the idea of rebellion. It’s FAKE bohemianism and, more importantly, it’s not a fair trade company even though they use it as an advertising thing.”

The spokeswoman from the Fair Trade Foundation in Britain was unable to supply me with the percentage of Starbucks coffee in this country which is Fair Trade certified (less than 2 per cent worldwide according to Starbucks’s 2004 annual report), but says it was one of the first high-street coffee chains in this country to offer any Fair Trade coffee at all. And Starbucks themselves say it is their goal to pay premium prices for all their coffee.

When we come to do our “action” in the Oxford Street area, there seems to be a Starbucks on every street corner. Billy and Savitri have agreed to show me what it is they do that so alarms the Starbucks bosses. In California, for instance, a restraining order has been placed on William Claire Talen banning him from coming within 750 feet of the edge of any Starbucks property.

Saivtri: “They use violent boyfriend language so that Billy was accused of ‘stalking’ the so-called ‘victim’, Starbucks. They use laws which were designed to protect women to keep Billy away.” Billy: “I am enjoined by the Superior Court of Los Angeles from stalking, disturbing, annoying or in any way sexually . . .” No, not sexually? “Oh YES! Sexually abusing . . .Oh yes, oh yes.” But in what way have you sexually abused Starbucks? “I put my hand on the cash register,” Billy says. He now refers to it as “the genitals of the giant”. “And, listen,” Savitri says, “the very same day that he got this injunction there was a woman in Los Angeles killed because she couldn’t get a restraining order on her boyfriend who had been beating her for months!”

In the first Starbucks we visit, it is Billy and I who will be performing “Sponsored Love”. I have agreed that he can touch me in the interests of veracity. We sit down and he starts: “Oh Ginny, Ginny, I love you so much. I want you to take off from The Times and elope with me. I adore you Ginny!” He is gazing into my eyes and stroking my arm and it is like being serenaded by a crooning Elvis when he does his talking bit. But my over-riding sensation is exquisite English embarassment. And it’s about to get worse: “Ginny, GINNY, we’ll be in our cottage on the Isle of Wight and spend our lives together, (voice gaining urgent momentum and — oh no — he is down on his knees!) I LOVEYOUILOVEYOU — brought to you by . . . Nike Sportswear. I love you, brought to you by . . . The Gap. I love you, brought to you by McDonald’s. I’m Lovin’ it, McDonald’s Now with new salads! — since McLibel and Morgan Spurlock.”

Round the corner and we’re in another Starbucks. This action is rather more effective, since it involves a real couple — Billy and Savitri — playing themselves and having a big marital tiff. In the course of the “argument” Billy berates his wife for her addiction to frothy lattes which are being sold on the backs of impoverished workers in Guatemela, they storm out of the shop, she is apparently in tears, they embrace, and one of the girls behind the counter says: “Oh look, they’re making up. bless.” But the stunt didn’t fool everyone. Two men, who did not wish to be identified, thought it was a set-up mainly because Billy was so preposterously over-the-top that he must be an English actor’s idea of an American. A woman who is there with her student daughter, however, thought Billy was so excitable he must be drunk. Both of them were aware that Starbucks had been criticised for not being an exclusively Fair Trade coffee supplier but had gone there because it was convenient and there were no alternatives. Billy and Savtiri would like us to boycott Starbucks, but that’s not going to happen.

Starbucks has become the McDonald’s of the middle classes; it’s quick, easy, and it’s everywhere. But the congregation of the Stop Shopping Church is also on the move. As the Reverend told me when I moaned about how embarrased I felt doing my “action”: “The ocean’s rising, Sister Ginny, it’s crashing through the windows, so STOP BEING POLITE!”

Food

The Gingerman at Drakes

TIMES ONLINE – October 22 2005
Ginny Dougary

44 Marine Parade, Brighton, East Sussex (01273 696934)

The last time I wrote about trying to get a good meal in London-on-Sea, it was difficult to avoid being hard on its restaurants. But now, a year or so later, eating out in Brighton – hallelujah! – no longer sucks.

