Thoughts from a newbie’s first conference #ldconf

Two AM at the main lobby bar of the Marriott Hotel, Bournemouth. The queue is four deep as it has been for the past three or four hours. The main room is overspilling in every direction. It’s loud. There’s shouting. There’s hugging. Someone spills a drink. A couple have a fight in the corner. A debate erupts in another. Someone exchanges a business card with someone else. Others flesh out details on an event they’re going to run they dreamt up with five or six minutes ago – a lifetime. Everyone has passed convivial long ago. I overhear a conversation that the bar has had to close every night because they keep running out of booze. I order a whisky and ginger. “We’ve only got Jamesons left.”

I didn’t know entirely what to expect when I decided to go to Lib Dem Conference this year. I’ve never done a party conference before. Truth be told, in the lead up to this one, I was wondering if I’d made the right decision to go.

Organising the #libdempints over the past few months has been fantastic. The people we’ve met at our events have been enthusiastic, full of energy, and they’ve all come from different places, at different stages in their lives. It’s brilliant to see.

But going to conference felt like a bigger barrier. It’s a much bigger commitment than sidling into a pub basement on a Monday night for a few quick drinks to catch a speech by the likes of Jo Swinson or Paddy Ashdown. Was this just going to be a place where you had to live and breathe politics for every hour of the day to get by? I had hoped not.

So how was it? Well, while the drinking and partying are definite strong points, there’s some serious bits underlying everything as well:

The highlights

  • It’s a city full of people who like politics: that means plenty of debates with similarly-minded folk – importantly and surprisingly, there was a real sense to welcome differing opinion and approach debate maturely
  • Motions like Trident and One Member, One Vote – both had some incredible speakers at them, lively debate and a real, genuine sense that you were a part of something by being in the room
  • Pete’s speech in One Member, One Vote. He put forward a great case: most members cannot attend conference and those who do are at the folly of their local party to decide if they get the right to vote. Pete was twice interrupted for applause, and the vote passed. Daisy Cooper’s speech in this debate was incredibly powerful as well
  • Elaine Bagshaw’s policy pitch for education: that we start teaching per ability rather than age. I’ve had a few conversations about this in the day job and think it’s a fascinating idea. Will be offering Elaine any support I can on that
  • The people – obvious one but really important. I met so many people who were full of hope and optimism
  • Liberal Reform – between their fringe events and the bar, it was great to meet many of those involved – esp. to hear so many sound voices. Their equality debate was particularly strong, and between Kav & Sam, they really put forward a strong, compelling case for the free market approach, which I definitely side with
  • Jo Swinson – second time I’ve seen her speak and the more compelled I was by her. I could easily (and welcomingly) see her as a future leader of the party
  • #libdempint – my word, that was fun. A very special thank you to Dom for helping with organising, flyering and promoting at this year’s conference. We had a solid 200 people there, Greg Mulholland and Paddy Ashdown as speakers, and some of the best conversations I’d been a part of all weekend. Let’s do that again
  • It was actually quite like a holiday – even though I didn’t expect it would be

The lowlights

  • The lack of ambition for most of the main conference motions was appalling. Refugees? Of bloody course we’re going to be in favour of that. Environment? Oh that’s it – we want to make that better too. I’d far rather have seen a motion for Opening Up Our Borders – regardless of for migration or asylum
  • It’s expensive. This isn’t the end of the world for those there, but it creates a definite divide of those who could afford to come. Once you’ve taken into account travel, accommodation, food and drink (and for better or worse, this is the full conference experience), you’ve spent £700+
  • Policy isn’t really set by the members. It’s set by representatives of constituencies who attend conference. Even with OMOV, it’s just attendees of conference. What about the rest of the 60,000? What about the rest of the population? How can we get everyone involved? We need digital voting in some form so that every member can get involved, without it I feel that ‘Democrats’ part of our title isn’t really in good faith

I was really surprised by conference. I thought that I’d grow bored of that much politics that much day in, day out. But actually between the solid core group (out to Ali, Ben, Pete, Sarah) we had navigating Bournemouth, it remained fun throughout. In spite of its negatives – which hopefully can change over time – it really is a great few days.

At the very first #libdempint we ever threw, I remember someone walk in with a look of pure joy on her face. She later told me how happy she was that so many new members had joined up and had organised such an event. She went on to become a regular attendee and organiser for the events, as well providing great understanding of everything Lib Dem.

