Food corner

"To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."

Somerset Maugham

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Mum's Vietnamese Chicken Salad

To call this ‘Mum’s Vietnamese salad’ is slightly misleading because (a) she isn’t Vietnamese and (b) she acquired the recipe from a friend called Jane many years ago. However, it has become a family favourite, which has morphed and evolved over the years, each of us adding our own details. And what makes a recipe your own, if not refining an old favourite to suit your tastes? Surely this is how all the best home recipes have been developed.

When I asked Mum to remind me of the recipe a few years back, I was surprised that she said she puts coriander in it. I once did that many years ago much to the distaste of my younger sister. She’d said she preferred it without and, being an annoying older sister, I decided to put it in anyway to see if she could tell. Of course she could, it's such a distinctive flavour. Now that I am much older, I can admit that she was right. It is more subtle and refined with just mint and that has become my preference.

My main addition to Mum’s recipe is that I have started pickling the onions rather than adding them fresh. I got the idea from Uyen Luu, who has a similar recipe in her cookbook, My Vietnamese Kitchen. I think it lifts the dish and makes it something really special.

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The M&2V's Pickled Onions

The M&2V is great at handmade gifts. For my birthday, he carved a wooden block into my initials. When I moved in, he carved the first 3 characters of our postcode onto a new key ring. For Valentine’s Day, he made me a pair of earrings out of black perspex, which read ‘HOT LEFTY’ (we sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum). Usually perspex earrings are made using a laser to cut out the shapes or letters. He used a fine handsaw.

You might imagine I felt rather a lot of pressure when it came my turn to do presents. I am not particularly handy. I can’t draw or paint. I don’t even sew my own hems up – my limit is a button. But I can cook.

The M&2V loves pickled onions. He can easily eat an entire jar in one sitting – something I have asked him to refrain from doing now that we share a bed every night!

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Automata, Sydney

I can always rely on the Meat and 2 Veg to be brutally honest when it comes to food. Fine dining is not really his bag – he’s more of a, well, meat and 2 veg kind of guy. The problem, he readily admits, is that he can’t help letting the price influence his opinion.  In his words: “if it’s expensive, it has to really make my balls tingle”. Which is why I can be completely objective when I say that Automata, where one of my best mates is restaurant manager, was by far the best meal we had in Sydney when we visited over Christmas and New Year. His balls were tingling from beginning to end.

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Short & Sweet: The Four Horsemen, Brooklyn

Style: Modern European

Budget: Mid-range, though it would be very easy to spend a lot on wine.

Venue and atmosphere: Stylish, minimalist interior, that still manages to retain a cosy, neighbourhood feel via warm lighting and a lived in feel that probably comes from the many empty wine bottles that line the shelves and windows. 

Service: A little curt and not overly friendly, but my server may have been having a bad day. I got the sense that it is the kind of place where they get to know their regulars.


When Kate Galassi, former Director of Purchasing and Farm Partnerships at Natoora NYC, told me this is “Hands down one of my favorite places to eat” I knew I had to try it.

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Short & Sweet: Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC

Style: Pan-Asian restaurant, specialising in ramen.

Budget: Mid-range.

Venue and atmosphere: Deceptively casual. The long wooden bar and communal tables and benches have the feel of a traditional Japanese ramen-ya, but the food will soon remind you that this is a destination restaurant (if the queue hasn’t already).

Service: Efficient and knowledgeable, but a little rushed and brusque; a common theme in my experience of New York City hospitality. 

Food: This is what you are here for and, despite more than 10 years of hype, it doesn’t fail to impress.

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