Peter James: Deep-fried prawn heads in Beverly Hills, Wabi in Horsham and heading out with Sussex Police
PUBLISHED: 10:46 02 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:46 02 February 2017
Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace
The composer Sir Arnold Bax famously said, “Try anything in life once, except for incest and folk dancing.”
I’m with him on both those, although I’m excluding Morris dancers who make me smile. But I’d readily add a third to that list – and that is squatting on a floor to eat. My ultimate nightmare was some years back at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, where at a banquet I had to sit on the floor to dine, whilst enduring an hour and a half of stilted costumed pageantry.
I first realised how much I disliked on-floor dining when I ate at the Benihana restaurant in New York in 1973. The food was great, but I barely noticed it because I was so excruciatingly uncomfortable. Back then Japanese food was a rarity in the west and mostly a solemn, joyless experience. But things changed and one man, Nobu Matsuhisa, was a key player in making Japanese dining fun, fashionable and buzzy. In 1988 it was almost impossible to get a table at Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills and when you finally did, you discovered they had no menu. They kept bringing dishes until you told them to stop. My first time there they brought me deep-fried prawn heads that looked like they’d been recovered from the side of another diner’s plate. But everything else was spectacular.
A little known fact about quietly posh Horsham in West Sussex is it holds the UK record for the heaviest hailstone ever to fall – it was the size of a tennis ball, weighed 5oz and hit the ground at 224 mph on 5 September 1958. A slightly better known fact, judging from how busy it was on the night we were there, is that Horsham is host to a brilliantly cool and vibrant Japanese restaurant, Wabi. I first went there when it was under different management and was extremely impressed. Now under the ownership of Sussex man Paul Craig (pictured above) and his wife Verity it is even better – and no, the somewhat lively dessert in the picture is not made from hailstones…
The Wabi menus are designed for sharing – but I always over-order to insure against anyone else scoffing too much and leaving me hungry! Too often back in the days of nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur – and still, inexcusably, in some establishments today – food would come from the kitchen looking like art, but barely a mouthful in substance. At Wabi the presentation is faultless, but the portions generous. The undoubted winner of the evening was the spicy, crunchy Dragon Roll made from prawn tempura, unagi, avocado and wasabi mayo – I’d go back there just for that. Another highlight was the tea-smoked lamb chop – succulent, generous and perfectly cooked with an exotic, aromatic tinge.
Back in my childhood, the eastern corner of the bottom of Brighton’s West Street where it meets the seafront was home to a terrific and posh Wheeler’s fish restaurant. And on that site now there’s a new fish and seafood joint, Jetty, within the new Harbour Hotel. I had lunch with the former editor of The Argus Mike Gilson, who has a wonderful passion for the city. I was impressed with both the light, airy feel of the room and the short but confident menu. I had superb sashimi and a perfect grilled half lobster. Mike had a highly inventive-looking gazpacho, which he declared brilliant, and a fine portion of hake.
It’s been a hectic month for me, with rehearsals starting for my new play based on Not Dead Enough, the third Roy Grace novel. It starts on a six-month national tour on 25 January, co-starring Shane Richie and Laura Whitmore. And I have been editing my latest Roy Grace novel, Need You Dead, which will be out in May.
As part of my research for the book I’ve been out with Sussex Police twice in recent weeks. First I was with Traffic – or the Road Policing Unit, as they are officially called these days – getting the details of a major pursuit scene in the book right. Then I was with a Brighton Response crew. I have a scene in Need You Dead where police are called to a domestic fight where a terrified woman has barricaded herself in her bedroom. Less than an hour into the shift, we were called to a domestic fight. Neighbours had reported it sounded like two people killing themselves next-door. It’s a sad fact that on every response shift I’ve ever been on over the past 25 years, there has always been at least one call-out to a domestic fight.
Perhaps it would be a nice start to 2017 if all of us could add to our list of New Year resolutions to be tolerant of even the things that drive us most nuts. It’s got to be worth trying – once at any rate.
I wish you all a very happy and safe New Year.
• Peter James: A-listers being in awe of each other, why I quit the movie business and sandwiches with Joan Collins - Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace