Wine, food, catastrophe. You could be mistaken for thinking that this sums up the week I’ve just had and you wouldn’t be far off. But actually this describes how I ended the month; an evening with my ex gorging on the entire new series of the BBC sitcom Catastrophe and, of course, good food and wine. I happen to have a stash of Cote du Rhone and Pol Roger half bottles (both from the wine society) meaning any impromptu night in is always well provisioned. Food for such an occasion varies but beyond the obvious nibbles, I often favour some kind of tray bake, roast, or one-pot creation, all of which require minimal attention. I know it’s not fashionable anymore, but Nigella and Nigel Slater tend to be my inspirations for any kind of ‘home’ cooking (and Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets is the best dinner party bible I have ever come across).
At the start of the month it was my birthday. This meant… food and wine, and spas. I have been going to Babington House for almost a decade. Part of the brilliant Soho House group, Babington in particular has long been a favourite and has more than inspired my latest venture. The home from home ambience, staff who take care of your every need (but in a laid back, understated, dare I say it, effortlessly cool way). Babington feels like your best friend’s glamorous house in the country. Anything goes. You can sit in the bar in your dressing gown and slippers, or in a cocktail dress. No-one bats an eyelid.
I love the food. It’s seasonal and foraged, grown or reared on the premises or nearby. The menu changes daily and is pure comfort and joy. Castlemead roast chicken for two comes on a huge platter drenched in a rich sauce, made luxurious with a touch of cream, wild mushrooms and mounds of buttery mash. I made the mistake of ordering chips as I’m not usually a fan of mash (endless, dull), but I loved this mash. And the chips. Bloody hell, this wasn’t to be a low carb weekend.
The following night I enjoyed a huge slab of pork belly and beans with salsa verde, kale, salsify and gravy.
Breakfasts are really special here. As well as excellently cooked á la carte hot breakfasts featuring all the usual suspects, there’s also a glorious market table with a variety of homemade granolas, bircher muesli, chia pudding, custard tarts, banana bread and ricotta and other pastries all made on site. Pastry is a real strength. The afternoon tea is a joy to behold, with a range of house-made cakes including a gigantic homely Victoria sponge, carrot cake, various tarts and of course, warm scones fresh from the oven. I managed to get to the gym once in between eating and spa appointments.
And what of the rest of the month? Well, I have discovered a new favourite London lunch venue; the Goodlife eatery. On Marylebone Lane, this tiny café specialises in ‘healthy’ food (I’m sure you can see why I need to frequent such places). Don’t let that put you off, it’s a fabulous menu of interesting salads, wraps and hot bowls (they have a good breakfast menu too). And it’s always packed. And not just with women. It seems to attract a lot of young fit professional men (I am sure you can see why I need to frequent such places). The sort who probably go to the gym or run a few miles every morning before earning millions in their glossy offices. I have sampled a few of their dishes and my favourite is the signature Goodlife salad – kale, sweet potato, quinoa, lentils, walnuts, goji berries, nutritional yeast (don’t ask) and an orange tahini vinaigrette. Totally delicious, and virtuous enough to make me feel good all day before enjoying a more indulgent dinner.
As I type, I’m off to another London favourite, Cecconi’s – often my meeting place of choice situated just behind the Royal Academy. A casual but elegant Italian all day dining kind of place – they just get everything right. That’s what I’m busy planning for in my own venture of course – getting everything right. And it’s not easy.