Neil often has me oohing with envy when he shares the details of his latest press trip. Even worse when he tweets photos of his borrowed Bentley by the Great Wall of China or the latest American road trip featuring lobster or real deal barbeque meat. In addition, Neil (and his wife Mrs Dine Hard) are our allotment neighbours, so it’s lovely to spend time with them there. Let’s be honest though, it’s Mr Kavey Eats and Mrs Dine Hard that do most of the hard work…
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
My name is Neil Davey and I’m a freelance journalist. I blog as “The Lambshank Redemption” because originally I’d intended to cover both film and food. My break in journalism came through reviewing films, but it was the food side that I came to enjoy more, hence the original plan was to combine the two with a “night out” – a restaurant review and a film – and a “night in” – a recipe and a DVD review.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
When it came to the name, it was always likely to be a film and food pun. Funnily enough, The Lambshank Redemption was my second choice as I much preferred Dine Hard, but someone had already registered that and, annoyingly, never done anything with it. Still, I managed to snap that up for my Twitter handle instead, which is good because it’s much shorter and easier to remember than “LambshankRdmptn”. Bite Club was also kicked around for a while…
I started the blog at the suggestion of William Leigh. I was between editorial jobs and keen to boost my name as a food writer, and the blog seemed a good way to try and do that.
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?
It’s probably a combination of my mother and my grandmother. My mum, sister and I used to make a great date cake – a recipe I really must dig out soon – in school holidays and my grandmother was also a great baker: because of her I will never turn down a rock cake. The other things I always associate with her and my granddad – aside from fond memories of a sweet tin containing neat, uniform slices of Mars Bar – are pickled cucumber and onion, and bowls of stewed fruit. I think much of that sprang from WWII-inspired frugality. The first thing my granddad did when they moved closer to us in 1981 was to find the local greengrocer and persuade them to sell him all the battered and bruised stuff that other people didn’t want. He’d often return, proudly clutching a bag of grim looking fruit and vegetables that had cost him a few pence, and within minutes, they’d have transformed it into elegantly sliced simple pickles or a big bowl of stewed apple or plums or whatever, that would become breakfast or dessert for the next few days. More often than not, we still do the same, the only difference being much of our pickled / stewed / transformed produce is home grown.
What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?
The influences come from all over these days. In the course of the job, I’m very lucky to travel the world, usually to eat or hang out with chefs, and often pick up a technique or an ingredient (or a chilli sauce!) on these trips. I don’t think there’s a single particular influence, although until recently, I was very focused on BBQ for a piece I was compiling for delicious. magazine. In all cases though, I do err on the side of spicy…
Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!
The most recent one involved my first attempts at Syrian food, from a book I’m supposed to review called Almond Bar. The potato salad – with loads of lemon juice, paprika, tomatoes etc – was utterly delicious. Just as well really, as the falafel came out incredibly salty and the rosewater ice cream… For the falafel I’m pointing the finger at a typo: the recipe calls for a tablespoon of salt and, based on my second, actually edible attempt, I think that should read teaspoon. The rosewater ice cream though, I’ll throw my hands up and take a fair chunk of the blame. I’d never used rosewater before and didn’t realise quite how much the concentration varies between different manufacturers. I also just tipped the entire bottle in without tasting as I went… the result was a litre-and-a-bit of bright pink, insanely bitter custard that went straight down the plughole.
Which food or ingredients could you not live without?
At the moment, with the sunshine doing brilliant things in the polytunnel, it’s tomatoes. A good tomato sandwich – bread toasted on one side, lashings of mayo, loads of salt and black pepper – is one of the joys of life. I couldn’t live without chillies either, either whole, dried or in sauce form. And mashed potato… as a kid, it was about the only thing I ate and it’s still my favourite, comforting form of spud.
Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?
