Kamal’s Kitchen Competition: the results!

I’m delighted to announce the results of the competition I ran last month with Kamal’s Kitchen. As ever, this was a writing competition and I asked entrants to give me 250 words on the Reading institution they missed the most – and this clearly triggered a tidal wave of nostalgia, not only in the competition entries but also in the feedback I got on Instagram.

Unsurprisingly, some names came up again and again – so if, for instance, you miss Dolce Vita or Mya Lacarte rest assured that you’re far from alone. But there were also a few cafés and pubs that were mentioned in despatches – Tamp Culture and the Tasting House, obviously, and Tutti Frutti come to think of it. And then there were the more niche choices that marked you out either as having distinctive taste or a long memory (or both). So award yourself a handful of internet points if you find yourself missing Sardar Palace, or Brett’s, or Café Iguana. And you get bonus points if you remember Cartoons (although, like the Sixties, if you can remember Cartoons you probably weren’t there).

I found myself thinking about all the places I miss that nobody mentioned. Bhoj, back when it was down on the Oxford Road, the proof of concept that the people of Reading were very happy with the idea of eating excellent Indian food in a room with orange walls. Ha! Ha! when it was where House Of Flavours is now: it did a chicken and chorizo pasta dish which probably offended several national cuisines at once, but back in the early Noughties I couldn’t get enough of it. Cappuccina Café on West Street with its beautiful bành mì. Santa Fé on the Riverside, with its boozy 2 for 1 cocktails and its beefburgers served in a tortilla wrap. The 3Bs. Sahara. I could go on, but if I do I’ll just get sad.

I’m delighted that I wasn’t the judge for this one, and that dubious honour went to Nandana Syamala, co-owner of Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen. Nandana runs one of the restaurants people in Reading would most miss if it vanished off the map tomorrow, but also as a relative newcomer to Reading judging the entries gave her that Bullseye “look what you could have won” feeling. I asked Nandana how she felt about judging this competition, and here’s what she had to say:

The majority of the entries talked about the hospitality industry, and I’m really glad about that. I’ve always believed that a vibrant independent food and drink scene is what gives a town its identity, and makes it a much more fun place to live. All of us in hospitality aim to make a mark the way Dolce Vita or Mya Lacarte have, and be remembered with fondness many years after closing down.

But for me personally, what I miss the most is Tuscany on the Oxford Road. During the short time they were open, we developed a ritual of going to them with a bottle of wine after closing our restaurant by 10pm on a Sunday night. And honestly, that’s where we had some of the best pizzas in the U.K. Sometimes, when it was their closing time, they would bring in their not so secret stash of some of the best Italian charcuterie, and we’d share wine and our experiences. In fact, I may have been guilty of closing the kitchen early a few times, just so I could get there and have my favourite meal of the week.

Nandana is spot on: I miss Tuscany too. Anyway, without any further ado, here are the results. Oh, and the picture below is of a takeaway I had recently from Kamal’s Kitchen: he’s on delivery apps now, and those extraordinary pressed potatoes travel surprisingly well.

WINNER: Derek Goodridge

From the 1980s through to the early 2000s, Reading had an excellent delicatessen, County Delicacies, situated on St Mary’s Butts. At this time the store was really the only place in town that you could rely on for interesting food purchases. I was a regular visitor on Saturday mornings, along with pretty much anyone else wanting to stock up on cheese, charcuterie, excellent breads from DeGustibus bakery and lots more. Almost every visit ended with purchases that I hadn’t planned but were too good to resist: perhaps Italian fennel sausages, fresh rum babas, slices of proper cheesecake or possibly a cheese I hadn’t tried before but was persuaded to try.

The store was presided over at the time by the late Chris Rogers, who managed to keep the large queue of customers happy even though sometimes on Saturday it was several deep. He was assisted by “Saturday job” part timers, one of whom I discovered later was the young Kate Winslet. I recall that each purchase would be weighed and priced, then added up by hand on the edge of the wrapping paper, possibly the last store in the town to do so. The store changed hands in 2001 and Chris retired, finally closing permanently in 2010.

