My London: Grace Dent

·3-min read
Illustration by Lee Martin  (ES Magazine)
Illustration by Lee Martin (ES Magazine)

Home is…

Leyton for 15 years. I live ostensibly on my own because my partner, Charlie, and I have separate homes, however the reality is he’s in my bloody house most of the time, making a mess, eating food from my fridge and being looked after.

Where was your first flat?

I came to London from Scotland where I did my degree and I found a flat in Bounds Green. The hallway was so rotten that one day I came home from work and fell through the floorboard — I had one leg dangling into the cellar. I managed to get myself out and I rang the landlord. He came round and offered me a box of Stella as consolation and I took it because I was 23.

Favourite shops?

On a day off, Charlie and I will always pop into the Algerian Coffee Stores on Old Compton Street and if I’m passing Fortnum & Mason, downstairs they have an incredible honey section. Waitrose in Beckenham has a really good kosher section; I don’t know why particularly in Beckenham. I go to Yardarm in Leyton, which is a deli and a wine shop — I did my WSET course there to learn how to taste wine. And I swear by the spice place in Borough Market, although I find it a bit overwhelming on a Saturday.

Most memorable meal?

If I had to go back in time, I once went to Mirabelle with Piers Morgan years ago when Marco Pierre White had it and it was one of my first experiences of celebrity London. I remember Salman Rushdie bowled up during dinner but I can’t remember a single thing that I ate.

Most iconic Londoner?

That man who spent more than a decade outside Nike and Topshop shouting, ‘If you believe in Jesus it’s like every day of your life is booking into a five star luxury hotel!’ I saw him every day for 15 years and so did every single person who came to London.

Where do you go to let your hair down?

My happiest times with my friends are in literally any old Pizza Express. It doesn’t matter if one of the other customers says, ‘Do you know that girl is on MasterChef?’, the waiters will just shrug and go, ‘I don’t care, I’m serving 27 pizzas at the moment.’

What is your earliest ES memory?

I would be nothing without ES Magazine. I read it from when I first got to London in the Nineties and used to send work in dying to get printed. When ES asked me in 2011 whether I would care to cover for the restaurant column for a few weeks, it was one of the greatest emails I’ve had. I said all kinds of awful things about people that made it difficult for me to be able to go back to any restaurant. We ruffled a lot of feathers but it was fantastic. It changed the course of my life.

What’s your London secret?

I cry at buskers. It’s very frustrating, I don’t cry for six months at a time when really important things are happening and I should cry. I’m very stoic, very stiff-lipped. Then someone at Baker Street will be singing ‘With or Without You’ by U2 with a guitar and it just gets me every time.

Your professional hero?

Ainsley Harriott because I have known of him since I was a little girl. Yes, he is silly and very much what people expect, but he is also wise and clever and he’s been in the public eye for 30 years, so he’s really good at handling all the ramifications of showbusiness. And he is an excellent chef. We’ve been on the road and it’s been six weeks of him helping me how to master chopping things. He’s just taken my cooking to a new level.

‘Best of Britain by the Sea’ is available on All 4. The third season of Grace Dent’s podcast,‘Comfort Eating’, is out now

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