Q&A: Glen Dinning, Blue Collar

Glen Dinning has been the mastermind behind Blue Collar Street Food for nearly four years, going from running a street food stall cooking burgers to a weekly food market, adding Cheese Feast and Feastival in Forbury Gardens as major events in Reading’s food calendar. In 2018 he won the Pride Of Reading Award for Entrepreneur Of The Year, and last year he was awarded the contract to provide the match day food at the Madejski Stadium, making Reading’s fans some of the best-fed in the UK. He lives with his girlfriend in West Reading.

What are you missing most while we’re all in lockdown?
Street food, pubs, restaurants, football, everything. I’m desperate to get back to work – I’ve volunteered but can see myself being more of a hindrance than help.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Trying apple crumble for the first time. I still can’t get enough of it – brown sugar instead of white is the key. 

What’s the worst street food pitch you’ve ever heard?
Someone once rang to pitch their entomophagy stall (the practice of eating insects). At the time I had no idea what it meant so just nodded along until I looked it up, horrified, later. I’m all for giving things a go but the conversation with Environmental Health would’ve been a difficult one.

You’ve been running Blue Collar for coming up to four years. What’s the most ridiculous situation you’ve found yourself in?
Early on, a rival organiser tried to sabotage our events by getting their food traders to sign up, but pull out at the last minute leaving empty pitches. On a more positive note, the celebrations for Blue Collar’s first game at Reading FC ended at the bar with Sir John Madejski, Ady Williams and a drunken phone call to one of my heroes, former manager Brian McDermott.

What words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Do you know what I mean?”

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
The independent scene in our town continues to build. You can have breakfast at Yolk, lunch at Vegivores or Shed and dinner at Bakery House, Clays or Geo Café and have an experience unique to Reading. The independent coffee places and pubs were thriving – before Coronavirus hit I genuinely thought in ten years’ time we would have an identity of our own as strong as Bristol or Oxford, but now I’m not so sure: everything is up in the air.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Obama, Gervais, Robin Friday and Don King – he’s a controversial figure but the best salesman there’s ever been.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
The Godfather.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
A meal at José, a tapas restaurant in London by the Spanish chef José Pizarro, had a big impact on me. It’s a tiny space, about four hundred square feet, walk ins only and the menus are chalked up daily depending on what’s available. The food is always brilliant and eaten stood up, with wooden barrels to rest small plates on. It’s a different kind of dining experience but there’s such a buzz to it, it’s so authentic and I’d love to try and open something like that one day. On the finer dining side of things, I really like Dinner by Heston and Manchester House by Aidan Byrne.

What’s your most unappealing habit?
Snoring.

Where will you go for your first meal after lockdown?
Bakery House for the chicken shawarma.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
If you find a job you love, you’ll never work again.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
The original Hula Hoop.

Where is your happy place?
A long boozy lunch in the sunshine.

What would you be doing in life if you weren’t running Blue Collar?
I had visions of being a comedy agent and promoter for a while and started a little business hiring out pub function rooms, booking comedians and selling tickets. It led to a job selling shows at the Edinburgh Festival and was fun, but I think I’d find it difficult to enjoy something that isn’t food and drink related now. 

How do you relax?
When I started Blue Collar I was still young enough to be able to drink heavily to get through stressful times and not wake up with a monster hangover the next day. More recently, I’ve jumped on every fad going – my girlfriend has tried to get me into yoga during isolation but I’m not sure my body is designed to bend that way.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
If we’re being honest, it would be a low budget project that would go straight to DVD. A former Hollyoaks star would probably be the best I could hope for.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Cheese. The smellier the better.

Tell us something people might not know about you.
My first little food business was selling chocolate bars in the school playground when I was eleven. I used to dabble in a few other things too, like watches and pens, but then Jamie Oliver came along and banned schools from selling sweets in vending machines. It meant my only competition was gone and my sales went through the roof. I owe that man a Wispa.

Describe yourself in three words.
Ambitious, friendly, foodie.

Corona diaries: Week 2

Taking my government-sanctioned hour of exercise involves a certain degree of planning. I used to walk down to the canal, out past the Fisherman’s Cottage (the sign on the door says “Gone Fishing” – a nice little touch, I thought), past the striking Dreadnought Inn, abandoned long ago, and out towards the Thames Path, before cutting right and wandering through Thames Valley Park.

There’s something weirdly beautiful about walking through an abandoned industrial estate, something especially 28 Days Later about it. The thing is, when you walk down a quiet road you know all the residents are behind closed doors, but all these gleaming offices are another matter. All the whiteboards probably have abandoned brainstorms on them, the vending machines still hum, filled with unclaimed snacks.

The problem with this walk, I’m afraid, was the people. The path by the canal is pretty narrow and too many of the people shambling down it like to do so right in the middle, on their mobiles, oblivious to everyone and everything coming in the opposite direction. Once you got to the green space just past the rowing club, there were lots of groups, sitting around and chatting. Did they all live in the same household? In some cases it felt unlikely. The whole thing made me feel a little too jittery, and I wore out my hard stare to no avail, so I was forced to rethink.

Walking round campus would be more straightforward, I thought, until I tried it one day and found the path round the lake blocked by a pair of young chaps, standing around near their parked bicycles, drinking a can of Fosters apiece and chatting as if they didn’t have a care in the world. That, combined with some kamikaze joggers, completely disrupted my equanimity and I’m sorry to say that I had a rant on Twitter.

Not all cyclists, replied a number of good-humoured cyclists. Not all joggers, pointed out the many reasonable joggers who follow me (figuratively, I’m glad to say, not literally). So generally now I stick to the roads of East Reading – nice wide roads, with nice wide pavements. You can walk up them towards Christchurch Green and look back at the way you came, to a vanishing point with the Blade or the gas tower near the horizon.

Late on Saturday afternoon, in my quest to find somewhere free of people, Zoë and I strolled down the Kings Road and through the gates of Reading Old Cemetery. It was the first of many glorious sunny days, and the cemetery was more stunning than I’d ever seen it – peaceful, still and serene with the headstones bathed in sunlight, the trees verdant. We made out a couple of silhouettes in the distance, but that was the closest we came to anybody at all.

We strolled around the perimeter, to the War Memorial, and took a moment enjoying the sunlight, the silence and the isolation, chatting and reflecting on what a strange time this was to live through. As I said to someone recently, if it wasn’t for the constant anxiety that you or someone you love would get very ill, and the fear of running out of food, it would be a fascinating time to be alive.

