Peter James: visiting some creepy crawlies in Holland, confronting a demon and dinner with Norman Cook
PUBLISHED: 10:34 14 September 2015 | UPDATED: 10:34 14 September 2015
Crime novelist Peter James writes about his gastronomic adventures at home and abroad, and keeps us updated on everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace
No, what you see in the picture is not me trying out a new gastronomic delicacy! It is a real, live flat rock scorpion and if you fancy one for a pet, I know just the place for you! I was there three weeks ago at the Reptile Show in Houten, Holland, and in the words of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, you really can buy anything you want. Tarantulas, redbacks, trapdoor spiders, scorpions like this one that will give you a gentle sting, like a bee, or nastier ones that will kill you in agony inside a week, so its breeder cheerily told me. You can buy the world’s deadliest frogs – poison arrow frogs – used by some South American tribes to poison their arrows, and the world’s deadliest snakes, a taipan which can kill you in a couple of hours, black mamba, or a saw-scaled viper which kills 58,000 people in India alone annually. You can buy one – prices range from around €15 to €150 – and carry it out in a plastic box – no licence needed in Holland.
I’m not actually that great with creepy crawlies but I’ve a character in the new Roy Grace novel I’m writing who is a real ‘black widow’, targeting rich older men in Brighton and despatching them via various means including snake venom. So when I heard about this show – amazingly from a Met Police detective who keeps poisonous frogs for a hobby – I had to go and see what characters lurked there. Turns out I was about the only person in the vast exhibition hall without a tattoo. And I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that the only thing I brought back with me was some rather lovely cheese!
I confronted another demon this month – the notorious Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch. In May 2013, in many people’s view, I had a lucky escape from more serious injury (I sustained three broken ribs, a bruised spleen, two slipped discs and carpal tunnel syndrome) when I barrel-rolled my 1965 BMW 1800Ti there at 95mph, and this was my first time back on this circuit. I was fine – but alas my latest race car, a 1958 Fiat Abarth broke down after two laps. But I’ll be back! And I’m thrilled to be racing my rebuilt BMW at the Goodwood Revival in September.
I’ve always loved surprises (well nice ones anyway) and this month I had a seriously yummy one – apparently one of the city’s best-kept secrets! Since childhood I’ve salivated over the homemade ice creams on display front of house at Marrocco’s on King’s Esplanade in Hove. What I’d never realised before is that if you venture past the ice cream counter and on into the interior, you find yourself in a delightful restaurant, hung with fun paintings, and one of the best fish, seafood and pasta menus in town. Their legend boasts cheerily, if cheesily, “If our fish and seafood was any fresher it would still swim.” As time was tight we decided to have just one course. I ordered their antipasto di pesce for two, thinking it would be enough for a main. Wrong. It was enough for a starter, main, and if I’d wanted, a pretty big doggy bag too. An enormous heaped stack of seafood delights, some hot, some cold, all fresh and delicious, including the most exquisite fried calamari I’ve had in a long time. I’m going back soon!
Last week Lara and I visited another Italian, Tosca in Shoreham, where I’ve been going for years prior to my annual event at the wonderful Ropetackle Arts Centre. I love the Ropetackle – a shining example of what enthusiasm and community support can create. Tosca is a well-liked neighbourhood establishment and deserves to be. It is consistently good, and has just had a modernist makeover. I’m sure I’ll get used to it – in about 20 years’ time!
The gastronomic highlight of my month was a charity dinner hosted by delightful Norman Cook and Zoe Ball at their glorious beachfront home, and co-hosted by Brighton mortgage magnate Richard Skerritt and his wife Heidi. We were treated to a evening of sublime food cooked and served by my favourite local restaurateurs, Ben and Pamela McKellar, owners of the brilliant Gingerman group of restaurants, and matching wines presented and served by Brighton’s most individual and charismatic wine merchant, Henry Butler. His eponymous Kemp Town establishment was once voted by The Times as the best value wine merchants in the UK. One highlight of the multiple course dinner was a magically light but delicious white crab meat and tomato dish, accompanied by a 2007 Mersault that was more than worth the hangover from hell that followed...
Peter James’s latest No 1 bestseller Roy Grace novel, You Are Dead. is currently out in hardback along with the paperback of his collection of short stories, A Twist Of The Knife. On 8 October his ghost story novel set in Sussex, The House On Cold Hill, will be published.
He donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities and this month’s fee will be given to the Brighton and Hove Independent Mediation Service (BHIMS).
• Peter James: watching my book come to life, working as a binman and giving a talk at Ford Prison - Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace