Author Archive

It’s cold out there…

March 1, 2018 1 comment

For every person you will see bundled up in a doorway or lying outside a shop on your way home this evening, how many others are hidden away out of sight? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

A smile, some change, a hot tea, a sandwich… They all make a little difference – but nowhere near enough. Especially not in this weather. If you feel any kind of way about rough sleeping (read: devastated and powerless) I suggest that you look up, download, and use StreetLink.

If you’re a cynic like me and often wonder if the “good” companies and charities you support are doing more harm than good (or simply nothing at all), or if the “good” actions you choose to undertake are ultimately meaningless and inconsequential… Watch the video below. This isn’t one of those instances.

“One day I was just sitting down and someone approached me from an outreach team; asked me how long I had been homeless, asked me about myself, and they referred me to a night shelter. It wasn’t until about three or four months later that I found out that someone had actually referred me from StreetLink… If I hadn’t been referred to StreetLink by a member of the public, I’m pretty sure I would still be homeless at this point in time.”


Creating a StreetLink alert through the app takes about 3 minutes – please use it, and provide as much detail as possible. You can also refer someone through the website or call the team on 0300 500 0914.

Find them on Twitter: @Tell_StreetLink


Categories: Uncategorized

Food ramble

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

A framble?

Loyal readers* will remember this excerpt from my article on November 17:

Usually when I go out to eat, I want to:

  • Order a bunch of plates to share
  • Get my hands dirty
  • Sweat profusely from the spice
  • Not feel out of place in trainers
  • Talk at length about the meal
  • Drink quite a lot, affordably

I also gave a short list of eateries that cater (sorry) to my simple needs and provide delicious, delicious food. Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express is now on that list.

The first thing I learned about Asma was that on the restaurant’s launch night, she fed 300 vulnerable local people rather than “round-bottomed food critics” such as Grace Dent – Dent’s own words, not mine. Was it a good PR move? Well, yes. Was it also a kind and generous gesture with real benefit to the recipients, and a genuine reflection of Asma’s giving nature, despite the former cynical observation? Also yes.

I turned a year older on the weekend and I think I’m becoming soft. Shite.

We managed to get a lunchtime reservation on a second try. Our first attempt was a fruitless, foolish same-day request, but Asma encouraged my mother to message her directly on Instagram with a new date. And so she did. When the day finally came around, I walked in to find mum laughing and nattering away to Asma herself. Though they had just met, they conversed with the ease, warmth, and familiarity of old friends. Watching Asma chatting to her staff and making rounds of the restaurant, it’s clear that she that she just has that effect on people.

Here are just some of the ways that people have described Asma in interviews and reviews:

  • Unreservedly authentic
  • Formidably intelligent
  • Gregarious
  • Intensely curious
  • Enthusiastic
  • A force of nature
  • Funny
  • Philanthropic
  • Unstoppable

An enviable list of accolades. The praise for her recipes and cooking is equally impressive and rounded.

According to their website, the menu at Darjeeling Express changes every 8 weeks “to reflect the seasonality of vegetables from our organic British producers.” I’m a serious carnivore, although I sometimes have a niggling doubt… And that doubtful part of me should probably point out that as of this month, the restaurant offers a Meat-Free Monday menu.

We went on a Saturday.

As starters, we chose:

  • Tangra chilli prawns – Calcutta is the only city in India with a Chinatown (Tangra) & these prawns are infused with all the Indo-Chinese flavours of the region
  • Mutton shikampuri kabab – Aromatic spiced & minced mutton cakes stuffed with a thin layer of hung yoghurt & chopped mint leaves
  • Vegetarian puchkas – Wheat & semolina shells filled with spiced black chickpeas, potatoes & tamarind water

Our selection of mains comprised:

  • Makhana paneer – Indian cheese in a creamy nut base gravy with peanuts, lotus seeds & almonds
  • Venison kofta – Venison meatballs cooked with shikar masala (hunting spices) & served in a creamy tomato & chili sauce
  • Goat kosha mangsho – Slow cooked Bengali goat curry with the occasional potato

Accompanied by a few sides…

  • Hyderabadi tamarind dal – Tangy lentils tempered with dried red chillies & curry leaves
  • Puris – Fried bread
  • Brown basmati rice – Wild rice cooked with onions & cardamom

And as there’s always room for dessert (in the Pegley family at least):

  • Bhapa doi – Benghali steamed yoghurt dessert
  • Gajjar ka halwa – Carrot halwa, garnished with pistachios & served with cream

I couldn’t choose a favourite. The old man thought the prawns were a narrow winner – but for a while, he struggled to answer. For me, the most impressive part of the experience was that the dishes were consistently fantastic – which is so rare. I had a similar experience at Gunpowder (Liverpool Street) – an evening that turned out to be costly, but worth it. We ordered round after round of small plates, and each one seemed to deliver more flavour than the last.

Here’s some relatively crap photos of a modest selection of the mind-blowingly delicious dishes we ordered at Gunpowder (totalling about nine or ten):

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Photo credit: my hot date

Whereas Gunpowder was an intense, explosive, exciting evening experience with a long wait, quite a lot of booze before and during the meal, not that much light, and very few, relatively small tables (we bumped knees, sat elbow to elbow with our fellow diners, and knocked over our beer cans – not just because of the content within), walking into the light-filled Darjeeling Express on the top floor of Kingly Court in Soho was wildly different – especially given that we went in the daytime. There was room to breathe and talk and reflect on the food properly, and although we had a time limit on our reservation, we didn’t feel rushed. The experience seemed to reflect Asma’s whole MO. “My clients come to eat, and they stay,” she remarked to us – a fact which can make life at Darjeeling Express very hectic when they have tight reservation schedules.

But onto the food.

The prawns were… Prawny. I mean this in a good way. Each one was juicy and firm. They were drenched in flavour, but the gentle taste of the prawn itself was still very much present in every mouthful. This doesn’t always happen in restaurants. Although it may look like a prawn, act like a prawn, and come prepared as a prawn ‘should’, the lack of flavour and succulence can sometimes make me question if it is actually a prawn, or just a miscellaneous semi-chewy thing. The prawns (OK – last time) were accompanied by a single, dark, dried chilli. We split it between the three of us. Boring people gawp at me when I eat, and tell me it’s a miracle that I can taste anything at all given how much spicy stuff I pile on to everything – to which I roll my eyes. Naturally, I didn’t think a third of a dried chilli would be enough. It was. The flavour was smoky, almost burnt – and it was hot. Probably too hot for most people – but perhaps I’m underestimating the general British public (forgive me if my expectations are low #brexit).

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Tangra chilli prawns. Photo credit:

The mutton shikampuri kabab made me “Mmmmm…” instinctively on the first bite.  Although the phrase ‘mutton cake’ didn’t necessarily  conjure up associations of fresh flavours and a light texture when I read it on the menu, the reality delivered. The little patties were presented simply and invitingly. Each mouthful was meaty, fragrant and fresh all at once – helped by the chopped mint. The light consistency combined with the intense but gentle seasoning had me reeling. And the puchkas had the same effect. The array of flavours and textures and worked perfectly: the crunch of the thin but sturdy shell, the warmth of the spices in the soft potato and chickpea mix nestled inside, and the refreshingly cold and zesty tamarind water. The second puchka retained its crunch even though I took too long between pouring in the tamarind water and popping the whole thing into my mouth, on account of still using my jaw to rave about the first one. Puchkas may be a common snack in India, but this part of the starter was a novelty for all three of us.

Asma cleared our plates, and returned our beaming smiles.

The mains arrived promptly. (By the way, if you’re waiting for a punchline during which I reveal the ‘but’ of the whole experience – it’s not coming. Seriously). There was a distinctive flavour to the meat itself in both the goat and venison dishes. And the accompanying sauces were each unforgettable. Some of the spice combinations warmed both my belly and my heart – the goat kosha mangsho (pictured below, in the middle) tasted remarkably similar to certain preparations of Indonesian rendang (a favourite of mine, especially when cooked by my mum). But the seasoning was blended in such a way that no one spice or flavour was so overwhelming or dominant that I could have picked it out for identification (not that I am an expert in the flavours of the royal Mughlai and Nawabi school of cuisine of Asma’s ancestry, nor the street food flavours of Calcutta where she was born and raised. Maybe one day).


The main course

I’ll move on to the paneer dish (pictured above, bottom left), which may have been my favourite after all. The cheese itself was smooth but definitely had some body – an intriguing and luxurious combination which, when combined with the rich flavours of the sauce, made it near impossible to stop spooning onto my plate. I tend to order some variation of paneer when I go out for Indian food (which isn’t infrequently) – but I’ve never had it like this, not even on a trip to Kerala in December. Paneer has a gentle taste and is used as a vehicle for other flavours – much like some preparations of tofu in Indonesian cooking. The chunks in this instance were a good size – not so small that they got lost in the thick sauce, and not so big that they dominated the dish or left behind that intense flavour. When the bowl arrived at the table it didn’t strike me as particularly large, but it turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. The dal existed as a gentle, warming, and fragrant accompaniment to all of the plates, and there was plenty leftover which we mopped up with the remaining rice and puri.

Wow. I need to get back to work.

