Peter James: What they think of Brexit across the pond and some of the best oysters I've ever eaten
PUBLISHED: 09:19 13 September 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
Oscar Wilde, commenting on Canada’s most famous tourist attraction, famously said “Sooner or later every American groom takes every American bride to the Niagara Falls, and they must surely be the second biggest disappointment in American married life.”
Wilde made so much money on his sell-out lecture tours across America that he was obliged to spend much time there, just as many authors do today, promoting our works in the biggest book market in the world. But the great playwright was at best unimpressed and frequently downright dismissive of the States, quipping once, “Of course, if one had the money to go to America, one would not go…”
Sometimes, I know what he means. There can be few less pleasant travel experiences than arriving at or checking in at a US airport, or flying on an internal US flight.
I’m here writing this column in New York on Independence Day. I’ve spend a large amount of my working life here, first in film and now both researching and promoting my books and I’m fond of the country, and particularly this city. But standing in a line in a ghastly airport, with little check-in help, being shouted at like cattle by rude staff certainly brings those words of Oscar home to me.
I suppose in the wake of Brexit, independence is a controversial word. Certainly all the people I’ve met here and in Canada are shaking their heads in bewilderment and are sad at what has happened. It does feel poignant being a Brit here on Independence Day. The whole American nation is partying, but in the UK we and independence seem uncomfortable bedfellows.
In Toronto last week we stayed in my favourite hotel and location there, the Four Seasons in vibrant Yorkville. Our highlight meals were at Joso’s and at Richmond Station where I had some of the best oysters I’ve ever eaten, with very creative sauces, and superlative skate – a tricky fish to get right. In Chicago we had another seafood binge on oysters Rockefeller and lobster tacos at the huge but charming Shaw’s Crab House.
Choosing a favourite restaurant in New York is a near impossibility, because so many are great here. But one that has never let me down is the Standard Grill, down in the Meatpacking district. Screamingly busy and buzzy, always friendly, efficient and fun – with a lively German beer garden attached, it serves fabulous meat, fish and raw-bar (raw shellfish) dishes, with a great – and eclectic – wine list.
Recently in London we revisited Sheekey’s, in Covent Garden, which many decades ago had been my mother’s favourite fish restaurant. It’s now owned by the Caring group – which owns the Ivy and Scotts among others – but it has retained its delightful old-world décor and charm. The food and service are every bit as good as I remember. From there we went to the stunningly beautiful Lainston House hotel near Winchester, a sister hotel to Sussex’s equally gorgeous South Lodge. At Lainston we received possibly the best front-of-house greeting ever – just sheer and utter welcoming charm. And in their restaurant things got even better when I discovered a rare treasure on their wine list – a Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc.
Closer to home I had a great lunch in Bill’s of Horsham – now also owned by Caring but none the worse for it. In Brighton I returned, after a long absence to The Gingerman, with my old friend, food critic Andrew Kay.
This is where Ben and Pamela McKellar, in 1998, set a new standard for Brighton cuisine. I’m a regular at one of its three offshoots, the Ginger Fox in Albourne, and I’ve never had a duff course there. McKellar’s modern European cooking is world class.
The Gingerman’s small menu offers appetisers including chilled beetroot soup, lobster brioche and salmon roulade (pictured), and one of the mains is a brilliantly conceived turbot with pork belly and prawn kebab. Both Andrew, a brilliant chef himself, and I agreed our lunch was pretty much as good as food gets – and the staff are a delight.
With the post-Brexit exchange rate, if you have the money to go to America this summer, don’t bother – spend it here – and on a bottle or two of that Forrester.
Peter James donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities. This month’s fee goes to the Brighton Greyhound Owners Association Retired Greyhounds Trust. Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton has just been published.
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