Due South, directly on the seafront, which had just opened then, did become my favourite local – and went on to win awards and plaudits from the foodwriting heavyweights. It has never disappointed me – when I can actually get in, that is – and everyone I’ve taken there has loved it: from a group of elderly Boston matriarchs to my younger teenage son and his mates. I went there so often, indeed, that I soon worked my way through the whole menu. But what I returned for time and again was the freshly caught fish of the day, grilled with lemon and herbs, great salad leaves simply dressed and rough-cut sautéed potatoes.

Organic and locally sourced ingredients, unservile but friendly service, wild flowers on wooden tables, the waves dotted with white-sailed boats… It would be perfect for my tastes but for one thing. On every occasion in recent months that I have tried ringing the restaurant, no one has answered the phone. A recorded message directs you to a website where you are invited to book online; an aggravation further compounded, in my case, by no one responding to my request in any form – cyber or otherwise. Twice now, as a last resort, I have gone in person to see if I can be fitted in – only to be told that although there are clearly free tables, there isn’t enough food in the kitchen or sufficient staff to handle any more customers.

There have been a number of personnel changes since I first became a fan of Due South – most recently, the chef Ricky Hodgkinson has left, so this possibly has had an impact on the way the restaurant is being run. There are rumours that the owner is planning to open an oyster-bar, also along the seafront – which would be a marvellous thing – so perhaps this accounts for further distractions behind the scenes.

My neighbourhood in Hove is fast becoming a haven for foodies – particularly since the arrival of The Real Eating Company. It has been a hit with Australian friends who compare its relaxed style, impeccable eggs benedict and fruit smoothies to Sydney’s popular eatery, bills. What a boon to have somewhere within walking distance where you can buy good bread, terrific English cheeses, wine, olive oil, truffle salami, pata negra, and so on. I haven’t yet eaten there in the evenings, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it for brunch or lunch.

Down the road is Bona Foodie, another great deli-cum-café, which is less specialised but more reasonably priced. I had come across the first Bona Foodie in Kemp Town and was delighted when its owner, Nigel Foster, decided to extend his empire into Hove. I tend to use it for picnics, sandwiches and my cake and olives fix.

A new and terrible local discovery is Audrey’s Chocolates, which is as splendidly old-fashioned as it sounds. I had passed the shopfront many times and gazed at the theatrical window displays… but, wisely as I now know, had not ventured in. The other day, I succumbed… just, you know, to look, and the inevitable happened. Audrey’s has been going for 40-odd years, supplies Fortnum & Mason and has photographs of Prince Charles giving them his royal seal of choccie approval. Everything is handmade and arcane – the layers of fine white paper, with the black chocolates lined up in regiments, and the heady almost peppery smell of pure dark chocolate is wonderful.

Further afield, Terre à Terre – the gastronomic vegetarian restaurant – is as delicious as ever and continues to win awards. I try to deviate from always ordering the global tapas, and the soup is always rich and fragrant. China Garden, a large restaurant on the busy seafront road, is fun for Sunday yum-cha. More fabulous is Gars – which various Brighton friends had assured me was the best Chinese in town, and having tried it I have to agree. It’s designer-ish, with red leather panel walls, but also comfortable and unposey. Everything we ate hit the spot, but the sea bass was exceptional. The Seven Dials restaurant is another family-run success. Most recently, a gorgeous wild mushroom truffle soup stood out, along with a generous plate of skate dressed in an intense caper sauce.

To the main event: The Gingerman, mark two. I very much liked the original where I went almost a year ago… stylish but unassuming decor, nice etchings on loan from Brighton University, an intimate space that didn’t feel cramped and high-flown food unflashily presented. The ingredients, as I recall, were pretty luxe – foie gras, for instance – and I was bothered by a quartet of women who all ordered green leaves as a starter. Why go to a restaurant that prides itself on its cooking and order something you can buy from a supermarket and dress yourself? Yes, of course, they were slim but…

The new Gingerman – the original is still there, thank goodness – is in the basement of a newish hotel called Drakes. I’ve been there for cocktails and was impressed by the barman’s martinis but didn’t care for the boudoir, knicker-blindish decor. The space downstairs feels spirit-sinkingly claustrophobic. The pale suede chairs and beige walls with their cigar-shaped folds behind the tables were fine but the silk-screen floral prints were bland and corporate. I hated the low ceiling, with its many unattractive heating vents and alarms, and washing-line tracks of bulbs that appeared to have been an afterthought to compensate for the insufficiently bright recessed lighting.

In this sort of environment you cannot help but notice your fellow diners. There was a trio of geezers (loud, wearing jeans and trainers), a Footballers’ Wives-type quartet (loud, the females scantily clad; the men and women rarely eating the same course together as various members
absented themselves for prolonged periods of time) and an assortment of couples and family groups. There was piped music (which I don’t remember from Gingerman, mark one): Motown and Buena Vista Social Club and, possibly, ironically?, The Swingle Singers.

The service and the food were both excellent, kicking off with an amuse-bouche of truffled field mushroom soup (obviously popular in Brighton) and pressed pork with capers and parsley and a hint of balsamic sweetness. Then wild bass ceviche with a big punch of lime juice and chilli for me, and lobster, potatoes, vine tomatoes and green beans for my friend. The latter was a particular triumph: “The tomatoes taste as though they’ve been picked at the perfect moment off the vine,” she said. Everything, we agreed, worked brilliantly together but was also plump and juicy in its own right.

Mains: halibut for my pal, “tastes pretty plain but that’s what halibut is like”, with globe artichoke and basil – “fine but doesn’t really turn my cookies” – and for me, coin-sized medallions of pressed rabbit (I think I probably prefer my meat loose and laid-back rather than up-tight and pressurised) stuffed with armagnac-drenched prunes, onion purée and a sort of polenta fritter. You really couldn’t fault the cooking, but increasingly I feel satisfied by most starters and puddings and obliquely failed by the main courses.

Puds were fab. I should have gone for the blood peaches with honeycomb ice-cream and honey lime syrup. I did get to taste it and it was perfect: quite tart but also oven-roasted sweet, “to die for”, “strangely refreshing” was my friend’s verdict. I decided to forgo the blackberry soufflé – even though the soufflé is a Gingerman signature dish – having dim memories of a prune version with armagnac ice-cream at Gingerman One, and finding it just too soufflé-ish, that is a bit eggy and bland and light. I went instead for the babyish-sounding ice-cream sundae, which turned out to be quite grown-up: pistachio, cinammon and raspberry ice-cream in an elegant glass, some kind of strange crystals that leapt about in the mouth like oral firecrackers, and no tarty froths of chantilly cream or parasols.

The coffee was spot-on and the sinful chocs so good I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been supplied by Audrey.

Price: Two courses £25;
£30 for three courses

Due South (01273 821218); The Real Eating Company (01273 221444); Bona Foodie (01273 727909); Audrey’s Chocolates (01273 735561); Terre à Terre (01273 729051); China Garden (01273 325065); Gars (01273 321321); The Seven Dials (01273 885555)

General, Politicians, Theatre

David Blunkett: The Musical

In 2005, Ginny Dougary wrote the lyrics for a collection of songs about David Blunkett’s life and recent times. These were showcased at the Soho Theatre under the working title of David Blunkett The Musical; a collaboration with the composer MJ Paranzino and producer Martin Witts who was behind the award-winning one-man-play, Hurricane. The actors were Mark Perry, Robert Bathurst, Lynne Davies and Zigi Ellison. There was a positive response from the invited audience which included: Sir Terence Conran, John Sergeant, Ann Leslie, Suzanne Moore, Deborah Moggach, Julie Myerson, Theodore Zeldin and Alvin Stardust.

This is what columnist Suzanne Moore had to say about it in her diary in The New Statesman:

“I went to see the run-through of David Blunkett: the musical/the other night, which superbly takes the piss out of the Sextator goings-on and has great tunes as well. It was brilliant to see Boris Johnson (played by Robert Bathurst) rapping and Petronella Wyatt (Zigi Ellison) as his “ho”. But it reminds you that, as lovely as he is, you don’t actually want people like that running the country.”

David Blunkett The Musical is still in development; following please find a list of links to stories about the show.

David, Kimberly, Boris and Petsy: it’s showtime
You’ve read the book, browsed the tabloids: now…
London run for Blunkett the musical
Blunkett’s life to be turned into a musical
Rise and fall of Blunkett in song
The David and Ginny show
Blunkett – The Musical on its way
The tragic tale of a man who lost EVERYTHING for love…
Blunkett story has it all
Sex, power, betrayal? It’s “Blunkett: the Musical”