So after much deliberation, I’ve decided on this year’s challenges.
This next year is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster, and keeping myself exploring is going to be harder than ever.
So here’s one I plan on doing at home… Cooking with 28 different herbs and spices, in an effort to train my tastebuds.
Secondly, I’m planning on hunting out 28 works of art over the next year, to try and improve my knowledge of the history of art. Some will be famous masters, some will be chosen because they speak to me, or move my education on.
And thirdly, I’m going to read 28 Roald Dahl books. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Roald Dahl, but its been years since I read him. So I’m planning on digging out both his adult collection and his children collection, and working my way through his catalogue.
So, there you have it.
Challenge 27 is complete.
I felt like I really hit a rhythm this year – all of the tasks were evenly spaced out throughout the year, and I didn’t have to rush any of them.
Japanese restaurants turned out to be expensive, but fantastic.
Here are my top five from the year:
The cocktails challenge was great fun – something I’m going to try and keep up. In fact, it helped me find my new go-to drink. The Aviation.
A few of the Nairn’s buildings turned out to be difficult to track down, I was glad to see them all the same. This one really exposed just how little I know about architecture. But I’m glad I did it all the same – it has made me more interested in the subject than I was.
My top five highlights:
Like every year before, I’ve taken 27 photos that best sum up the year. They’re here on Flickr.
And with that, onto next year…
Restaurant: Nobu, Old Park Ln
Time: Friday evening
Stand-out dish: Hamachi with jalapeno
A strong finisher. Nobu is a Japanese icon in London – one of the most scene-y places of the nineties. You get the impression nothing has changed since then – the menu, the staff, the decor. The interior – all light wood, frosted glass and brushed metal – certainly feels dated. But the food is outstanding. We opted for the omakase – me classic, Wist vegetarian. Dish after dish of first-rate fare. My favourite was the hamachi with jalapeno, but it could have equally been the black cod with miso, the seared tuna sashimi salad, even the green tea icecream and chocolate fondant. Nobu probably isn’t the best Japanese meal of this challenge, but it’s certainly up there.
#27. Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley
One I’m particularly fond of to finish. Hidden behind a peeling pink door, in a Whitechapel side alley, sits the oldest surviving music hall in the world. Inside, the entire space has been gloriously preserved in a state of ruin. Cast iron solomonic columns support the creaking balcony overhead. Crumbling masonry for every wall. The building was rescued by Frances Mayhew, who managed to secure funding for its refurbishment and introduce a stellar arts programme. A couple of years ago, in front of the stage, I asked Wist to marry me. I love this place.
#26. Tate & Lyle factory, Factory Rd
A long trip on the DLR to get there, but if you’re near a carriage window, you needn’t worry about missing it. You might think it strange that a factory has made my list, but this one deserves to be on it: it’s entirely Wonka-esque. Brooding, masculine, all shoulders and chimneys, towering over the matchbox houses below. It wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Roald Dahl – in fact, I half wonder if Quentin Blake used it as a reference for his Charlie and the chocolate factory illustrations.
Nairn’s London #22
THEN: The outside is any old cinema with a grandiose front and mean flanks. The foyer is like a cross between Strawberry Hill and the Soane Museum; for once the fantasy of films has been matched by fantasy in the cinema. To argue that it is plaster deep is like arguing that La Regle De Jeu is just a strip of celluloid. Ninety-nine cinemas may be a shoddy counterfeit and so may ninety-nine films: but this is the hundredth. Gothic arches are all around in the auditorium, dimly lit by reflections from the screen. When the lights go up there is Aladdin’s cave; and if you walk to the front for a choc-ice or orange squash and turn round suddenly, the view may literally make you gasp. Pinnacle after gilded pinnacle, to the back of the gallery: one of the sights of London. Miss the Tower of London, if you have to, but don’t miss this.
NOW: A short leg to Tooting that’s well worth the effort. The Granada is now a Gala Bingo, and the cinematic fittings have all but gone, replaced by fixed seating and one-armed bandits. But you only need glance beyond them and you can see what Nairn was talking about. Gothic intricacy everywhere you look – in an auditorium of this scale, it’s breathtaking. A brilliant Nairn’s to finish on.
Restaurant: Jidori, Kingsland High St
Time: Saturday evening
Stand-out dish: Tebasaki yakitori
This may be one of the best of the year. The atmosphere was buzzy and low-key, perfect for a casual Saturday evening bite. The staff were friendly and fantastically attentive. The cocktail menu was varied and interesting – I can recommend the ‘She So Into You’ (vodka, yuzu, matcha, shiso leaves and soda). And the food was outstanding. We opted for the Omakase, but swapped out the Tsukune for Eringi mushrooms. Everything was flavourful, from the onsen egg through to the homemade pickles. Fabulous. The photos don’t do it justice.