Archive for the ‘crouch end’ Category

I’m reposting this short review of Crouch End’s lovely Hot Pepper Jelly café just because I happened to be there again the other day after a gap of far too long and you know what? It’s still great. What did I eat? The fantastic Hot Pepper Jelly sandwich of course (see below). Still unusual (I don’t know anywhere else that throws this oddball combination of awesomeness into a sandwich), still delicious.

As promised in my recent  Man vs Food post, today I returned to lovely Crouch End cafe, Hot Pepper Jelly on the Broadway, to take down The Inferno.

HPJ is famed for its awesome bacon, peanut butter and chilli-jam sandwiches, and on my last visit I noticed the addition of a new and hotter version, featuring a chill-jam made with scotch bonnets or habaneros, a chilli registering an impressive 350,000 Scoville units. This is for most people the hottest chilli you’re going to come across (although by no means the hottest around, about which more in a minute).

Here’s a pic of the little beauty:

which looks harmless and  pretty much like any of their other eats. It took a couple of bites for the chilli to kick in and it immediately had that unmistakable, fruity fire you get with habaneros. It’s not unpleasant (you know, if you like that kind of thing) and is certainly not just pure heat.  It was a delicious sandwich and I ate the whole thing with little problem. My mouth went a little numb, but in a good way.

To be honest I was a little disappointed it wasn’t hotter. But then I have recently, after a long search, managed to get my hands on some of the elusive naga or ghost chillies (in Tesco of all places!), reputed to be the hottest in the world (although some will tell you it’s the Trinidad Scorpion and yet others say the Hoxton Serenity) and coming in at a neuron-frying 1,000,000 Scovilles. I made my own ghost chilli sauce and of course couldn’t resit having a little bite of the raw fruit. Shitballs, it was hot! Within seconds my mouth was a sea of pain and within minutes my hands had pretty much seized up, I guess paralysed with whatever neuro-toxins I’d released into my nervous system. So maybe I’m getting a little used to this stuff. Either way it was still a truly excellent sandwich.

More local food challenges please – Crouch end cafes, take note.

In other news, House of Dreams is now on sale at the fantastic Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. And the charming waitress at HPJ took some of my House of Dreams postcards to display, and even said she’d put one up on the loo door – now that’s service!


It was raining. The temperature had dropped a good 10 degrees since the previous day. It was only just after 5.30 but it was already as dark as it was going to get. And I’d been planning to go for a run. Hmm.

run-in-rainIt’s very easy when faced with this kind of scenario just to give the whole thing a swerve and choose the glass of wine and Masterchef option. It’s an option I have taken many, many times. But this time, I chose the run. And this is how I turned a miserable cold wet evening run into, well, a distinctly more bearable cold wet evening run.

Tip 1: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. We’ve all heard this old saw before, and while it’s clearly wrong, there definitely is bad weather; I was looking out the door at some world class shitty weather, there is a valuable lesson in there too. I’ve got pretty good at judging the right combination of clothing for the conditions over the years. For cold and wet you need:

  1. Warm, long sleeved base layer. This is usually enough but might need t-shirt over the top.
  2. Waterproof jacket. These are amazing. First time I ran in the rain in one of these I almost wanted to run exclusively in the rain just to experience the joy of not getting soaked. Almost.
  3. Shorts not leggings. Legs don’t really get wet. And like it or not, men just tend to look weird in leggings.
  4. Hat and gloves: Thin running gloves. Some type of beanie style hat¹.

Tip 2: The right music. It was good luck rather than good judgement, but the moment I set off I got Dreams by Fleetwood Mac popping up on my trusty iPod shuffle. This transported me to a sun-drenched road in Laurel Canyon on an August morning in the mid 1970s. Surprising the magnitude of the effect. You can pick the era that most reminds you of sunny summer days².

Tip 3: Positive re-framing. The idea is to think of future runs. After a run in really appalling weather, you’ll be able to tell yourself that future runs just aren’t going to be as bad. You can even try and run in the worst weather you can find just to set your bench mark . Now the awfulness of this run becomes the counterweight to other potentially bad runs.

Tip 4: Embrace the misery. Suck it up. Remember what Nietzsche says: what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Or if you’d rather be inspired by something less aggressively übermensch, Dorothy Parker, who when asked if she liked writing replied that no, she didn’t like writing but she liked having written. Cheers, Dot. Now get out there; it’s only water!