But none of that mattered that Saturday afternoon – we were still alive, our loved once were safe, I finally had the fridge, freezer and cupboards of a responsible adult (even if it had taken a global pandemic to bring this about) and the sun was out. In that blissful moment the world outside faded away: it felt like we were the only people in the whole graveyard, like it existed just for us.

There was a reason for that. On the walk back out, it soon became apparent that the gate had been shut and padlocked, a couple of hours before the cemetery was due to close.

Once we got close enough to realise that that was indeed the case, I took decisive action: if you class pacing and palpitations as decisive, that is. Zoë, far more unfazed, found a telephone number on a sign near the noticeboard and rang it to explain our predicament.

“He says that he looked round the whole place – he can’t have looked very hard – and couldn’t see us. He’ll be back in five to ten minutes to let us out.”

My pacing slowed slightly, although the palpitations had no interest in following suit. As we waited, I looked again at the sweep of the cemetery, one huge, majestic tree off in the middle distance, and wished I felt more fortunate to have ten minutes with this place all to ourselves.

A pillar-box red Mini pulled up outside the gates, but it wasn’t our rescuer. A cheery-looking short, balding man came out to check if we were okay.

“They’ve done it again! The guy who locks the cemetery is a bastard for this, he does it all the time. I come here to walk the dog, and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had words with him.” His accent was warm and Scottish, not from round here.

“It’s okay, he’s on his way” said Zoë.

“I think I’ll wait. I wanted to go round the cemetery today, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. And if this ever happens again, there’s a bit of wall up there on the right with a less shallow drop, I’ve used that to break out of the cemetery many times.”

It’s amazing the things you learn in a time of lockdown. I thought it would be all making banana bread and discovering podcasts, but this was an entirely new frontier.

When the man from the security company pulled up, our new Scottish friend was crestfallen (“it’s not the usual bloke”, he said). Our liberator apologised profusely, said he’d received instructions from management to close a couple of hours early. We nodded and said yes, even though I’m sure all three of us believed that he just fancied clocking off early and relaxing in his garden. We threaded our way through the gate, trying to stay six feet away from our rescuer and his heckler, and wandered off into the distance while their frank exchange of views became less and less audible.

“Look at you, you got into such a state” chuckled Zoë as we made our way up Hamilton Road, less leafy, more handsome but – crucially – far less like a prison.

“That’s more than enough excitement for me for the rest of the week, that’s all.”

“I don’t know,” she replied with a mischievous glint just about visible behind her Ray-Bans. “There’s a lot of potential in trespassing.”

Hamilton Road really is a fine-looking street, lined with gorgeous, handsome Victorian villas, big bay windows, 4x4s parked in expansive driveways and – always a clear sign that you’re somewhere prosperous – plantation blinds everywhere you looked. There were hand-drawn rainbows in every window, but approaching one particularly enviable house we caught sight of some teddy bears, sitting on a ledge, with speech bubbles saying “HELP!” and “GET US OUT OF HERE”. I know exactly how you feel, I thought, all the way home.

A couple of days later, another walk through Cemetery Junction found the gates closed and a sign up saying that the council had decided to close the cemetery for the foreseeable future with some specious guff about social distancing. I guess it was just too much bother for them to keep this gorgeous space open. I wish I’d fully appreciated my final wander round there: even so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it still gets the occasional visit – from a little Scottish chap, shimmying over the wall.

* * * * *

Weeks into lockdown, my cooking is slowly but surely improving, albeit from a low starting point. Earlier in the week I cooked spaghetti with crab and ‘nduja, a carby bowl of comfort with plenty of clean, fresh crab completely led astray by the deep red fiery flecks of ‘nduja. In the pan the ‘nduja completely dissipated, shading everything slightly crimson, detonating like a grenade of punchy heat. One of my favourite restaurants, Arbequina in Oxford, does a dish of sourdough toast covered in ‘nduja, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with thyme: I may well have to try and recreate it in the weeks ahead.

The highlight, though, was lunch last weekend: a toastie made with beautiful sliced sourdough from Geo Café, Barkham Blue (thank heavens for that Grumpy Goat delivery) and truffle honey – another Geo Café discovery. Assemble, butter the top and bottom, pop it in a hot frying pan and wait for the magic to happen: little could be simpler.

By the time it was ready to eat the bread was golden, caramelised by a mixture of melted butter and blue cheese bubbling up through the gaps. In the middle, the cheese was a salty molten delight and the truffle honey had worked its magic, knocking the edges off the whole thing. The best dishes are more than the sum of their parts, and this was no exception, but it helps when the parts are such terrific quality. That I could get them from two of our best local businesses, both still trading in these uncertain times, made it even better.

* * * * *

Lockdown also gives me the opportunity to properly attack the huge pile of unread books in the spare room. It’s a very long time since I had a one in, one out approach to paperbacks and as a result I probably have enough reading material to last me the rest of the year.

There are also some books I’d really like to re-read, like the beautiful, clever I Remember by Joe Brainard or the sweet, deceptively complicated Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi. There’s something about reading a book you’ve read before: it can be like going back on holiday to a city you think you know and discovering different sidestreets, restaurants and shops. Since we can’t go on holiday anyway, books might be one of the best travel agents right now.

One of the reasons the stock of books has built up so heavily is that I’ve spent much of the last nine months wading very slowly through one book, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. It was a gift from my other half – I’m trying not to see that as a heckle – and so I’ve persevered with it far longer than I normally would. It has sat untouched on tables in cafés in Reading, bars and restaurants in Malaga, the tray tables of countless trains and aeroplanes while I idly surfed the net instead, or watched films, or played games on my phone or did literally anything else. At some points I’ve raced through it at the rate of one or two chapters a month, but picking it up always felt more like a chore than it should have.

It’s not that it’s badly written, and the insight into professional kitchens (albeit professional kitchens of a few decades ago) has been quite an eye-opener. I know Bourdain is beloved of many food writers, and I can understand why, but opening the pages has always been reminiscent of spending time in the company of a friend you can only take in small doses. The irony isn’t lost on me: I have at least a few friends who might describe me in similar terms.

Next up is a book I’ve borrowed from a friend, Slow Horses by Mick Herron. Herron is apparently the twenty-first century’s John Le Carré, his series of spy novels has won widespread acclaim and they’re being adapted for TV with Gary Oldman in the lead role. Espionage isn’t normally a genre I’d read, but I’m mostly motivated by curiosity, because I worked with Mick in my first job after university, almost twenty-five years ago.