I’m obviously pleased that new independent food vendors are established in the town, so it would be wonderful if they were joined once again by a quality delicatessen run by knowledgeable people. Maybe one day!

Nandana says: I had no idea Reading had such a place! Reading this has reminded me about places like that I’ve visited in Italy, some even at highway service stations, and remembering the hours spent exploring the wonderful produce they stock. It makes me imagine how wonderful it would be to have a place like this in Reading (it made me crave a good rum baba too). The town’s changing: I hope we get a great delicatessen too very soon.

RUNNER-UP: Lucy Manners

I miss Fisherman’s Cottage. I miss the cod croquettes, I miss the potatas bravas with the right amount of smoke, the plump prawns in the paella, oh the paella, and everything with a lick of punchy aioli. 

I went with friends and we laughed, grazed, chatted, grazed, gossiped and grazed some more. I walked down along the river to Fisherman’s Cottage several times with my first post divorce date for lazy sunny lunches and we talked about tapas in Spain and the future. I know why I miss it though. Not just missing the food, but the me I was when I was eating the food. After all, it wasn’t all good. I never quite ‘got’ the faux beach huts out back, and the calamari had more than a hint of elastic band the times I tried it.

Since Fisherman’s Cottage closed my then date is now by my side raising our two young children and juggling life. Lunches are often an exercise in eating quickly before a child needs you to cut more up, replenish the dip-dip, fetch another drink or asks for the bite from your plate you were saving for last. Rare meals ‘out’ just the two of us are a fiercely planned thing – on the calendar weeks in advance, locations debated with links, recommendations and menus WhatsApped during night feeds and quiet moments at the desk. I think if it was still open, Fisherman’s Cottage and a stroll down memory lane would be a contender. 

Nandana says: This is one place in Reading we were lucky enough to experience! We went a couple of times before they closed and always had really enjoyable meals. This piece captures what a great restaurant can do – trigger memories of a place, of what you were at that time, and create a longing to go back and experience or feel that all over again. I can imagine I Love Paella doing exactly that: it’s dearly missed by many, including us.

Amen to that. Huge congratulations to Derek, who wins a meal for four including drinks up to a maximum of £120, and to Lucy who wins a meal for two, also including drinks, up to a maximum of £60. And many thanks to everybody who entered – and, last but not least, to Kamal’s Kitchen for being so generous.


Competition: Kamal’s Kitchen

I’m delighted to announce an ER readers’ competition in partnership with Kamal’s Kitchen.

I can probably count on the fingers of two hands the truly game-changing restaurants that have opened in Reading since I started writing Edible Reading. That’s probably a feature in itself – maybe I’ll write it to mark ten years of the blog – but without question Namaste Kitchen would belong on that list. When I visited it, back in 2017, I knew I had eaten somewhere so good that it changed the terms of reference for what it meant to be a good restaurant in this town.

Namaste Kitchen was one of those fantastic places where everything came together. Operating from the Hook and Tackle in Katesgrove, it was a pub that served great food rather than a gastropub, with a menu of Nepalese small plates that meant you could turn up and eat yourself into a coma or pick at the most incredible bar snacks while watching the football. And it was unapologetically Nepalese too, offering some dishes – like bara, spiced lentil pancakes, or pangra, fried gizzards – that you just couldn’t get elsewhere. It wasn’t watered down, and it was all the better for that.

The chef was amazing, but the icing on the cake was Kamal, the affable front of house who kept everything ticking. He always recommended new things, he always sounded surprised when you loved the food (and you always loved the food) and he always stopped you from ordering too much. That was Kamal in a nutshell, and it’s something so many restaurateurs get wrong: he was more interested in making sure you’d come back next time than he was in making shedloads of money out of you this time.