Writing or speaking, brevity has never been my forte. But it would be a shame to get this far and not mention the delicious puddings… So I’ll leave a photo below and sign off. But before I go: please do support the restaurant. Besides the food, Asma is an incredible – and incredibly fascinating – individual, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. To learn more about her and keep up with the restaurant’s news, visit the Darjeeling Express blog. There, you’ll find out the reasons that the restaurant’s kitchen team is made up exclusively of women – none of whom has ever been professionally trained. You can also jump to these stories here or here.


Pudding. Left: bhapa doiBenghali steamed yoghurt dessert, and right: gajjar ka halwa – Carrot halwa, garnished with pistachios and served with cream

If anyone from an exciting food brand happens to be reading this (and has actually managed to get this far without keeling over), do get in touch to say hello. And if your brand isn’t exciting – well, maybe we can help you with that. We have some big and wonderful clients at the moment, but none of their products are edible (believe me I’ve tried). And that is a shame.


*Thanks to every single one of you that exists in my head

Categories: Uncategorized

Nice and normal food

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Monday, Neil asked me to curate a shortlist of restaurants for our Christmas meal. I still haven’t done it. Given that we’re based in London, this obviously isn’t due to a lack of choice – quite the opposite. And it certainly isn’t due to any organisational incompetence on my part…

I take food very seriously. My mother is Indonesian, and grew up there. She also lived in Italy with my (English) father for a period before moving to the UK. Now, she joyfully and successfully runs a catering business out of her little kitchen in Haslemere fusing the two cuisines, cooking for any number between 40 and 400 people at a time. Garlic, onion, lime, ginger, lemongrass, and chillies are the fresh ingredients I’ve learned to always have in the kitchen. And a very well-stacked spice cupboard.

I love preparing, eating, discussing, learning about, and sharing food. The spicier the better. And it’s hardly a secret that everyone at Breakfast shares my interest in gastronomy. At least in the eating part. But I’m struggling to put together suggestions for our dinner, because I’m being utterly pathetic and slow recommendations reflect the person giving them. So naturally, mine must be dazzling

Usually when I go out to eat, I want to:

  • Order a bunch of plates to share
  • Get my hands dirty
  • Sweat profusely from the spice
  • Not feel out of place in trainers
  • Talk at length about the meal
  • Drink quite a lot, affordably

…with people who aren’t afraid to do the same.

Some very good restaurants I’ve been to recently in London which have met most, if not all of these requirements:

  • Gunpowder
  • Smoking Goat
  • Kilis Kitchen
  • Honey & Co
  • Dishoom
  • Mangal Ocakbasi
  • Ember Yard

As for nice and normal establishments appropriate for a work Christmas dinner, however, I’m stumped. That’s not to say that the restaurants listed above aren’t nice, normal, or festive, just perhaps not in the traditional sense (whatever that means). And however familiar I’ve become with everyone at Breakfast over the past few months, I assume it’s not very professional to stick my fork and fingers frenziedly into other people’s plates (even if I were to courteously sling my dish across the table at them in return).

Watch this space.





Categories: Uncategorized

A short-lived friendship

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last year, I met a girl. I told her I was moving to Barcelona soon for a new role, at which she clasped her hands in delight and started gushing about the city – as people often do. She recommended a tapas spot – an old favourite of hers. As she described it, I became increasingly excited… And hungry. She spoke highly of the atmosphere, the price, the location, and most importantly, the food. So a few weeks later, and a mere few hours into my new life, I trotted faithfully down to the address she’d given, anticipating messaging her many emojis of thanks after the meal.

That never happened.

I found myself in a sticky, icky sports bar blasting utterly shite music. Outside, the evening sun was still gently bathing the characterful winding backstreets of Barcelona in a warm glow. Inside these walls it was dark and disgusting. The place was crawling with big, burly English men with mean eyes and swollen faces. They messily slurped up jarras of beer with slobbery, dog-like tongues, and made loud, grunting man-noises whilst shovelling handfuls of chips into their gaping gob holes. Their stinky, sweaty, steroid-infused upper bodies were adorned with such skimpy string vests that I don’t know why they bothered with them at all, given how much skin was on show.

Now, I wasn’t taken by the display of skin but rather the skin itself. It was remarkable! Nearly every man in there was imbued with the same dazzling shade of magenta from head to toe. I’ll never forget it: the sun blisters as crispy-looking as pork crackling; the bold punctuation of large, tender swathes of pink by poorly executed tribal tattoos; the aggressive cuts and bruises; the glistening sheen of perspiration. And the pink! Did I mention the pink?!

Remarkable, as I said.

It takes quite a lot to faze me, especially when I’m in an establishment that serves food. So I sat down. As I looked around I tried to remind myself that I’ve both eaten at and recommended incredible restaurants that are dirty-looking, noisy, cramped, hectic, uncomfortable – and the rest. Not everyone’s cup of tea – although I never mind it. As long as the food is great.  And the food that I recommend usually is.