If I ever think my mojo has gone missing, I tend to re-read Anthony Bourdain. I’m loathe to use the word “passion” when it comes to food – I hear Giles’s voice asking if I’d be willing to be nailed to a cross for it – but in this case I think you have to as Bourdain’s enthusiasm is palpable. I also re-read Jeffrey Steingarten on a regular basis, as I adore his commitment to the tasks at hand and his essay on salt should be essential reading for everyone with an overbearing health freak in their life. Recipe wise, I’d be lost without Madhur Jaffrey and Delia for many basics but meander through the rest of the collection on a regular basis, sometimes for an exact recipe, but more frequently for a little inspiration. I also still have vague plans to do the Julie & Julia thing and spend a year going through Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book or Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking.
If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?
These days when we entertain it’s all about the advance prep. Back in the day, I’d happily do all sorts of elaborate stuff but that meant never seeing guests and spending every hour in the kitchen. These days I quite often sous vide meat hours in advance, so that can be finished off in a pan or in the oven: I’ve had particular success with steaks marinaded in a ssam jang sauce recipe I got from Judy Joo. So you’d probably get something really straightforward – soup, bangers and mash, apple crumble and custard – or a big Korean feast, with lots of meat, lettuce wraps and fermented side dishes. In all cases though, as a former Neal’s Yard Dairy employee, there’s going to be a killer cheeseboard. That’s a given.
What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?
I LOVE my Global knives. I think you can do without much kitchen equipment, but a good knife is an absolute essential. That and a really good pan. The Le Creuset sauté pan I got sent recently is a cracker. The non-stick is excellent, so it washes up like a dream, and because it’s a sauté pan, the sides are that bit higher so I often pull that out instead of a saucepan.
What’s your kitchen white elephant?
Good question… I know I don’t use the Kenwood Cooking Chef as much as it deserves, although the grinder element of it does get a daily work out around coffee time. There’s an air fryer I got sent ages ago which hasn’t been plugged in for over a year now, so that’s probably the one.
Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?
Not at all. I like all sorts of cuisines.
Which single dish could you not live without?
I’m not sure there is one although if I hit a proper old school pub anywhere and they’ve got ham, egg and chips on the menu, well, that’s my decision sorted.
How do you decide where to visit next?
A lot of what I do has a work element, so often the requirements of a commission dictate where I go. Otherwise, PR information, word of mouth, friend’s recommendations… all play a part.
What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?
Ah the trend question. I’ve got a new writing gig where I’m supposed to look at upcoming trends and I’m really struggling with it. My mind doesn’t really work like that. I do think that Korean food will spread across the UK in the next couple of years though and that makes me happy.
What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?
“Can I explain our menu to you?”
As a restaurateur mate always replies: “Is it a list of food that I order and you bring? In that case no, I’ve done this before…”
Or, possibly worse, “chef will send out the food when it’s ready, not in any particular order.”
As the same restaurateur says, “is chef paying for my meal? No? In that case chef can send food out when I want it not when it’s convenient to chef…”
Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)
I often get asked for recommendations. At the moment, thanks to the travel writing, I’m actually eating out more abroad and outside of London, so I’m way behind on new openings in my home town. Accordingly my current Top Three is going to be a deeply pretentious list of places all around the world while my London Top Three is probably out of date. Accordingly I tend to stick to a couple of stalwart places and a wild card if anyone asks. Depending on who’s asking, you can perm any three from…
Goodman – Great steak, great cooking, great front of house, great atmosphere. Same applies to Burger & Lobster. You know what you’re going to get and, in these instances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Heron has to be in there too. It’s so brilliantly unlikely and it’s certainly not for everybody but it’s probably the best place in London for a chilli-based endorphin rush. Besides, I was always a fan of the late lamented Dive Bar so basement rooms in slightly grungy pubs are always going to score highly.
I’ve also got to say The Coach & Horses, of course. It’s absolutely my favourite pub in London – it’s a proper old school boozer, and so am I – and Leigh Norton can fry better than just about anyone I’ve ever met. If that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, it’s not meant to. He can also really cook. When the restaurant opens “properly” later this year, and he can have a run of his more creative stuff… oh boy. Can’t wait. Earlier this year he was serving a risotto of caramelised sweetbreads with sherry vinegar that’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in London in the last two, three years. They have a pretty good food and drink quiz there too, I’m told…
Of recent(ish) openings, I was very impressed with Lyle’s – a great small plate menu – and The Typing Room, and recently had a fantastic supper at Mazi in Notting Hill.