It was a little publishing company in the basement of a law library, back in the days before computers and when everyone got a desk of their own. I was doing editing and sub-editing, and I shared an office with a chap called Naveed. Mick worked in the other room and those two rooms was the sum total of all the office space occupied by our miniature publishing empire. It’s hard to imagine, now, working for seven and a half hours a day without music to listen to or the BBC website to run to every time things got boring (they quite often got boring) but somehow we managed it. We had a huge coffee pot – cafetieres were too posh for us – and everything would stop mid-morning for a coffee break where we all piled into one of our two rooms.

I remember Mick being a quiet, wry, drily funny Geordie, slightly older than Naveed and I, and far too sensible to get drawn into our more random conversations. I had no idea what to do with my life and had jumped at the first job opportunity that came along. I don’t think anyone could have described me as conscientious and I still hadn’t discovered that if you plan to wear a shirt to work you really ought to iron it. If Mick judged me for that – and surely he must have – he was far too polite to say. Nothing about him indicated that he would go on to be a best-selling author, which just goes to show that it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.

“It’s like the opposite of finding that someone you went to school with turned out to be a serial killer” I said to a friend the other day.

“Yes. The opposite of that” he replied, presumably nodding and backing away from the conversation. It’s hard to tell via WhatsApp.

I did a bit of research on Mick and found an interview where he gave his tips on writing. A good rule of thumb is: delete all those words that you thought made it a special piece of prose, he said. I must be doing something right because I’ve reread this whole piece with his advice in mind and didn’t have to make any changes whatsoever.

* * * * *

Last week I asked on my Facebook page: where do you plan to go for your first post-lockdown meal? The answers came thick and fast, and they made me feel heartened that so many good restaurants were still in people’s thoughts. There were quite a few mentions of Kungfu Kitchen (along with gratitude that they still deliver, and delight that you got so much food that you could guarantee leftovers) and more than a few people looking forward to their first trip to Clay’s. But loads of restaurants had places in people’s affections: Pepe Sale, Papa Gee, Fidget & Bob, Bakery House and Côte were all mentioned in dispatches, along with many more.

One reader told me she had a booking at Pepe Sale “The Night The Restaurants Closed”, and I thought that was a good way of describing it, our version of the day the music died. On The Night The Restaurants Closed, I was meant to be out for dinner with my family, celebrating my birthday. By contrast, my last meal out was actually at Carluccio’s, which turned out to be The Restaurant That Won’t Reopen. The Night The Restaurants Closed coincided with the International Day Of Happiness, an especially cruel practical joke for the cosmos to play.

This week, readers have told me how having a takeaway every week has become the special event that going out for dinner used to be. Friends of mine ordered their first Kobeda Palace takeaway a couple of nights ago, I see Twitter awash with mentions of Valpy Street (fish and chips, delivered to your door!) and Vegivores. I have done my bit by booking a slot for delivery tomorrow from Kungfu Kitchen, and plan to spend the time between now and then agonising about what dishes (and how many dishes) to order. It’s a difficult enough decision at the best of times, and having several days to choose only makes matters trickier.

My final pub session before lockdown was a couple of Saturdays before The Night The Restaurants Closed. In the run-up to last year’s general election, a group of us on Twitter became especially taken with the output of Craig Morley, the Tory candidate for Reading East, who looked like a haunted ventriloquist’s dummy and opined about climate change and Brexit as if he had Boris Johnson’s hand up his arse.

He blocked all of us, one after the another, and we all rejoiced as he made PR blunder after PR blunder. First there was the image of a random abbey in Scotland on his website, because, despite being a local boy, he didn’t know what Reading Abbey looked like. Then there was the time he decided to attack the Guardian for the crime of quoting huge sections of his website verbatim (he never quite explained how his own website didn’t correctly reflect his own views, but I suppose he was busy). Or his hapless turn on local radio when he managed to make Andrew Peach look like Andrew Neil.

And let’s not forget his “meet the candidate” event, which charged for admission and was only attended by Conservative party members: even in the photos posted on social media the audience looked like it was actively contemplating jumping out of the nearest window. It was like going back to the glory days of Rob Wilson Tweeting porn links and claiming 9p for a non-existent taxi ride: I started to wonder whether Morley had recruited Mr Blobby as his campaign manager. Pictures cropped up of Morley, accompanied by Sajid Javid, at the Caversham Butcher and behind the bar at the Moderation, and I made a mental note to shop and drink elsewhere.

The Craig Morley Appreciation Society enjoyed gaffe after gaffe; one of us even donated a pound to his election fund (mostly out of pity: there were no other donations, and the fund was quietly put out of its misery). And when Craig lost, we all celebrated virtually and then, a little while later, we all met up for the first time in the Nag’s Head. Plenty of booze flowed, we shared stories and eventually wandered out into the night promising to do it again. And on a Saturday in March we all assembled at the Last Crumb to do exactly that.

A couple of days ago, founding member Jane was reminiscing about the fact that it had been a month since that final trip. And one by one we all chipped in, saying that we couldn’t wait to do it again. The extroverts among us, me included, said that we were going stir crazy without the buzz of socialising. And you could tell that the introverts, although much happier with the current situation, were still looking forward to joining us, even if it meant rolling their eyes at our stories and jokes.

“The hangover’s going to last 48 hours” said Jane. “I’ll be hugging people, over-emotional, by 8.35 and retired hurt by 10.05 at the latest” was Helen’s assessment. Nick, who during the day is responsible for keeping the Whitley Whiff under control, started reminiscing about having a post pub kebab and being asked the time-honoured question “Chilli sauce, boss?” Strange, really: you’d think, given his job, that he’d already dealt with enough mechanically recovered slurry to last him a lifetime.

These memories, and the chance to recreate them in our imagination, are what we use to get by, right now. Jane reminisced about the smell of onions frying on the grill, a scruffy Proustian reboot, and I thought that the best thing about this situation is that it enables us to reboot so many other things in our life.

They say it takes twenty-eight days to form a new habit, so perhaps by the time we come out of lockdown we’ll be a blank slate again. Everything will be alien, like there’s fresh snow over everything, and we’ll have an experience most people never get to enjoy: the chance to do something for the first time, a second time. The first meal out, the first pint, the first evening with friends, the first hug. That feels like something well worth holding on to.