It is never unseasoned. Nor bland. Nor lukewarm. Nor off. The food is never of such a catastrophically low standard as the sad, soggy pintxos presented to me here. As I drew the first one to my mouth, a strange thing happened. Em sap greuuu!* I heard. I looked around. There was nobody in particularly close proximity, and the music was far too loud for me to have been able to hear anyone at the next table. I stared at the pintxo in disbelief. And then shoved it in my mouth. As I forced myself to chew and swallow the thoroughly underwhelming combination of ingredients, I generously wondered if it was the less than pleasing setting throwing me off. And I was starving. So I selected a second pintxo from the platter, and braced myself for another go. I picked it up, closed my eyes, brought it slowly to my mouth, and heard the little wail again: eem saap greeeuuuuuu!!!!!!

As I said, it takes a lot to faze me. Even talking food. So I popped it in. Chewed for a split second… Spat it out in a napkin, and left.

I haven’t spoken to that girl since.

Which leads me to my next blog post…




*Em sap greu = Catalan for “I’m sorry”

Categories: Uncategorized

On emojis

November 3, 2017 1 comment

I love emojis. I use them on a daily – if not hourly – basis in messages to my friends. My two current favourites, which I use interchangeably and sometimes simultaneously, are the clown and the devil. I tend to drop them in after typing something particularly facetious, annoying, sarcastic, self-deprecating, depressing, or passive aggressive, which I am wont to do – always with a touch of humour, of course. (The fact that I still have friends at which to bombard emojis remains a mystery).


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I like the ambiguity. Am I angry? Am I joking? Am I Satan himself? Am I so perplexed by the staggering abundance of words available to me in the English language that I have to resort to icons to express my (apparently largely negative) feelings? Before I get carried away, let me be clear: I’m not trying to undermine the power of emojis. They add nuance and weight to words on a screen in the same way that body language, intonations, and facial expressions help us to understand and communicate with other people in real life. But digital icons and physical gestures alike can be misused, misplaced, misleading, misinterpreted… And misfired. An over-enthusiastic hand gesture during a pitch can lead to a black eye on a pissed off client, as opposed to the start of a fruitful business relationship. And in the same way (…sort of), over-zealous emoji use by brands can do much more harm than good.

According to the “frequently used” tab on my keyboard, among my other favourites are the eye rolling face, the crying with laughter face, the streaming with tears face, and the shrugging girl. Incidentally, the four stages of emotion I go through when I see brands I like deploying infuriatingly infantile emojis in their online communications are: exasperated, tickled, distressed, and ambivalent. Or: ugh!, ha!, wah!, meh…

In other words, I find it incredibly annoying when the emoji seems to serve no purpose at all other than to “illustrate” the post, just as an over-enthusiastic and under-skilled child might lovingly “illustrate” a Mother’s Day card with slobber and dead insects (I never did that). Emojis look plain naff when they’re used by brands in the wrong context. When this is the case, it probably means that they’ve only been included to drive engagement. I don’t care if your 200-page social media manual or £2000/day social media consultant told you that using emojis will earn you more likes, shares, and follows (a large chunk of which will probably not be human, let alone genuinely interested and invested ones). Sometimes, they are just wrong.

After the initial eye roll, I then have a little chuckle to myself: “Heh. Which prat got paid to write this?!” Shortly after the chuckle subsides, a warm, bulbous tear begins to swell in the corner of my eye and quivers tentatively on the precipice of my eyelid, eventually crashing violently down my cheek as I thrust my gaze to the heavens in despair. Alas, the prat in question does actually exist and did actually get paid to click on that emoji – and don’t get me started on the prat who signed off on it. Then, I shrug my shoulders and thank the powers that be that I work with equally cynical (let’s stick with that adjective) people who also get twitchy when interesting and credible brands (worse yet, the opposite) self-destruct at the hands of their clueless social media managers.

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BTW, for those of you who have been so consumed by our new global language that you literally need the four emojis in question to understand what I’m saying (or you got so bored of my moaning that you need a summary of my feelings on the day of writing), here:

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Why am I bothering to type out so many versions of the same idea when I could have just copied and pasted those emojis at the top of the page and had the job done in under a minute? Isn’t it just such a waste of time, using our brains, sharing our thoughts, developing our writing and communication skills, and finding new and interesting ways to express ourselves?!

Perhaps in this case it is, considering the fact that this blog, according to its creator and main contributor (who also happens to be my boss), gets an average of three clicks per post and thirteen visitors annually… Although his writing is worth at least double that.

Oh well.


Categories: Uncategorized