The swanky party

November 1st, 2005

Down in Spitalfields we are all very excited because Tracey Emin is publishing her new book of personal writings, STRANGELAND, this week. The swanky party is on Friday night, and Verdes is doing the food.

This is wonderful for us, and especially good for Harvey who gets a chance to get back into the kitchen and show off. Sadly, we can’t dish up the pheasants I spent so much time shooting, because Tracey doesn’t like pheasant, so Harvey is having his game supplier send stuffed chickens. All the food served will be seasonal, including a soup of Jerusalem artichokes, and a pudding of apple pie. At midnight, Harvey intends to stand outside the venue, roasting chestnuts to hand out in paper bags to the departing guests. We are wondering how long it will take Westminster Council to close down this part of the festivities.

Tony Blair can spend ten billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace Trident, and that is not considered a health and safety issue, but you can bet that a few hot chestnuts will rank as a much more serious threat to London life.

Still, this is Verdes first outing up the West End, and all power to Tracey for putting her money where her mouth and all the rest of her is – down in Spitalfields. She has always been a great supporter of local shops and businesses, with none of that annoying celebrity habit of buying everything posh and abroad.

If more people with a bit of spare money just looked after their own patch, London could become a paradise of small, privately run shops, like Verdes. We need to lobby Gordon Brown for a sensible reduction in the Business Rate – exactly why must Verdes pay as much per square foot as Timberland, down the road? And we need to support the shops we like.

Sure, it costs a bit more, but there is still plenty of spare cash around the city, and when you hear that £1 in every £8 spent on food goes to Tesco, it’s a bit depressing.

Never mind. We’ll get the French habit one day.

I was just in Paris, and I crept into the Pierre Marcolini store, to look at the difference between them and us. Well, it has to be said that Verdes, for all its charm is a bit of a souk, which the French with their usual lack of concern for PC language, use as an all-purpose word for ‘messy.’ Verdes is eighteenth century exuberance; Marcolini is a chocolate version of the Code Napoleon.

On a marble stand, of the kind where Tiffany would sell its best diamond ring, was a single Marcolini chocolate – perfect and entire, and next to it, in exploded close up, under an air-tight glass dome, are its component parts; the vanilla, the bean, the sugar, the liquor.

I asked Harvey if we could get a diamond-ring stand for our Marcolini chocolates. He looked at me pityingly, and waved his arms, as best he could, around the shop. ‘We don’t even have room for the diamond, let alone the stand.’

It is true. We are packed to bursting with wonderful foodstuffs, so much so that I can hardly squeeze in through my front door without being coshed on the head by a string of red onions, a rope of garlic, a pheasant.  ‘We’re not Minimalists here’ says Taff, building a tower of sandwiches to rival Monsieur Eiffel’s own work. ‘I like all the trimmings’.

Somehow it works. The beauty of the chocolates, set in their perfect, temperature-controlled cabinet, is a contrast to the outdoor baskets of forest-found mushrooms and greeny-red Kent apples. It’s the good things in life we love, and they come in different shapes and sizes, and some are messy and some are not. But Verde’s finds room for it all, rather like Spitalfields itself, or as the French would say, comme un souk.

If you are looking for a messy bit of food extravagance this weekend, why not take a trip to Borough Market? The food stalls are fantastic, including Jane Scotter’s organic vegetables grown on her own farm in Hereford, hand-picked on Friday night and driven up the M40 in a van, fresh as can be, for sale on Saturday morning.

Sausages, game, cheeses, the smells alone are enough to drive you away from the supermarkets forever, and you can get keen prices and good bargains. Best of all, kids love it, which cannot be said of that trolley-trip down the aisles of E-numbers and fat-soaked Ready Meals. Make shopping fun!

As this week is all about food, A Gold, the British food specialist, at 42 Brushfield St, has a most amazing array of autumn fare just now, including delights like Eccles cakes and Neals Yard English cheeses, mostly unpasturised. The thing about an unpasturised cheese is that it is alive when you are eating it, unlike those dead and refrigerated items wrapped in plastic that are misleadingly labelled ‘cheese’, when they should just say ‘processed milk product.’

I love their pork pies too. Loads of calories, really delicious, and wonderful with a cup of strong tea.