¹Word of advice, if it’s a woollen hat, don’t put it in the washing machine. I did this with my hat and it took on a rather peculiar shape which when worn now makes my head take on a rather peculiar shape. I now borrow my wife’s hat.

²The other song that instantly came to mind for this was one-hit-wonder Owen Paul’s Favourite Waste Of Time. Doubtless you will have your own ideas.

Over the years that I’ve been visiting the café in Alexandra Palace Garden Centre (I don’t think the café gets it’s own name as such, it certainly doesn’t seem to have a website) I’ve had a variety of experiences w/r/t food, service and atmosphere. Mostly bad. The food, if you do not choose wisely, can be a little dull. The service also veers between the jolly and competent to the ‘Oh, really? You actually want me to make you a fucking cup of coffee? Shit, alright then, when I’ve finished the crossword’.   It used to be run by a foul-mouthed French dude who would swear at you in two languages, and which would have been okay if he cooked like a Frenchman but in fact he was a truly awful cook as well. He’s gone.  On my last visit the chef,  whoever he is hadn’t quite made it in to work yet (it was 9:30, they open at 9) and I had to wait half an hour to get anything to eat.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this joint.

Here’s why.

1. The coffee is very good. They serve Agust coffee, not a big name here but big in Italy and they’ve been around for a long time and they’re Fair-trade and just really tasty, striking that tricksy balance between toasty with a little hit of citrus.

garden centre

2. The bacon sandwiches are really, really good. I mean it’s just bacon and bread as you can see here

garden centre 2

but way better than it has any right to be. I’d eaten half of it before I remembered to take a pic. I think they maybe dust the bacon with crack.

3. It’s in a garden centre. Which is a bit odd, as people trundle past you with trolleys full of yucca plants and compost every so often, but it’s also a bit like being in the jungle. And they have a charming outside area with a little pond. And they have a rooftop terrace with some nice views. They used to have sparrows that nested in the eaves of the building and flew around inside like they were trying to escape. Actually that was a little frightening at times. Anyway, they’re no longer there; I think they had them all shot.  And unlike the fatally flawed Grove Café nearby, no dogs. Maybe they had them shot too.

Just last week I was chairing a literary thing with some other writers as part of the Crouch End Festival 2014 in which we were all asked to pick our Desert Island Books.

My new lit crush Louise Millar chose a book I’d never come across before, Melanie McGrath’s Motel Nirvana  and which sounds like just my kind of thing: weird goings-on in the south west of the USA, sage brush and cactus, odd-balls, diners – you get the picture. Last time I did a book thing with Millar we’d both chosen John Fante novels, so I know we share a love of American strangeness.

The highly amusing and erudite Matt Bayliss (the only person in the room to pick up on my A E Housman reference) chose the north London telephone directory (I guess you had to be there), chick lit rising star Jessica Thompson picked a book by Elizabeth Taylor (which I’m pretty sure was not the same one that was married to Richard Burton) and the charming and hard-drinking Tom Campbell chose something foreign and classy about which I can recall not a thing (reasons for which may become clearer shortly).

The whole event was a huge success and I got to talk about books and drink wine paid for by someone else (those are two of my top five markers of a successful night) and I very much hope I will be fortunate enough to get invited to host similar things in the future. It was all very civilised to begin with of course, but  ended up in the pub with me, a couple of my close friends, a woman who was a big cheese in the Crouch End Festival mafia and Campbell, drinking way too much for a Wednesday night. The big cheese sloped off early leaving me, my two friends (neither of whom appear to have much in the way of proper regular employment) and Campbell, drinking till the small hours. I have no recollection of getting home and can only hope the others managed to find their own way out of N8. The following morning I was surprised to find a smart new copy of Campbell’s new novel, The Planner, possibly a gift, possibly stolen, with some illegible scrawl on the front page, possibly from the author, possibly from some other random drunk dude, and possibly warm and affectionate, possibly abusive and obscene (honestly, I can make out only about two words of the whole dedication). Either way, I’m nearly done with it and enjoying it immensely.

And as for my own choice for the one book that I’d take if stranded on a desert island? As I said on the night, no contest: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. After around two years of reading it (it’s taken such a long time partly because it’s a big old book, partly because pretty early on I realised just how extraordinary it was and began to ration myself), I finished it the day before the event last week. As for a review?


I knew straight away that I was in no position to try and sum up such a phenomenal piece of literature: I’m just not that good a writer. So I’ve started the whole thing again. All 1079 pages. And so far, it’s even better than the first time.