Corona diaries: Week 1

I’ve always stayed away from Deliveroo, partly because I like restaurants – not just the food, but the experience, the welcome, the people-watching and the spectacle. But also, I’ve always distrusted their model. The dishes are usually more expensive than they would be if you dined in, they take a significant cut from the restaurant and your food arrives some time after it was cooked, often lukewarm and sometimes a bit crumpled from transit (I ordered a Franco Manca pizza on Deliveroo once: it was one of the most forlorn things I’ve ever seen). The customer pays more for worse food, the restaurants make less, the riders are hardly handsomely rewarded for thankless work: the only winner seems to be Deliveroo.

Nonetheless I placed an order this week, because Bakery House announced on Twitter that they were about to close their doors until we reach what everyone is calling “the other side”. They’ve soldiered on doing delivery and takeaway ever since this crisis began, offering discounts to NHS workers, plugging away and trying to make the best of it. The response when they made their announcement was the best of Twitter: dozens of people coming out of the woodwork to say how much they loved Bakery House’s food, how keen they were to eat there again once all of this passes. And Bakery House said something which got me, as they say, in the feels: Please don’t forget us.

I’ve been in lockdown for over a fortnight, now, and I think I’m beginning to understand that fight against forgetting. At the moment I can still remember what it’s like to meet friends in the pub, go for a coffee and sit in the Workhouse courtyard with it, to eat in restaurants or go for a walk without having to cross the road every few minutes to keep people that magical two metres away. I can remember what hugs from friends feel like. But we’re all taking part in a behavioural experiment which has never been tried before, and it will change us – and the world – in ways we can’t even begin to imagine yet. What will we have forgotten in four weeks’ time? In eight? In twelve?

And I can see so many restaurants wondering if they will be able to come back, and whether customers will still be there for them if and when they do. Clay’s, for instance, Tweeted recently that they “Woke up from a nightmare that everyone learned to cook and no one came after we opened again”: it sums it up neatly. I hope we all remember how lucky we were before all this started, and that we find ways to help the people and the businesses we love when everybody emerges from this bizarre hibernation.

My Deliveroo rider managed to get lost, and I could tell from the app that he was round the corner trying (unsuccessfully, thank goodness) to give my food to somebody else. But it didn’t matter – who would get cross with a Deliveroo rider at a time like this? – and my boneless baby chicken, freed from the foil container, was every bit as beautiful as I remembered. Tender meat, not-quite-charred skin, a separate dish with their superb golden rice and a well-dressed salad which retained its bite and crunch despite the bicycle ride from London Street.

I guess people write because they want to capture a moment, or because they want to remember. I’m glad I have this recent memory of Bakery House to hold on to. I won’t forget them. I doubt any of their other customers will, either.

* * * * *

In the same Tweet, Clay’s said that the landlord of their house had sent them a message telling them not to worry about the rent until this crisis was over. You really do see the best and the worst of people, which brings us to Sykes Capital, the owners of The Village, the artist formerly known as Kings Walk. There was a story in the Financial Times about commercial landlords threatening their tenants with legal action for unpaid rent, which included Sykes Capital and their tenants Pho and Escape Hunt. It always amazes me how landlords would sooner force out a tenant and get no return on their property than reach some kind of accommodation, let alone to do it when there’s a global pandemic and they are completely unable to trade.

I remember when Sykes gave an interview to Alt Reading in 2016, saying that he aimed to establish Atlantis Village as “the home of fine dining in Reading”. He planned to open a French restaurant there called Baroque, and said he hoped it could be the first restaurant in Reading to get a Michelin star. Four years on, Baroque never materialised, La Courbe, Mix and Dolce Vita closed and now instead of articles in local websites it’s a mention in the Financial Times. Oh well. Maybe the businesses which have been impacted can apply to Sykes’ charitable foundation which provides “support when no other charities or organisations can”. Charity begins at home, after all.

* * * * *

I’m not the best cook in the world, not by a long chalk. I do the cooking in my house, and I have a few recipes that never fail, but otherwise I’ve always relied on a mixture of eating out (why do you think I write a restaurant blog?) and ready meals. I always planned to expand my repertoire one day but I wouldn’t have chosen to do it in these circumstances, especially when access to ingredients can make every day like a particularly crappy episode of Ready, Steady, Cook.

Having been given a whole cauliflower and not wanting it to go to waste, I did a bit of research and decided to make a curry this week. I had all the stuff I needed in my cupboard and decided it was worth using a tin of chopped tomatoes to make it instead of doing the sensible thing and flogging said tin on eBay. A cursory Google suggested a recipe from the Guardian, one of “Angela Hartnett’s midweek suppers”. Two and a half hours later, having spent what felt like a lifetime chopping, grinding spices and using every pan in the house, I sat down to a sort of flavourless mulch with pasty albino triffids bobbing in it as if they were desperate to be rescued. Midweek supper my arse: Angela Hartnett obviously chops faster than me, has bigger pans and a fiercer hob, or alternatively I might just be pants at cooking. I know what my money’s on.

We slogged through it (“at least it’s good for you” said my other half) and half an hour later I began inhaling a packet of cookies. The next day I derived great satisfaction from slowly, lovingly spooning the remainder into the bin: it was far more enjoyable than either cooking it or eating it had been.

By contrast, during lockdown Clay’s has been putting a recipe on Instagram every day. A couple of days ago I made their simplest: a mixture of tinned tuna, diced peppers and onions, smoked paprika, salt, olive oil and lemon juice. What emerged, magically, was a little day trip to the Mediterranean – perfect to be lobbed onto a slice of toast and drizzled with another glug of extra virgin olive oil. Perhaps I just need to pick my culinary gurus more carefully.

* * * * *

There’s a weird back to the future feeling about life in lockdown. It takes me back almost thirty years, to a time when I was at university, technology hadn’t really got much further than the Sony Discman and we made the best of the limited options we had. Going for long walks with music in your headphones was something I used to do back then, and now I’ve embraced it again, albeit constantly looking around me to avoid people and giving hard stares to the offenders who act as if they don’t care whether they catch the virus, or give it to me. My walk generally heads out past Eldon Square and up Alexandra Road towards the university campus, past beautiful houses which are so near and yet so far, the tantalising width of a winning lottery ticket away from me.

Another throwback is the lengthy phone conversation. This week I called an old friend of mine – not a video call where I’m constantly looking for the angle that halves my number of chins, but a good old-fashioned voice call. On my phone, wearing my headphones rather than getting tangled up in the corkscrew cord of the landline, but still a memory of how things were in simpler times. It might catch on. “I’ve never been so in demand” said my friend. “All my friends with jobs and social lives suddenly have loads of time on their hands.” I know this situation is far harder for some people than others, and I know I’m relatively lucky, but in other ways it’s a proper leveller.

A couple of days ago I spoke to my oldest friend Mike, who is holed up in his studio flat in the French Alps. Normally he spends the winter there skiing and then in the summer he runs coach tours across Europe. That work won’t happen now and like some game of musical chairs, he is stuck where he was when the music stopped. He showed me the view out of his window, of pristine slopes begging to be skiied on, except that nobody is allowed to now. The lockdown is more stringent in France, and you have to carry a permit with you saying when you left the house. You’re allowed an hour for walking (“I always put the time as 20 minutes later” he told me, “the police don’t check.”)

Otherwise the monastic experience seems to suit Mike – he says he’s looking forward to having some time to reflect. He gave up drinking before Christmas, and even this crisis hasn’t shaken his resolve. I congratulated him, while simultaneously thinking of all the bounty from Siren Craft, Double-Barrelled, West Berkshire and Pang Valley in the fridge, the kitchen and the basement. I tell myself it’s little and often, and I mostly believe it.

On the call we agree to revive another tradition of days gone by, the mix tape. He follows me on Apple Music, and we agree to put together twenty songs for each other by the end of the week. He gets his done with the kind of brutal efficiency only teetotallers can manage, and the next morning I can see it there waiting to be discovered.

I listen to it while pottering round the kitchen, making myself a coffee with my new Aeropress. I’ve had it a week or so and I think I’ve got the hang of it – I’ve even, in truth, become the kind of coffee wanker who weighs his coffee with scales. I like the mindful, almost meditative process of making coffee, and Mike’s playlist is the perfect accompaniment (my favourite track on it, so far, is Get Out Of Town by Caetano Veloso: Mike has always loved a bit of Latin American music). I spend a happy couple of hours putting together a playlist in return, and wondering if anybody else I know would like one. Maybe I’ll start sending postcards next.

Osaka

I should start out by saying that really, this isn’t a review of Osaka. I went there, and I’ll talk a bit about the food and the service, but the world has changed so much in the fortnight since I had lunch there that no reviews, especially this one, are of any practical use. All of us restaurant bloggers (what’s the collective noun: a smugness?) are scratching our heads, wondering what to write now.

When I went to Osaka, I had an idea that it might be the last review I published for some time, but I didn’t realise that it would be surplus to requirements before I ever typed a word of it. The day after my lunch at Osaka I was meant to have lunch at Wetherspoon’s with Matt Rodda – I know! – until we both wisely decided that it really wasn’t the time. Given how Tim Martin has behaved since the beginning of the COVID-19 saga, it might never be the place either, even once we get through this scary, wobbly, historic period and life returns to something like normal.

Except, of course, we don’t know what that will look like and “normal” gets redefined every day. Last week my mother dropped a little food package at my doorstep and a card for my forthcoming birthday, and waved forlornly from the gate at the bottom of my front yard. I couldn’t hug her, even though I wanted to. In March 2020, that’s now normal. Yesterday at 6pm all the members of the community WhatsApp group I’m in opened their front doors, cup of tea or bottle of beer in hand, and waved to each other. The WhatsApp group buzzed with photos and videos so we could see what’s happening round the corner, or in front of the pub. These days, that’s normal too.

These are the starters I had at Osaka. The takoyaki (octopus balls – and no, I didn’t realise octopus had balls either) were a bit lacking in octopus for me, and mainly felt like stodgy potato. None the less, I quite liked them and I loved the mayonnaise (Kewpie, at a guess) and the tang of fruity sauce playing against the saltiness of the bonito flakes. The Korean fried chicken was much nicer – easily up there with Soju’s example, or the wonders of a bucket of Kokoro sweet chilli chicken. Beautifully presented, too. Of course, this is all academic now.

The following Saturday, the Lyndhurst hosted the final readers’ lunch for the foreseeable future. The tables were appropriately spaced, everybody was liberally washing their hands, sanitising gel was everywhere. The mood was interesting: even though there was no lockdown at this point, no real limit on movement, everybody knew that this was effectively the leaving do for life as we knew it.

The food was unbelievably good, too – a greatest hits performance in places, with chilli nachos here and trio of pork (including a pork wellington with black pudding) there but also plenty of wondrous surprises. Courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and fried, stuffed squid, a rhubarb and custard dessert topped with a tart, chewy strand of dried rhubarb. I’ve thought about that lunch many times since: it may be a long time before I see anything close to that many people in a room again. Last Sunday, the Lyndhurst hand delivered Sunday roasts for free to vulnerable people who lived locally. Two days later, following the government announcement about lockdown, they had closed. I can’t wait to visit them on the other side of all this.

I expected Osaka’s sushi and sashimi to be better than they were, to be honest. I was surprised that the sashimi, beautifully presented though it was, wasn’t quite up to the standards of Sen Sushi, where I’d had such an iffy meal the previous month. The range of maki at Osaka was quite limited, which pushed us into ordering uramaki instead – and the “Rainbow” was pleasant enough but, at the time, didn’t feel like it had a wow factor for twelve pounds.

This was the privileged life we all led two weeks ago, that I could eat sushi and quibble about whether it was quite what I had hoped for. And now we’re all anxiously eyeing our cupboards and fridges and planning our meals for the week, wondering whether to risk a walk to the supermarket. I logged on to Ocado yesterday, and found myself 15000th in the queue for about two hours before giving up.

My last meal in a restaurant before everything changed, of all the places you could go, was at Carluccio’s. Not my choice, but a favourite of my family’s. My brother was over from Australia, touching down just before Australia announced that everyone returning from overseas would have to quarantine for two weeks. I was so pleased to see him that I couldn’t even bring myself to mock his undercut and his giant white hipster beard, one rogue strand of ginger fighting a rearguard action against the ageing process.

But the truth is that by then I was uncomfortable being out, uncomfortable being in a restaurant. We were one of two tables occupied, and when a pair of women came in at about half-eight to make it a third you could almost see the poor staff giving them evils. They wanted to go home, they wanted the restaurant to close and I can’t say I blamed them. I had arancini and spaghetti carbonara, and both were fine, but I knew this was the last time I would have dinner with my family – my mother, my stepdad, my aunt – for a long time. I didn’t hug them goodbye: another odd thing about the world now is the number of people you can hug has shrunk to almost zero. And even writing that, I know that for some people it is zero, and I feel lucky and ungrateful all at once.

I didn’t especially like my main course at Osaka. I ordered yaki soba, always my go-to dish at Wagamama so a sensible thing to compare. In a previous life I lived pretty close to the Oracle and I used to get a takeaway carton of yaki soba from Wagamama and eat it at home, feeling almost like a New Yorker. But Osaka’s wasn’t quite as good, slightly lacking in pickled ginger, the chicken a little too uniform for me. The sauce, while smoky, was too sweet and the broccoli and pepper were cut far too big, so eating it was a bit too much of a challenge.

Zoë’s beef donburi felt very similar, again with those massive stems of broccoli. I really felt for Osaka by this point – most restaurants get a long time to get things right. And it’s such a beautiful fit out (“the highest quality unit the Oracle has ever seen” said Zoë, who knows about these things). Even the bathrooms were beautiful: I don’t usually comment on bathrooms but unsurprisingly I went several times during this visit, availing myself of their very nice hand soap.

The waitress ushered another couple into the restaurant and invited them to sit at the table next to us. They nicely asked if they could be put at a more socially distant table. Everything was so counter-intuitive: normally restaurants want to sit you close together near a window to draw people in, but on this occasion they needed to dot us across the place, as far from each other as possible. And the staff at Osaka were so nice – too nice, really, asking pretty much every five minutes if we were still having a nice time. They, like so many people working in hospitality – a profession too many people take for granted – deserved better than the world we find ourselves in now.

My brother and I went for long walks last week while he was in the country. One day we strolled down the canal, past the Fisherman’s Cottage and out to the horseshoe bridge. The following day we wandered through Christchurch Meadows and up to Balmore Park. I’ve always thought it was Reading’s answer to Parliament Hill, and from the little bench you can see the Blade, Thames Tower, all of our town spread out in front of us. Everywhere was quieter than it had been but not as quiet as I thought it should be, but I knew that by being out I was part of the problem and not part of the solution. We headed back down Prospect Street and I saw Zezva inside Geo Café, still open and still serving the community, selling bread and eggs and jam.

The way Reading’s food and drink businesses have adapted is extraordinary. Restaurants have moved to takeaway and delivery, breweries have quickly set up web shops. On my birthday I received my Aeropress from Phil at Anonymous Coffee, and after years and years of sitting in cafés with lattes I now make myself a coffee every morning. The ritual of it is strangely calming and mindful, and the coffee tastes magnificent too. We’ve had deliveries from Double Barrelled, from Siren Craft, cider from Pang Valley: I don’t know whether it’s a lockdown or a lock in, half the time.

I’ve done my best to Tweet about all of the changes – just trying to do what I can – but the situation has changed so quickly that every day a business closes, or repurposes, or reopens. I hope that the measures that have been announced allow restaurants to keep staff on, to pay their rent, to stay afloat, but of course at this stage I doubt anybody really knows.

I really wanted to try dessert at Osaka when I saw that they did sesame ice cream. I quite liked it, but ideally I would have wanted it to be smaller and stronger flavoured: it felt like vanilla ice cream with a touch of sesame rather than sesame ice cream. It made me think wistfully about eating the same dish in Paris, which now makes me think wistfully about all the places suffering now and how none of us will get to travel for quite some time. Everyone who has booked holidays is mentally writing them off for the rest of the year. That includes me: Belfast will have to wait and sitting by the pool in Greece, wondering when to head down to town for lunch, is now just the happy place I think about when I’m trying to relax. (Zoë had cheesecake, by the way, which was small but perfectly formed.)

As Australia started to move towards lockdown, my brother desperately tried to move his flight forward and cut short his break so he could return to his wife and children. It wasn’t possible: he had to get a new flight. Then his new flight was cancelled at short notice and he had to get a second new flight, and then it turned out that he couldn’t take that flight because he would need a medical certificate to transit via Bangkok. And so finally he rescheduled his second new flight, at the eleventh hour, so he could get home. I found myself thinking about how upsetting it was to go through this without the people you love most.

Sitting in the airport he sent me a photo and I saw Heathrow as I’d never seen it before: almost deserted, the Pret and the Starbucks shut, people in masks dotted across the waiting areas, couples huddled together for comfort. My mother couldn’t get to sleep that night until she knew for sure that he was up in the air.

Since we went into lockdown, my house has acquired a different rhythm. My other half is working from home, so the living room is filled with the sound of her voice, checking in on her team, laughing and chatting, being authentically herself. I’m in charge of catering, so I’ve been pressed into service chopping and prepping, cooking and freezing, cobbling stuff together from the cupboards and improvising. A couple of days ago I cooked chicken thighs in ajika, my inadequate tribute to the magic of Geo Café’s legendary wraps. They came out better than I feared, and the kitchen had the faint whiff of Tbilisi all evening. Yesterday I cooked a huge chilli on the stove, the kitchen windows open and sunlight seeping in, my other half doing some of her calls in the sunshine on the doorstep.

I know it won’t always be like this, and I know I’m lucky to have a house, a home and a garden, so I’m trying to be grateful at the time rather than just look back later and realise things weren’t so bad. I know Reading, and every other place, has people struggling, cramped flats or houses full of kids who don’t understand why they can’t go outside. Getting to write about restaurants is by its nature a pretty privileged thing to do, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated it until now.

If I had been rating Osaka, which I’m not, I would have said that it was quite good but not amazing. I liked my meal more than Zoë did (often it’s the other way round), and I might have considered going back more quickly than she would. If I’d been rating Osaka this would have been a very different piece, and I would have told you how it was owned by the people who run Coconut. I would have told you how clever the design is, full of different types of tables for different kind of diners. I would have told you more about the lovely staff. And you would have had a mark at the bottom of this – but you’ve already scrolled down and seen that there isn’t one, haven’t you?

But really, this feels more like a review of restaurants in general, and of how we used to live. And the concept of restaurants is one I really would give 10 out of 10 to. Think about it: people giving up their time and their lives to feed us, to work evenings and weekends when most of us wouldn’t consider that. People creating our memories, of meals and evenings and times in our lives: forget Inception, restaurants have been doing this for years. Having someone cook for you feels pretty decadent right now, and I hope when we come out the other side of this that hospitality gets the respect and thanks it deserves. I hope that my favourite restaurants survive and that they come back stronger. I hope I get to play a part in helping that to happen. And yes, I know some people think these are first world problems but for people who run or work in restaurants, it’s a lot more than that. It’s their lives, and their livelihoods.

