Peter James: why I love Munich, revisiting the Giggling Squid and dinner in the Shard

PUBLISHED: 10:19 13 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:19 13 January 2016


Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

Dean Martin once famously said (and God bless him for it!) “I feel sorry for those who don’t drink, because when they wake up the morning, that’s as good as their day’s going to get.”

My wonderful late father, who was full of wise and often funny sayings, once told me, “never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” He excluded from that recovering alcoholics. But it’s advice that has stood me in good stead. The only two people I’ve worked with in my life and found truly untrustworthy, were non-drinkers! Of course that could just be chance…

Many members of our Royal Navy mourned the day that the traditional daily ration of a tot of rum was abolished in 1970. But I can understand why. I drank a tot of original, pre-Navy rum saved for me by a former Naval officer friend, Nobby Hall. It was massive and lethal and I was almost on the floor afterwards. But it probably helped Great Britain dominate the world’s oceans for so long – no one would have feared going into battle after a tot of grog! Malcolm Campbell was fortified with alcohol before his world land and water speed attempts, to calm his nerves. And many Grand Prix drivers back in the 1950s and 60s never drove a race sober.

Munich, one of my favourite cities, is more famous for alcohol – its annual Oktoberfest – than for being the home BMW, or the place where Hitler survived his first assassination attempt. The traditional Bavarian breakfast for centuries has been a white sausage – weisswurst – eaten with a pretzel and sweet mustard and washed down with a stein of wheat beer (weissbier).

Munich also hosts one of the world’s nicest crime fiction festivals, Krimifest. Lara and I were there a fortnight ago, where I gave a reading and talk about my most recent Roy Grace book in the wonderfully macabre setting of the Munchen Forensic Institute. To continue the macabre theme, our hosts took us to dinner at the very place that the bomb left for Hitler failed to explode, the Hofbräu-Keller. We were there on 18 October, national Duck Day – where, like our Christmas tradition of turkey, they eat duck almost as a religion. Despite its historical connection, I loved Hofbräu-Keller, and much like another Munich establishment, Hofbrauhaus, it serves great beer, wonderful platefuls of heavy food with dumplings galore, and almost always bustling friendly staff.

But if you do go to Munich don’t just stick to the bierkellers. There is so much to do and see in this elegant, friendly, walkable city. And there’s nothing nicer on a Sunday afternoon than to go for a long walk, or rent bikes and explore the Englischergarten – where Roy Grace was once convinced he saw Sandy. It is one of the world’s most beautiful city parks and stretches for more than 30 kilometres.

The Kempinski, where we always stay, and which used to have the famous pianist Simon Schott, who once played for Humphrey Bogart in the Ritz in Paris, still playing in his mid-ninteties, is a hotel that rivals any Four Seasons for service and has one of the world’s great hotel breakfasts – of course including weisswurst! There is seriously good food to be had in Munich – my two favourite restaurants there are Brenner and Kuffler – even though Putin is rumoured to own the latter.

Back at home, on promotion of my ghost story novel, we went to Plymouth, and had a terrific Devon crab followed by a perfectly judged sea bream in Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s stunningly located gaff, River Cottage. And staying on seafood, I revisited the Hove branch of the Giggling Squid chain for lunch, with a detective who is helping me on research for my new Roy Grace. I had the “Hungry Squid” set lunch – which included the best chicken satay I can remember eating, and a superlative green curry. I’ve always liked the restaurant and we often make the journey into Hove from Henfield for a takeaway as a Saturday night treat. I’m happy to report that, like fine wine, it is getting even better with age.

To celebrate the hardback publication of The House On Cold Hill and the paperback publication of You Are Dead, my publishers laid on a dinner high up in the Shard. It used to be said that the better the view the worse the food, but no more. The view was magnificent and the food and service faultless - the building has a nice vibe.

To work off all these eating excesses, we took part in the Beachy Head Marathon. As I’m still recuperating from three slipped discs after my motor racing accident at Brands Hatch in 2013, we did the less taxing 10K, together with the dogs. It was brilliant fun and just a great atmosphere.

And to finish my month I got the most wonderful news that The House On Cold Hill went into the Top 10 at number nine, and You Are Dead went straight into the paperback bestseller list at number one, beating the number two, James Patterson, by a margin of 8,000 books! That makes the all the hard, lonely slog that is the writer’s lot worthwhile!

Peter James’s ghost story novel set in Sussex, The House On Cold Hill, is now out, along with the paperback of his 11th Roy Grace novel, You Are Dead. And on 7 March 2016, his play, The Perfect Murder, returns to Sussex, co-starring Shane Ritchie and Jessie Wallace, for a week’s run at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.

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 & Hove Samaritans.


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