My good friend and premier client, Callum Jacobs has just had his last novel, urban techno thriller The Geek Manifesto, shortlisted for the top 50 books by independent authors. Have a look and vote for it here


I put his success in no small part down to my abilities and insight as an agent. He says it’s because it’s a good book. Whatever.

I may have mentioned once or twice before that the life of a literary agent is not with out its perks. I get to spend a lot of time reading. The meetings I attend are usually held in upscale restaurants and groovy little cafes. People are willing to offer me all kinds of things¹ to gain access to the power they (mostly totally wrongly) believe I wield. But now and again, I have to pay. And it’s usually because of some dumbass client I’m representing who needs me to do something stupid. And to narrow it down to specifics, it’s usually my premier client, Callum Jacobs asking me to do something really stupid, borderline illegal or just plain hazardous to my health. But when a good client calls, a good agent’s only got one response.

Thus it was that I found myself on the night of the last full moon, dressed in a white satin robe, anointed in oil and chanting to the four quarters of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, deep in Queen’s Wood, N10.

But let me backtrack a little.

Callum had told me that as research for his next novel he needed to go and hang with some wiccans and had managed to track down a local group (coven?) who’d be meeting for a full moon ritual, as luck would have it, virtually in our own back yard. At these early stages I’d suggested, not unreasonably I think, that if he wanted to find out a little about the pagan faith he could just go and read a goddamn book, but apparently this was not what “real writers” do. It turns out that “real writers” are also massive pussies, as he insisted I go along too, in case, he said, they pulled some magic shit on him and he ended up converted or sacrificed or something similar. So he made the call and it was on.

We met the Grand Poobah and his fiendish minions in a local pub and it was immediately apparent that disparate group of oddballs though they undoubtedly were, they were all the sweetest, most charming bunch of oddballs you could hope to get naked in the forest with. After the usual slightly awkward chit-chat, and as the sun sank low behind the trees, we made our way deep into the heart of the ancient woodlands.

By the time we reached our destination it was getting pretty dark, and as too much artificial light was deemed unwelcome, (dampening the spiritual flow or something), there was fair amount of comical bumping into each other, cursing of tree-roots² and twanging branch-in-face moments. Waiting for us at the chosen hallowed spot was one more member of the group who I’m delighted to report, matched every stereotype I had ever had. Gandalf³ was tall, portly, with a thick grey beard⁴ and a huge wooden staff clutched purposefully in his hand. His voice was deep and sonorous and that it had a distinctive West coast US twang  barely detracted from the overall effect. To be honest, by this stage I was fully digging the whole party.

There was a fair bit of prep to be done, robing us all up, laying out the alter and sharing the ritual goblet of Gandalf’s tasty home made apple damson wine, (which some pagans seemed to have a little more of a thirst for than others and which at one point elicited from someone further along the fallen oak upon which we sat, a plaintive cry of “hey, dude, don’t bogart the chalice!”).

And then it was on.

By candlelight we gathered amidst the trees, we called to the spirits, we sang , we danced⁵ and we ate the blessed cakes and wines. Nobody got naked, nothing was rent in twain with a bejewelled athame and no diabolic forms were conjured from the earth. About which I was relieved and disappointed in roughly equal measure.

Can’t wait to see what he turns it into in the next novel. Working title, I’m told, Voodoo Economics.

And on that note, Callums’ first novel is currently free to download at Amazon.


¹ So far in my career I’ve been offered amongst other things, money, clothes, a year’s free coffee (there’s a lot of would-be writers serving up your daily cup of joe), a bicycle, a date (although not with the person who wanted the favour but an allegedly willing friend of theirs!), drugs, and eternal gratitude (yeah, that was really gonna work!).

² Hardly in the right spirit!

³ Obviously not his actual name, but if I call him this you will totally get the picture of what he looked like.

⁴… and his beard may well not have been grey, it was just way too dark to see,  but if I say it was I know I’m painting the right picture here.

⁵ Which amounted to, the singing and dancing, a slightly awkward conga line as it might be performed by old people who were reciting rather cheesy poetry as they wiggled along.

My good friend Callum’s second novel, about the murky world of hackers, LSD-laced chocolate fountains and a whole bunch of other things besides, is now on sale in paperback and e-book versions.

geekmanifesto-ebookYou can get it at Amazon of course, but if you’re in the ‘hood and want to support your local indy bookshop, then you might want to swing by Wood Green’s Big Green Bookshop to pick up a copy. I think they even do deliveries! Check them out, they’re lovely.

And watch this space later for a post on his experiences at his first ever literary event.