Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Chapter 3. Life is Sweet
Strolling down Church Street with my girls at Brighton Festival time a few years ago, I noticed a hippo made of Smarties making its way towards me. “Ooh look, kids”, I said casually, before pausing to look at the hand-painted ties in Gresham Blake. It was when the girls didn’t even break their step that I realised I had come a long way since window shopping with my mother in Abergavenny High Street.
We moved out of Primrose Hill when Sadie Frost and Kate Moss moved in and broccoli and carrots moved out to make space for jelly beans and lingerie. Brighton seemed an earthier kind of place to bring up our two-year-old, who was already sewn into her pink tutu and having tantrums in Sainsbury’s on Chalk Farm Road if I refused to buy an extra bag of gnocchi.
In those days, you couldn’t even find a coffee bean, let alone a jelly bean in Brighton, and lingerie was still strictly Marks and Spencer’s. It was a town where children could grow up dazzled by annual festival delights while keeping their feet bruised on pebbles and chilled in the good old English Channel. It was eccentric but down to earth, a world away from Primrose Hill.
But then came city status, and (dare I say it?) The Juicy Guide and its immigrant readers, bringing their taste for coffee beans, jelly beans and sexy lingerie with them from Crouch End, Tooting and Kensal Rise, and economically hyphenating Brighton with Hove.
The rest is history; a gastro-city was born as restaurants and local produce food shops quickly stirred up a more Notting Hill flavour, winning awards and reviews in national newspapers and attracting celebrity chefs who featured us in their latest TV shows. It all seems strangely familiar; there’s a certain parallel between the towns where my kids and I grew up, but Abergavenny, food hero that it is, is still lacking something.
Now, I’m not talking Black Magic or Milk Tray with their stranger-danger fantasies distracting us from the fact that nobody ever eats the cherry ones. I’m talking hand-made, cardamom or chilli flavoured, perhaps sculpted into an angel kingdom or a pirate’s cave, maybe even prised from a plastic stiletto for a sexy night in. And all hand-made in Brighton-and-Hove.
Audrey probably started it all in Hove back in 1948 but it was Choccywoccydoodah in 1994 and Montezuma in 2000 that put Brighton on the map before Real Patisserie’s Anthony Heurtier stirred it all up with his French fancy and then went solo with his Gateaux d’Amour at The Chocolate Empire. Now there are at least two cafes which only sell chocolate – surely the mark of a city which refuses to grow up?
And so it was one day late last year, as my nine-year-old and I were queuing for my super-deluxe muesli at Infinity Foods, that the spit of Sadie Frost momentarily flung me back to my Primrose Hill days, feeding us pieces of Chocoholly cinnamon and cranberry organic fair trade dark chocolate. I fretted for a moment as I watched LouLou commit this 21st century sales promotion to childhood memory, before letting it go. Besides, there was a seven-foot transvestite in a gold ball-gown in front of us in the queue, and she hadn’t even mentioned that.
As (Choco)Holly and I chatted about blogs (www.chocoholly.com) and chilli chocolate, I told her about my mission to encourage the kids to be more adventurous in the kitchen, and a twinkle appeared in our eyes...
A couple of months later, my kids and nephew, Edward (10) were smeared with that organic fair trade dark chocolate as Holly gave them their own master class in her pristine kitchen in Hove. As they took turns in tempering her melted couverture, she encouraged them to mix gogi berries with raisins, marshmallow with chilli, refereed the fights over the fish, rabbit and stilleto moulds and even found time to make suitable noises about Edward’s breakdance.
Finally sated, the kids collapsed on Holly’s hot pink sofa, surrounded by the original artwork that makes Chocoholly packaging leap off the shelves, and announced that this was “way better” than the mackerel catch. “The pig farm is next” I reminded them, but Edward was back on his head, looking suspiciously green.
As I quickly carted them off to buy something leafier for dinner, I realised that it was almost ten years to the day that we had left Primrose Hill. It seemed a lifetime away – and for LouLou, it was. But that lunchtime, I swear I could almost hear the call of the peacocks from London Zoo.