This morning I woke up to a photo from my brother. It was a plane window photograph showing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so murky that you couldn’t tell if it was deliberately black and white or just naturally greyscale. He made it home, and they checked his temperature on touchdown. Thirty-six degrees, so he was allowed to go home to his family rather than being quarantined in a hotel for a fortnight. I felt emotional reading the message, but these are strange times; everything is just that little bit closer to the surface.

The last time I took a break from reviewing restaurants was nearly four years ago. My wife and I separated and this blog, which started as a joint project, was no longer appropriate. I didn’t start reviewing again until my life returned to something like normal. I moved into a horrible flat, I hated it, I moved again into a lovely house, my decree absolute came through, I started dating and life, as it tends to, went on. Eventually, my world was in a state where I felt like I could do this again.

Now I’m taking a break for the simple reason that there aren’t any restaurants to review: I feel redundant in the true sense of the word. And I would keep writing, I really would, but I don’t quite know what to write about. All suggestions gratefully received, as long as they’re polite.

In the meantime, all I can sign off with is to thank you for reading, to tell you to stay safe, to remind you to stay in touch with the people that matter to you and to do everything you can to support the small businesses you love. I sincerely hope that on the far side of this we will all be kinder, more connected, less complacent and more aware of what’s really important. And when this is over, if Osaka is trading again, it will be the first place I visit on duty. They deserve a better review than this.

The Hero Of Maida, Maida Vale

Despite the name, over six and a half years I’ve reviewed lots of restaurants which aren’t in Reading. To paraphrase David Brent, my world doesn’t end with these four walls. When I’m finished with Reading, there’s Henley, Windsor, Wokingham. You know. Newbury. Goring. Because I am my own boss.

Bracknell.

But I’ve always steered clear of reviewing London restaurants. I suppose part of that is analysis paralysis: how would you even go about picking which restaurants to visit? There are hundreds of London restaurant bloggers (not to mention influencers) swarming around all the hottest new restaurants, all the must-visit openings, so it’s hard to imagine anybody would be interested in my (provincial) opinion. And how useful would it be to my regular readers? You might be in London from time to time, but how likely would you be to go out of your way to try somewhere on my say-so? That’s why I’ve always stayed in my lane, remaining local with the occasional foray further afield on the train.

So what changed? Well, recently one of the restaurant bloggers I read wrote a review of a little Malaysian restaurant just round the corner from Paddington Station. It did what, in an ideal world, all restaurant reviews would do: it made me feel like checking the place out. After all, I’m in London reasonably often, I nearly always come home via Paddington and having decent food options to explore while I wait for an off peak train would be a very welcome development. I Retweeted the review, plenty of people showed an interest and at that point I decided: there would be no harm in adding the occasional review of venues in and around Paddington, to help out if you are in London and want to try out a good restaurant before coming home.

I picked Maida Vale for my first London review because that area has always been one of my favourite parts of the city. You leave Paddington by the exit that takes you right out onto the Grand Union Canal, turn left and meander past all the boats and the offices of Paddington Basin, the fancy gleaming bars and restaurants that have sprung up to cater for all those workers. Cross one of the pretty bridges you come to and you’re in Little Venice, ten minutes’ walk or a single Tube stop from Paddington but a world away in all important respects.

It’s loveliest in summer, but at any time it’s a house envy-inducing stroll. The Warwick Castle, tucked away on a sidestreet, is a lovely mews pub and not far from there is the equally gorgeous Formosa Street with the Prince Alfred, a cracking public house with little booths where you have to duck under a low door to pass from one to the next. If I didn’t have such a magnificent local already, I might well spend my days wishing it was mine.

The Hero Of Maida is just a little further out, on the border between Little Venice and Maida Vale, and in a previous incarnation it used to be called the Truscott Arms. I had a friend who worked in London and I used to go down after work on a Friday afternoon to meet her for a boozy dinner in that neck of the woods. We’d always stop for one last snifter at the Truscott Arms – it closed later than other establishments – before weaving back to the station and drunkenly going our separate ways, me on the Burger King Express back to Reading and her on a terrifying-sounding night bus to Tooting.

I was sad when the Truscott Arms closed but when I heard it had reopened as the Hero Of Maida under the supervision of Henry Harris (of legendary Knightsbridge restaurant Racine) offering a take on classic French cooking, I made a mental note to visit one day. So on a sunny weekday lunchtime my friend John and I paid it a visit, to finally break my London reviewing duck.

It’s a very handsome, light, airy room that instantly draws you in – tasteful muted tones, an attractive wooden floor, gorgeous tiles and a long, curving zinc bar. There’s a separate restaurant area upstairs (open in the evenings but not at lunchtime) but I didn’t feel I was missing out. Lovely tables, too, with button-backed banquettes looking out. It was quiet when we turned up, with a solitary customer plugged in and tapping away on his computer. We sat at the front by the windows, making the most of the afternoon light, although I did wish after a while that we’d grabbed a banquette. On the plus side it means my photographs are better than usual, but the drawback was that poor John was caught in a direct shaft of sun for some of the meal and had to keep shuffling his chair to one side.

The menu changes regularly and on the day we visited it was compact and appealing – just five starters, four mains and a sharing dish (pie for two, an offer I always find hard to refuse). A blackboard behind the bar offered a few other dishes, and although they were listed as bar food they seemed equally restauranty to me. Crucially, one was the same pie in an individual portion: a great relief, because it meant I didn’t have to implore John to change his mind. On another day I would have gone for another special: crispy lamb breast with salsa verde, six almost unimprovable words. “It’s National Pie Week”, our waiter told me, and in the end that made my decision for me.

There was a good selection of beers and we were slightly early for our booking so we started with a pint. My Notting Helles was pleasant enough, if not the most imaginative choice, but John enthused about his pint of Peckham Rye, a very nice-looking amber ale. Later I wished I’d gone for the coffee stout by Magic Rock, but we’d moved on to wine by then. It was a pretty decent wine list too, with plenty available by the carafe, but we settled on a chardonnay from the Languedoc which came in at just over thirty pounds for a bottle. It sounds odd to praise a wine based on all the things it wasn’t, but at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks it somehow seemed appropriate: not too dry, not too sweet, not too oaky, not too expensive. The list said it was a good alternative to a white Burgundy, and I thought that was spot on.