I’ve written about this before, but that dream team lasted less than a year. Kamal left Namaste Kitchen, the chef went back to Nepal and the restaurant raised its prices and installed a tandoor. A couple of years later, Kamal opened Namaste Momo on the border between Woodley and Earley, this time teaming up with an ex-Royal Tandoori chef. The early signs were good (and the momo were never less than excellent) but the menu, split between Nepalese and conventional Indian food, never quite felt like a cohesive whole. A couple of years later, Kamal left the business.

Anyway, fast forward to 2022 and Kamal has opened his own restaurant on the Caversham Road, next to Flavour Of Mauritius in part of the building where Standard Tandoori used to live. This time, he’s been brave enough to put his name on the door, and this time it’s a family affair: Kamal and his wife are in the kitchen, and Kamal and his equally charming daughter run the front of house. It’s a nice room – stripped back, serene, humble. It feels like this could be the place where Kamal realises the potential that has been there since the Namaste Kitchen days.

The menu goes back to the territory that made Namaste Kitchen great – a range of small plates, momo and chow mein, with a handful of curries and a good vegetarian section. Fans of the bara and chatamari from Namaste Kitchen will find them here too. But there are also some new, really interesting dishes – deep fried lamb breast on the bone, for example, or a truly delectable pork dish with choy sum in a wonderful sauce that totally carries you along with it.

There are also some really interesting touches. On my visit, Kamal served sekuwa made with venison from the farmer’s market, and another beautiful venison dish almost like a tartare, clean, delicate and with a hint of game. If either of those ends up on the menu as a special, you should try them. But I was also very happy to be reunited with the tried and tested – the paneer pakora were as good as I remembered, the chutney fresh, zingy and spiky with heat. Equally delicious was the lamb sukuti, a crunchy plate of umami and spice which I could happily demolish multiple times in any given week.

The biggest surprise, for me, is an unassuming dish you could easily miss. Thhicheko Aalu is described on the menu as “potatoes fried, pressed and tossed with special sauce”. But that just doesn’t do them justice. Forget double cooked or triple cooked chips, this is close to the pinnacle of potato dishes – burnished and caramelised on the outside, all crinkly edges, yet soft and fluffy inside, the whole thing coated in a spice mix that contains a little bit of something like mouth-numbing Szechuan pepper. I’ve not tasted anything quite like this, and it has the makings of an instant classic. I was torn between wanting to know exactly how they did it, and preferring to keep the magic and mystique firmly intact.

That’s quite enough from me, so let’s talk about the competition. First prize is a meal for four people including drinks, up to a maximum value of £120. A runner-up will win a meal for two people, including drinks, up to a maximum of £60. That potato dish is £6, so alternatively you could turn up and keep ordering that until you’re full (that’s what I’d be tempted to do).

All you have to do is this: write me up to 250 words on the Reading institution you miss the most and why. It doesn’t have to be food-related (although it might well be) but this is your chance to wax lyrical about anything from the past, whether it’s the 3Bs, Mya Lacarte, 80s night at the After Dark, the “lovely hot doughnuts, nice and fresh” announcement, the crispy squid man at Blue Collar or even this blog, back in the days before it vanished up its arse. Knock yourself out! Email your entry to me – ediblereading@gmail.com – by 11.30am on Friday 15th April.

As always, to ensure impartiality I don’t judge the competitions myself. And this time I’ve managed to get a big name on board: fresh from her announcement about Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen’s forthcoming move to Caversham, Nandana Syamala has agreed to judge this one. Nandana, along with her husband Sharat, runs one of Reading’s most treasured culinary institutions, and I can’t think of anyone better to read all your entries about Reading institutions you have loved and lost.

Entries will be sent to Nandana anonymously and the results will be announced on Friday 29th April. And as always the judge’s decision is final: no correspondence will be entered into. Don’t forget, Nandana has only lived in Reading for four years, so this is your chance to make her envious of some of the Reading gems she may never have experienced! Thanks again to Kamal’s Kitchen for its generosity with the prizes and best of luck to you if you decide to enter this one. I’ll be back next Friday with another feature for you, before normal service resumes and I review some more restaurants. See you then.

The Lyndhurst Competition: the results!

I’m delighted to announce the results of the competition I’ve run with The Lyndhurst. As always, it was a writing competition rather than a prize draw, and I asked entrants to send me 250 words or less on their favourite food discovery of lockdown. Over the course of four months of lockdown I discovered a love of hash browns, black pudding, Cocio chocolate milk, Ascot Brewery’s magnificent imperial stout, Clay’s ambot tik, making my own coffee and countless other little gastronomic pleasures that have made virtual house arrest far more enjoyable. But what had your discoveries been?

I received a postbag full of interesting entries. From home-made flatbreads to cakes and mimosa for breakfast, from foraged wild garlic pesto to the joy of saying “fuck it” to home cooking and ordering fish and chips from Valpy Street, ER readers are an adventurous, imaginative and hungry bunch. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge this one, because that task fell to Glen Dinning of Blue Collar. Before I announce the results, I also asked Glen to tell me his food highlight of lockdown, so here it is:

When Blue Collar first started at the Madejski, one of my inspirations was The Ribman, a street food regular on Brick Lane who also pitches up outside West Ham’s London Stadium on match days. A flick through his Twitter feed shows the level of devotion he receives – he’s turned West Ham fans into street food obsessives, and made opposition fans wish their own clubs would be more imaginative.

As lockdown hit, he started offering vacuum-packed, chilled deliveries of his rib meat, along with bottles of his homemade ‘Holy Fuck’ sauce. I quickly discovered it became essential to repeatedly refresh his web page at 5pm on Saturdays in order to stand any chance when they became available.

When they arrived, it’s fair to say his instructions were to the point – eat with a soft white bap, no butter, no salad and buckets of sauce on top. A friend of mine gets as excited as I do about these sort of things and had followed the rest of the country in turning to baking, so chipped in with a couple of rolls in exchange for a few dollops of meat.

I’d vowed to ignore the hype but it was, of course, my lockdown food highlight. The meat is so tender, the sauce so beautifully spiced: the whole thing just melts in your mouth. At that moment you understand the devotion he receives, and why even the most clichéd football fan would realise how lucky they are to eat something this special.

Off the back of this glowing write-up from Glen I also ordered a kilo of ribmeat, hitting refresh again and again at 4.59pm on a Saturday afternoon. I can definitely recommend following his example, although I would also advise you that it’s far too much for two people and that you should definitely eke it out over a couple of meals rather than lapse into a meat coma with a frightening amount of it still in the saucepan.

Anyway, on to the results, only pausing for me to add a picture of some of my other favourite slow-cooked meat, the star ingredient in the Lyndhurst’s chilli nachos. I had some last weekend and – seemingly more chilli than nachos – they’re every bit as delicious as I remember.

WINNER: Poppy Rosenberg

In “normal” times I’d say that my day revolves around meals; but in lockdown I’d be forced to admit that this focus has become obsessive. During what’s been a tumultuous time (postponed wedding, job loss, career change) food has been a source of excitement and comfort. Thanks to our town, I’ve been able to indulge from my sofa in style. From the ever-incredible Kung Fu Kitchen, to reliable old Honest burger, to Soju, Thai Table and many great Indians, we are spoilt. 

Surprisingly though, my food highlight of this lockdown was a meal my fiancé cooked. It was a re-make of the first dish he made for me and, sentimentality aside, it was delicious and gave us the impetus to put screens away, stop arguing about what film to watch and attempt a proper at-home “date”. 

The dish was Jamie Oliver’s Duck Ceviche (I know, such culinary ambition!) – a fresh combination of citrus fruits, chilli, avocado and tender duck. Having something presented to me with such interesting flavours, cooked with quintessentially “special” ingredients was a treat. Eating it, I felt like the mouse from Ratatouille with flavours exploding in my mouth (rather than my usual state which is more akin to Pumba scoffing down vast quantities of something slimy yet satisfying.) It may not have been the best dish I’ve had in lockdown (sorry fiancé), but it was the one that felt refreshing, comforting and in a very lockdown way, reminded me how food forces people together. 

