Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

The sweet temptation of scrumping

In autumn when apples cascade off the trees and bedeck the orchard’s floor with fields of red and gold, thoughts naturally turn to an ancient survival instinct: foraging – or, as we tend to call it in my part of the world, scrumping. Yet although scrumping seems as English as Shakespeare, conker fights and Bonfire

There’s nothing as sad as a bad pub revamp

The Flower Pot in Aston, near Henley, was one of my favourite pubs in the country, a charming, eccentric time capsule cluttered with esoteric decoration: dozens of cases of stuffed fish and animals, angling paraphernalia and Edwardian art; there was even a resident parrot.  It was always rammed, with everyone from vicars to Hell’s Angels

Olivia Potts

The timeless beauty of a French apple tart

There is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. The same could be said – although rather more appealingly – about the number of ways to make a French apple tart. French apple tarts are ubiquitous in their home country but, despite the umbrella name, no two recipes are the

Tanya Gold

Fine food in a fine restaurant: Origin City reviewed

Origin City is a good name for this restaurant, whether it knows it or not. It is at West Smithfield, the only surviving wholesale market in the City of London (I do not count Borough, which is a snack shack impersonating a greengrocers and is only spiritually in the City). Covent Garden sells face cream

Welcome to the pub of 2030

In 2030 I will turn 30. I hope to be in the pub, but maybe a little less often than I am now. Judging by the way things are going, that might be easier than we’d like to admit. And not just because we lost 383 pubs between the start of the year and the end of June. 

You have to be truly incompetent to eat badly in Paris

Paris has enough great restaurants to maintain its claim to be the world capital of gastronomy. That said, Parisian residents insist that these days, it is possible to eat badly in their city. Yet I still think that this would require especial incompetence. In Brussels, a strong second in the pecking order, it would be

Leave my pumpkin spice latte alone

It didn’t matter that it was 33˚C. Starbucks staff across Britain spent the beginning of September putting out pumpkin-themed menus, selling customers pumpkin spice lattes in pumpkin-shaped mugs, to be drunk alongside a slice of pumpkin-flavoured loaf cakes, a pumpkin seed cookie, or a brownie cut into pumpkin shapes and frosted in hazardously orange icing.

French food is the worst in the world

There are certain things that are so shocking they can only be said by close friends. And as the British have been in a close friendship – an entente cordiale – with the French since 1904, I am here to say it to our neighbours across the Channel: I’m sorry, mes amis, but your food

Olivia Potts

My two tips for perfect aubergine parmigiana

In the middle of an unpredictable Indian summer, here is a recipe from sultry southern Italy which is suitable for the changing seasons. While aubergine parmigiana (or parmigiana di melanzane) was born of hot Italian summers, it is also perfect for autumn, as the days shorten and darken. There is inherent comfort in the hot,

Julie Burchill

The perverse greed of Jamie Oliver

I hoped that we would soon see the back of Jamie Oliver, once a ubiquitous presence on television, as his youthful Golden Labrador-ish appeal waned and his mouth increasingly looked like something you’d find on the end of a fishing rod. But regrettably, like many of the cor blimey pretend meritocrats of his era –

The sad decline of weak beer

For those of us who like kicking back a few pints in the summer sun, Samuel Smith Brewery’s decision to increase the strength of their Alpine Lager from 2.8 to 3.4 per cent has sparked much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Brits may be renowned the world over as lager louts, but there are some

The trouble with supermarket self checkouts

Finishing my latest mini-shop at my closest mini-supermarket, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen before. A couple who had used the self-checkouts were stopped at the exit by a staff member who asked to see inside their (store-branded) plastic bag. The customers obliged without demur and a half-smile sent them on their way. But it

Why children shouldn’t go vegan

In an attempt to sell vegan diets to parents and children, Team GB, recently partnered with Birds Eye’s vegan food brand Green Cuisine. The programme will be delivered in primary schools across the UK. Now, the Guardian is reporting that hundreds of academics are urging British universities ‘to commit to 100 per cent plant-based catering’.

A perfect slice of Calabria 

The Romans wrote the history, or at least the myths. But long before Romulus murdered Remus, the Mediterranean – the Great Sea – was the principal conduit of civilisation. The Greeks spread their wings across the wine-dark seas, to the extent that even later Romans accepted that much of southern Italy was actually Magna Graecia.

A guide to London’s hotel restaurants

Hotel restaurants have come a long way since they were dingy add-ons geared towards a captive audience, once the preserve of holidaymakers too lazy to leave the lobby. London is in the midst of a literal feeding frenzy of swish new hotel restaurant openings. The whole ‘dining experience’ – what is dining if not an

Jake Wallis Simons

What’s wrong with calling food Israeli?

The service was stylish, the menu superb, the vibe effortlessly chic. This was the Coal Office, one of London’s best Israeli restaurants, situated in the old Victorian goods yard at King’s Cross. My fiancée and I dined there last week. It was a blast. But something didn’t feel right.  Fish and chips was invented by an

The all-American roots of the Moscow Mule

If called upon to declare the seven greatest cocktails of all time – a Magnificent Seven, as it were – what would be your line-up? The struggle is less in naming seven than in sticking to so few. The ubiquitous gin and tonic must be on the list, of course, along with the Old Fashioned.

Olivia Potts

Tarte tropézienne, the glamorous dessert named by Brigitte Bardot

Is there a more glamorous piece of pâtisserie than the tarte tropézienne? Born in the inherently chic Saint-Tropez, named by Brigitte Bardot on the set of a film before becoming such a cult favourite that it  graces virtually every bakery on the French Riviera, the tarte tropézienne has star quality. But for some reason, it’s

I’ve had it with awful dinner parties

I’m always a bit wary when invited for the first time to a dinner party at a friend’s home; some of the least enjoyable social occasions I’ve ever attended have been misleadingly advertised as such. The inevitable email about ‘dietary requirements’ has been duly responded to. You’ve muttered to yourself about the time (8 o’clock?

What wine should you serve to a matador?

We were talking bulls. A friend of mine, Alexander Fiske-Harrison, is a remarkable character who can claim at least two distinctions. First, he must have been about the worst-behaved boy in the modern history of Eton College. He claims that this is an understatement and that he heads the role of infamy since the days

Au revoir to Le Gavroche

You do not need to be a ‘food person’ to know the name Roux. Or to be familiar with Le Gavroche, the family’s cherished Mayfair restaurant, soon to close after 57 years. They are a name and a restaurant that transcend beyond the world of Michelin stars. And this despite the fact the restaurant requires

Olivia Potts

Fish and chips: the fast food that made me

The last meal my parents had before I graced the world with my presence was fish and chips, so I like to think it forms part of my origin story. Growing up on the coast, fish and chips featured in all its forms: bags of chips clutched on windy beach walks; takeaway fish suppers brought

Mary Wakefield

The insane craze for dog ice-cream

During the few hot days we had in June, I came across my first tub of dog ice-cream nestled among the Häagen-Dazs in my local supermarket. Scoop’s vanilla: ‘Tubs that get tails wagging.’ My first thought was that it was a joke, or perhaps for people who identify as dogs. So I looked it up as I

Gus Carter

The Greggs delusion

Everything about Greggs is fake. You can smell it as you walk down any British high street. There’s an astringency, a hint that what lingers in those ovens is more than butter, flour, eggs and salt – that their food has been adulterated with something unnatural. What you’re smelling is an approximation of pastry, an