I’d been sorely tempted by the steak tartare, but with a pie on the way I decided to balance light and shade a bit by choosing a more delicate starter. Ibériko tomatoes with burrata felt more a test of sourcing than cooking, but even so I really enjoyed it.

The tomatoes weren’t as good as ones I’d rhapsodised over in Spain but they were close enough, with plenty of freshness and a judicious spot of salt. The burrata felt more like mozzarella to me – completely firm in the middle without any of the glorious creamy messiness of a good burrata – but that struck me rather than irked me. The salsa verde brought it all together, as did some greenery which wasn’t listed and which I didn’t recognise. It had a slightly vinegary bite but I couldn’t place what it was – not samphire, not salty fingers, not (I think) monk’s beard, but a perfect match in any event. Winning enough to overcome a couple of slight missteps: a dish, in many ways, emblematic of the whole meal.

John had chosen grilled mackerel with ‘nduja which, again, is a combination that sat up and begged to be chosen. I thought it looked fantastic, with a generous whack of the fiery, brick-red good stuff. John liked it, but not without reservations.

“I like the skin to be crispy, and this is a bit, well, flaccid. Flaccid is never a good word, is it?”

“No, it’s like damp. ‘Moist’ can be a good thing, but ‘damp’ never is.”

“There’s always ‘wipe down with a damp cloth’, I suppose” said John, equably. “Something else about this dish isn’t quite right. This stuff.”

That’s how we discovered that John, like me, is not a fan of radicchio – although, as a man who gets a vegetable box weekly, he’s very fortunate to only just be figuring that out. I understood though – again, the radicchio wasn’t mentioned on the menu and it did slightly skew the dish. I didn’t get to taste it, but from the look of the plate, also strewn with wild garlic and capers, I think I would have enjoyed it. John did find a few sizeable bones which had escaped the filleting process, though, another glitch that rankled.

John was properly delighted with his main course, though. Guinea fowl came two ways, with a hefty piece of the breast and a gorgeous-looking thigh complete with crispy skin. It was all on top of some silky celeriac puree, along with a big, coarse wedge of smoked Morteau sausage – we Googled it to make sure it was nothing like andouillette – and, apparently, “tropea onion”.

“This is lovely. I’m usually more of a starters man and main courses can feel like a bit of a let-down, so it’s a real pleasure to get such a good main course. And it’s a really big portion of guinea fowl, I wasn’t expecting that.”

I thought that was a good point – this didn’t feel like a little, cheffy plate assembled with tweezers but a proper, hearty dish put together with the diner firmly in mind. Good value at nineteen pounds, too.

My pie was, as so often, more a casserole wearing a hat and the pastry lacked the indulgence of a good suet crust. But underneath, you hit paydirt: a sticky tangle of slow-cooked lamb shoulder and a rich, savoury sauce, punctuated by coarsely chopped garlic and carrot. The greens that came with it were nice enough taken for a swim in the pie filling, but hardly the feature attraction. The whole thing was delicious but it just didn’t feel as much like a proper pie as I’d hoped; it was best described as high-ceilinged, with plenty of breathing space between the filling and the crust.

Many of these niggles were redeemed by the Hero Of Maida’s chips, which were as good as any I’ve had – huge, ragged-edged things, all crunch and fluff. I was initially dubious because they came skin-on, but even that didn’t detract. They were four pounds a portion, and I was relieved that John and I had the foresight (or greed) to order one each. I used mine to absorb every last molecule of the sauce left in my pie dish.

The dessert menu was also compact – just the four options – but we were on a roll and had no intention of letting that stop us. The list of dessert wines was equally streamlined, but we found a Coteaux de L’Aubance on it which was stunning, the colour of late summer afternoons with a clean, poised sweetness. The first sip was one of those little heavenly moments you want to remember for ages: our food so far had been lovely, the only plans for the rest of the day were a bimble from pub to pub talking about all sorts and, in my mind, I was an honorary resident of Maida Vale already.

Desserts were inconsistent in the same way as the starters, but the kitchen had garnered enough brownie points by then to earn some latitude. So for instance, my lemon posset was all out of kilter: far too big, and too cloying without the sharpness it badly needed to cut through. Instead, it felt like a big bowl of something very close to clotted cream and the crumbled amaretti biscuits all over it didn’t do enough to counteract that. It wasn’t what I ordered, or what I really wanted, but on the other hand there are worse things to do in life than eat a large bowl of clotted cream and, when push came to shove, I found I didn’t mind at all.

John’s rhubarb and custard pavlova sounded terrific on paper but again, wasn’t quite there. The rhubarb, John said, was delicious and he really enjoyed the hazelnut praline which played an equally starring role. “But this meringue”, he said, “I hate to say this but it feels shop-bought.” I saw him struggle to break it up and it seemed to be lacking any of the chewiness which would have made the dish perfect. Even so, I looked at his dessert and thought that I would gladly have ordered it myself.

Service, from one chap who seemed to be doing everything that lunchtime, was friendly without being faux-matey, knowledgeable and happy to talk about the dishes and offer recommendations. Again, it might be that if you came to the Hero Of Maida of an evening or on a busy Sunday lunchtime you might have a different experience, but I thought we were really well looked after. Three courses, a couple of pints, a bottle of white wine and two glasses of dessert wine came to just over a hundred and fifty pounds, including that old chestnut the “optional” twelve and a half per cent service charge. You could eat here for less, but I thought it was decent value.

You’ll have read all of this and you’ll already have an idea about whether the Hero Of Maida is the kind of place for you. You might think it’s ever so slightly too far from Paddington or a little too expensive, but I really enjoyed the place. And to save you the effort of questioning my verdict, I’ve already asked myself: was I being charitable because I was having such a nice afternoon? Was I letting the restaurant off the hook when, closer to home, I might have been harsher?

I don’t know. It’s possible. Maybe I was looking at the world through dessert wine-tinted glasses but if so, all I can say is that I thoroughly recommend doing so. Next time you’re in London and you’re on an off-peak ticket you could do a lot worse than booking the Hero Of Maida, especially when summer comes, and crossing the canal to treat yourself to something different before riding the rails back to Gare du ‘Ding. Make sure you get some chips: you’ll thank me for it.

The Hero Of Maida – 7.5
55 Shirland Road, London, W9 2JD
020 39609109

https://theheromaidavale.co.uk