Glen says: They were all brilliant entries but this one in particular was written with such warmth and emotion. Even though this was a meal cooked at home, it clearly made a big impact and I think it encapsulates how many of us relied on food so much during lockdown. 

RUNNER-UP: Graham Walmsley

Whisk eggs and sugar, then gradually add heated milk. Add vanilla, then put on the heat, stirring slowly. Magically, it begins to thicken. 

Custard has got me through lockdown. At the end of the day, when I feel myself start to worry, I make custard instead. It’s simple, but takes all my attention: you gaze into the yellow liquid, watching intently for the first signs of thickening.

When it does thicken, things get tense. Do I take it off the heat now, when it’s milky like an eggnog? Or do I push it further, trying for that perfect creamy consistency, watching intently for the first signs of graininess? Both are delicious, especially with tinned fruit: we have a shelf of that, from when we stocked up four months ago, and now we’re trying to eat it all.

I’ve produced more complex meals in lockdown. There were mussels: I cooked them with white wine and cream, then kept the shells and made a velouté the next night. There was a soufflé, which tasted luxurious, and a parsley sauce, which tasted of childhood. And the Bakewell tart was a revelation, with a soft frangipane better than anything Mr Kipling had provided me with.

But it’s the custard I keep coming back to. Eggs, sugar, milk. Sometimes vanilla, sometimes orange flower water, sometimes just those three ingredients. Stir it, stare into it, lose all sense of time, watch it thicken.

Glen says: This one really made me smile – a piece on custard was always likely to get my vote and using it as a way to get through lockdown seems a shrewd move. And the Bakewell tart sounds delicious.

Many congratulations to Poppy, who wins a meal for two at the Lyndhurst, and Graham who wins a curry night for two at the Lyndhurst. Thanks too to everybody who took part!

Competition: The Lyndhurst

I’m delighted to announce an ER readers’ competition in partnership with The Lyndhurst.

Sheldon, Dishon and the team at the Lyndhurst have worked wonders since taking the pub over last year, and many of their dishes have rightly become celebrated across Reading. It seems impossible to talk about them without mentioning their magnificent home-made nachos topped with slow-cooked chilli, or the delicious beast that is their chicken katsu burger.

But the specials are just as good, and when they hosted a readers’ lunch last year they showed off even greater range. I still remember the courgette flowers, stuffed with ricotta and fried with a light, delicate batter. I also often think about the beautifully simple beetroot and goats cheese course they served up before a rhubarb dessert as tart and clever as a Dorothy Parker quip.

I felt like the pub was starting to really spread its wings and show everybody what it could do when the virus cruelly pressed pause, and I was delighted when they returned in early June with a takeaway menu. Many of my favourite dishes were on there – that katsu burger and the nachos – but they’d not been idle in lockdown, dreaming up new dishes which travelled better but still tasted spectacular.

I’ve already raved about the Lyndhurst’s pork tacos and that ancho chile relish, but I’ve ordered so many other brilliant dishes from them – a Scotch egg cut with sobrasada, giving it a superb Iberian kick, or beer can chicken with more of that ancho relish on display (top tip: order a whole chicken even if you can only eat half – the rest will make for a brilliant sandwich the following day, with more of the relish and some of the Lyndie’s spectacular guacamole).

The Lyndhurst announced that they were reopening for eat in trade on the 4th July but even before that, when they started doing deliveries and takeaways, they put Tweets up on Sunday afternoons offering to deliver free Sunday lunches to elderly and vulnerable people living close to the pub. Now that restaurants have started to open the Lyndhurst has been nothing but supportive, relentlessly Retweeting and amplifying Reading’s other independent restaurants and cafés. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the Lyndhurst is definitely doing its part.

In preparation for today’s competition I felt it was only right to order takeaway from them again (for research purposes, obviously) and I can safely say that juggling eat in and takeaway orders hasn’t affected the Lyndhurst’s mojo one iota. The Scotch egg has, if anything, improved with further tweaking, my fish and chips was bloody marvellous but best of all, I had my first takeaway dessert since lockdown began. My chocolate and cream cheese brownie was a soft, deeply indulgent treat and the raspberry coulis that came with it added a fantastic fruity sharpness. It deserved better plating up than I managed, but I was in a hurry to eat the damn thing.

So, on to the competition. First prize is a three course meal for two people (excluding drinks) at the Lyndhurst or, if you would rather, a three course meal for two to take away. There’s also a runner-up’s prize of dinner for two at the Lyndhurst’s Thursday curry night – curry, rice and a pint – again, either to eat in or take away.

To enter, all you have to do is this: write me no more than 250 words on your lockdown food highlight. That could be your favourite takeaway, a meal you’ve fallen in love with cooking during lockdown, an ingredient or recipe you’ve discovered with time on your hands or anything else for that matter. I’ve spent quite long enough banging on about takeaways or learning to make hash browns: now it’s your turn! Email your entry to me – ediblereading@gmail.com – by 11.30am on Friday 24th July.

As regular readers may remember, I don’t judge the competitions myself to ensure complete impartiality. On this occasion, I’m delighted that Glen Dinning, the man behind Blue Collar Street Food, has agreed to do the honours. All the entries will be sent to Glen anonymously, and the results should be announced on Friday 31st July.

As usual, the judge’s decision is final, no correspondence will be entered into and you’re more likely to get a rent rebate from John Sykes than you are to influence Glen in any way. I would feel sad that I can’t take part myself, but the standard for these is always very high and I really wouldn’t fancy my chances. Best of luck to everybody taking part – I can’t wait to read your entries! – and thanks again to Sheldon, Dishon and the team at the Lyndhurst for such a generous prize.

Namaste Momo Competition: the results!

One of these days I’ll learn to do competitions the way most bloggers and influencers do. Like and follow this page to be in with a chance of winning, or All you have to do is tag yourself and a friend who would love to eat Namaste Momo’s delicious momo and all that guff. Everyone loves a bit of something for nothing, don’t they? Unfortunately I’m too old fashioned and not cool enough for that, so people had to work for this one by writing 250 words on the restaurant they’d love to pick up and drop in Reading.

Despite that I had plenty of excellent entries and, as usual, was delighted to have such enthusiastic and talented readers. Reading the entries made me very hungry indeed, whether they were describing bruschetta eaten in a fairy light-strewn square on a warm Pisa evening, a cornucopia of meat, fresh off the grill somewhere in Northern Cyprus or Chinese noodles “as wide as belts”, wolfed down in New York (New York featured in several competition entries: I really must go there).

It’s always a huge relief, reading the competition entries, to know that I don’t have to judge them myself. That arduous task fell to John Luther who has done a brilliant job. John and I went to Namaste Momo last week just to put the menu through its paces and I’m happy to say that we both agree that this is definitely a prize worth winning – the chicken chilli momo and the pan fried lamb momo were both terrific and the Golden Everest lager accompanies them superbly. Just stay away from Kamal’s post-prandial brandies and I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine.

Anyway, enough faff and preamble: it’s time to announce the winner and runner-up, along with John’s comments. Let’s open some metaphorical envelopes!

WINNER: Catherine O’Hare

Just like the tiny Chinese backstreet it’s tucked away on, this restaurant has no name. There’s no signage, no fancy furniture or smartly dressed maître d’ taking reservations and pushing the specials. In fact, you’d barely know it was a restaurant at all. It’s more like someone’s kitchen they’ve hastily decked out with mismatched tables and chairs. And lots of shouting.

“Rè nao” is how the Chinese describe a good restaurant. “Hot and noisy”. Mama Yung’s ‘kitchen’ restaurant is certainly that. It was just round the corner from my apartment when I was living in Lianyungang, but I would never have known of its existence had my local friend not brought me there for dinner one evening. My first of many visits. It’s probably fair to say that Mama Yung was largely responsible for keeping me alive during my year in China. She would often sit at my table if I was alone, nattering away to me as if I could understand her fast local dialect and I would feel obliged to nod sagely as I chomped my way through Sichuan spiced beef, stir-fried eggs with tomato and big, fluffy bowls of rice.

Every evening, the farmers would come to the street outside and lay their fresh produce out on sheets and every evening on my way home I would see Mama Yung arguing ferociously with them to get the best price.

“Hot and noisy” from produce to plate, Mama Yung’s is very, very special.

John says: This story of year fed well far away from home in a small restaurant in China made me smile. The little details of the food we’re tantalising but the star of the piece was the fierce matriarch running the show, brought to life beautifully. Bring her to Reading!

RUNNER-UP: Sophie Ibbotson

I’m in a battle of wills with a seagull. If I look away, even for a moment, there’s a good chance that not only will I lose a lovingly chosen giant prawn, but that an entire plate of seafood will be stolen from in front of me in a cacophony of screeching and violent flapping. And so I sit, glaring, and unusually possessive of my lunch.

Sydney Fish Market — the self proclaimed home of Australia’s seafood — is the biggest structure on Blackwattle Bay. In between the boats and vans transporting fresh fish across New South Wales are crowds of diners (plenty of them feathered), jostling for space at the outdoor picnic tables.

I spent nearly an hour inside the fish market making my selection. It wasn’t that service was slow, but rather there was too much choice. Would a trio of sushi donuts be more rewarding than a pint of prawns? Could I manage the marinated swordfish skewer as well as a plate of lightly battered scallops, calamari, and mussels?

The solution, as I knew deep down it would be from the very start, was to buy as much as I could carry. I wove precariously with my pile of takeaway boxes and paper plates between the lines of queuing shoppers, out the doors, and down the stairs. I squeezed onto the end of a patio table and unwrapped my mouthwatering fishy treasures, sprinkling them with a squeeze of lemon. That’s when the seagull arrived.

John says: Another little gem of a story featuring pesky seagulls. I’m a sucker for seafood, so was on side from the start, but was seduced by the description of this bustling fish market and al fresco dining.

Huge congratulations to Catherine and Sophie. Catherine wins a meal for four at Namaste Momo (where, in Kamal, she will encounter a proprietor almost as idiosyncratic as Mama Yung: although I can’t help but feel Catherine’s Mama Yung withdrawal symptoms could be solved with a trip to Kungfu Kitchen). Sophie wins a meal for two, and will only have to stop her dining companion scavenging her food. Thanks too to everybody else who entered: the standard was very high indeed.

Finally, to play us out, here’s my 250 words on the restaurant I’d like to drop in Reading. Tune in next week when I’ll have a new review for you – let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a place I’d like to drop as far away from Reading as possible.

I’m sure there are many restaurants in Paris better than Le Petit Marché where you can get fancier food and slicker service. Of course you can, it’s Paris. Yet I’ve been coming to this little restaurant, tucked behind the Place Des Vosges, for over a decade.

The tables are cramped; you always end up knocking elbows with your neighbours. Sometimes you wind up in conversation with them – the French have an uncanny habit of seating any native English speakers in a little enclave, as far from the locals as possible. They have to pull the table out to let you escape if you need the loo. But all that, coupled with the soft, atmospheric lighting, lends a cosy, conspiratorial feel.

The food’s beautiful: no showing off or theatrics. Tuna is served almost like sashimi, studded with sesame, seared on the outside, ready to be dunked in dipping sauce. Pink-middled discs of lamb come with a creamy sauce fragrant with basil. The mashed potato is the best I’ve ever tasted, and that’s not just me looking at it through rosé tinted glasses. The wine is available in carafes, as it will be in all restaurants if I ever come to power.

Two years ago, after my divorce, I went to Paris on my own to reclaim the place.  My one regret is that I didn’t visit Le Petit Marché. I’m back there next month, and I know exactly where I’ll be on my first evening in the city.