Tomorrow night I bring my show about lousy restaurants, My Dining Hell, to the Corn Exchange in Newbury. I am very much looking forward to it. Tickets are available here and at the link below.
While ticket sales are now well into a healthy three figures, I understand some potential audience members may have been put off by what are regarded as disobliging comments I made about Newbury in an article published on the Guardian website in 2011. Newbury does not forget.
The piece was actually an appreciation of the Swiss cheese, Emmental, which I described as ‘The Newbury of cheeses: it’s solid, workmanlike, but very, very dull. Everybody knows it’s there but few think they have any reason to visit.’ This did result in a few newspaper headlines at the time, and a certain outrage online. Or as my agent put it recently, when they came to marketing the current show, ‘Why the hell couldn’t you just have been rude about Slough? They’re used to it’.
You can read that original article here. I want to say now, and for the record, that the article was not meant as an insult to the kind and interesting people of Newbury. I can also see now that using the word ‘dull’ to refer to Newbury – a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, with a cultural life to challenge that of Renaissance Florence – was completely and utterly wrong.
I apologise unreservedly.
Apart from anything else I was clearly out of date, a terrible failing for any journalist. As Jeremy Holden-Bell, chairman of the Newbury Society, told the BBC at the time: ‘Historically possibly Newbury was dull, but it’s changed a lot in the past two years. We have our Parkway development opening next month which will bring a lot more shops to the area. We don’t think Newbury is dull at all.’
In my defence, further on in the article I went on to point out that my use of the word was just a first impression and wrong both for Emmental and, therefore, Newbury. While some misguided fools might regard them as lacking a certain glamour, both are industrious work houses, where real work gets done. In Newbury’s case it is a hub for the British tech industry. That, after all, is why Vodaphone has made its home there. In the case of Emmental, it is the ballast upon which that brilliant Swiss dish cheese fondue is built. Without Emmental, a fondue would be nothing.
And so, to say sorry to Newbury, I am today publishing here my recipe for fondue from my forthcoming book, the Ten (Food) Commandments, which will be published in June.
I’m not a total idiot. I don’t think a fondue recipe can really make amends for the great hurt I have caused the good people of Newbury over the years. But I do hope you will take it as a token of my respect and regard. Can I also encourage you to come to the show. As well as taking you on a journey through truly awful restaurant experiences, I will offer the audience a number of opportunities during which they can call me a self-regarding, up-him-himself, snobby, London-centric tosser to my face. Indeed, I would welcome it.
More than anything, I’m just so bloody sorry. Newbury, please forgive me.
RECIPE FOR CHEESE FONDUE
One clove of garlic
300ml good dry white wine
1tbsp kirsch (or other white firewater like Poire William. You could, at a push, use vodka. But DON’T use gin. That would be a terrible thing to do.)
Dijon mustard if wanted
One egg (for later).
Bread cut into pieces.
- Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the cut side around the inside of the fondue pot.
- Gently heat the wine in the fondue pot. Turn down to a low simmer.
- Slowly mix handfuls of the cheese into the wine, pausing to stir until each batch is melted. This could take 10 or 15 minutes.
- In a small glass mix the cornflour into the spirit so it forms a paste. Dollop all of it into the fondue mix, and continue to stir over a low heat. After five minutes it should have thickened. If by any chance it hasn’t, add another half a teaspoon of corn flour (in another half tablespoon of spirit).
- Get a lackey to light the fondue burner on a medium flame.
- Time to season: you can do this with just salt and pepper to taste, though a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (or more if you fancy) will punch it up. It’s your call.
- Transfer immediately to the burner, and eat by spearing lumps of bread on to the fork and dredging. We generally eat it standing up. It’s so much easier to see what’s going on over the rim.