What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?
I always take photos but: a) do it discretely; and b) just take photos of what I’ve ordered, rather than stop everybody else from eating… unless they’re taking photos too, in which case I might. I really cannot see what harm that does. If I was setting up a tripod and asking the restaurant to change the lighting levels or insisting the waiter pour the sauce from the other side or something, then yeah, I can see it’s annoying. But quick snap or two, no flash, on my phone or camera?
What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
Probably Maine. MSN sent me out in July 2012 to live blog from the Maine Lobster Festival and to compile a top ten of great things to eat on the East Coast. With the help of the brilliant TV Food Maps – a website that has plotted pretty much every place ever featured on a Food Network programme by state and city – I had a couple of days walking and eating around Brooklyn, a day through Connecticut stopping at some superb diners, a night in Rhode Island, then up to Maine to consume my bodyweight in lobster rolls before looping back for a couple of days in Boston. The food was terrific, the people lovely and the scenery in Maine is like driving through a Richard Gere film. My favourite moment was when I stopped at Miller’s, a lobster shack on the water in a place called Spruce Point. It’s not in any of the books, but was recommended to me by Michael Salmon, the chef at The Hartstone Inn and it’s this beautiful, idyllic spot and the lobster roll was absolutely first class., plus as you eat , you’re looking over the waters the lobster was fished from, and there are fishermen hoisting more pots up and bringing fresh lobsters in to the restaurant’s tanks… I asked the waitress how long ago the lobster in my roll would have been in the water. She blushed, apologised profusely and said, well, you’re here slightly out of season so it might have been, like, four hours?
Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (You can make it a top 3 if you prefer)
I know I need to spend a LOT more time in Italy, so that’s a constant on the list. Chicago has been a target for a while – fingers crossed I’m there in September – and probably Australia. With luck I’ll be in Melbourne for the food festival next year.
What’s the very first trip you remember taking?
As a kid, probably a family trip to Devon. In those days I didn’t eat a whole lot but that was the trip when I first discovered seriously good cheddar. There was also a café that did this incredible orange ice cream.
Where are you going next?
Depending on when you publish this, I’m going salmon fishing in Alaska on Sunday! After that I’m heading to South Carolina for a food festival, plus a few days exploring BBQ shacks around Charleston. And then, if all goes to plan, I’m in Chicago for a three days…
After that, I’m actually hoping for a holiday, probably Portugal.
What three things can you never travel without?
These days it’s all about the chargers and leads. A couple of years ago I found this brilliant adapter plug with a couple of USB sockets that goes everywhere with me. I left it in San Francisco a couple of years ago, bought a replacement that wasn’t as good… and so paid for the hotel to post it back to me in London. I always carry a complete change of clothes and washbag basics in my hand luggage, just in case my suitcase doesn’t make it through. And I have a portable battery pack that holds about 60 hours of charge, that’s come in very handy a few times.
What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?
Best… probably a trip to this incredible ranch in Montana. That or getting upgraded.
The worst… same trip to Montana. Everything that could have gone wrong with the flights went wrong, we ended up having to sleep in Denver airport overnight and United Airlines were worse than useless. I’ve subsequently turned down trips because it’s meant flying United. A bit first world problem I know but they’re an utter chocolate teapot of an airline.
If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?
Now there’s a question. I’ve still not been to India so going with someone who’s very familiar with the food could be great fun. Or Korea, seeing we’re both obsessed with Yijo restaurant in Finchley?
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
Less love, more necessity but it’s that time of year to get creative with courgettes. I’ve become a whizz at frittatas as a result…
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
Funnily enough, with all the international travel and stuff featured, I’ve just checked and it’s this post. On Hitchin, in Hertfordshire.
Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?
Nice idea… but traffic wasn’t the reason I started the blog so I rarely look at the traffic figures. I just throw ‘em out there and if they stick, they stick, if they don’t, well, I’m not going to change my style or try and focus on popular subjects. It’s all just a bit of fun, really.
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