I was always a bit nervous that being a former Tory and pretty right wing economically wouldn’t get me very far in the party, but she persuaded me different. At one of those early pints, I was extolling the virtues of the Orange Book to her and she encouraged me that I had to go to conference to get involved and help make that happen.

Today, I got back from that conference which she recommended to me, and I had a fantastic time. So a very special thank you to Daisy for making sure that we’d all come and making us feel at home, you star. Here’s to York.


Why I joined the Liberal Democrats yesterday

Yesterday, I joined the Liberal Democrats. For anyone who knew me in 2010, I’m sure this will come as quite a surprise.

In the five years between 2008 and 2013, I I went from having undeveloped, contrarian political understanding through to disillusion agorist. From assuming Cameroon to Thatcherite, through to classical liberal, then libertarian.

Before my year as a member of Conservative Future ended, I had already grown tired of the party. Activists I had met and befriended were all heading to Ukip. After seeing Olly Neville get sacked by their chairman for supporting gay marriage, it seemed their claim to be a home for libertarians was untenable.

Until around March this year, I wasn’t going to vote.

If you’re a right-libertarian, it’s pretty hard to try and find a political party to call home. In 2015, absolutely no parties sat in the quadrant of the graph where I sit.


I did realise, however, that the economic argument had moved in the right direction. My disillusionment with politics over the past five years thought that even if the Tories, Labour or even Lib Dems had won a majority in 2010 fiscally, the country wouldn’t have been too different. As opposed to say, if the Greens had ruled during that period.

Socially, however, there is still an awfully lot to be done.

Ukip managed to bring anti-immigration into the heart of British politics in 2015. It was highly depressing. Every mainstream political party this year, said something along the lines of: ‘immigration has been too high, and we need to change that.’

Where was the market liberal voice pointing out that immigration was a net positive for the country? (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1114/051114-economic-impact-EU-immigration) Party policy followed the scaremongering.

On drugs, we look to America and are frankly amazed. Here is a country with higher social conservatism across many swathes of the nation than we have here, and yet a number of states have now legalised cannabis.

Thousands die each year due to the global war on drugs. Dozens are being killed in the UK by PMA tablets, whom almost certainly would have been alive if a regulated market sold them the ecstasy that they were expecting rather than this deadly precursor.

All the while, the addicted – those who need our help unequivocally – are treated as criminals rather than patients.

And on civil liberties, we now look like we will face five years of continual decline. In 2009, I remember fondly the Tories and Lib Dems in opposition lambast Labour for the nanny state, the reduction in our rights and the war against civil liberties created in the name of counter-terrorism.

The coalition’s record on civil liberties was nowhere close to where it should have been, but at least the Liberal Democrats had a strong influence.

Now, decoupled from the Liberal Democrats, Theresa May is in a frightening position in the home office. The snoopers charter will get rushed through. More anti-terror laws, which sign away our personal liberties and freedom, will no doubt be passed.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement of a Tory majority, Theresa May revealed the quick fire decision to reignite the snoopers charter now that the brakes are off. I don’t imagine her decision making on such matters in the future to take any longer.

The party I found myself voting for on Thursday was the Liberal Democrats. It was something that almost until election day I debated. But was happy to have made the decision when I did.

Nick Clegg’s resignation speech was one of the best political speeches I’ve seen in recent years. A perfect blend of humility with defiance. We were reminded that if it had not been for the Lib Dems, the country would have certainly been worse off over the last five years.

It frustrated me their decimation in the polls and the Commons. I was never a Lib Dem before, nor did I ever support their pledge on tuition fees. But when I look at those who did, I cannot believe it. For a party who had less than 1/10th of the seats in 2010, they certainly had a great deal more than 1/10th of the influence in government.

The Liberal Democrats now are at a point where support is needed.

There will be those who now say that a lurch to the left is necessary. That the Orange Book should be forgotten. That getting into bed with the Tories was what killed us. I think they are all wrong.

I am excited to see where the Liberal Democrats can go from here. We are an intellectual party. One that should be shouting from the rooftops that the status quo is wrong on so many things. A party of thinkers that has deep ideological roots. A party that could shape a genuine alternative for market and social liberalism. One that gives responsibility and power back to the individual, entrusting them with their own lives, yet supporting them to do so.

Philosophy in party politics is all but dead today, what if we had a chance to change that?

I am indeed a very new Liberal Democrat, but I finally am beginning to feel like I have found a home.

If you have recently joined the Lib Dems as well, I am co-organising a newbie London Lib Dem meetup here.

Food and Wine

Palermo, Sicily – February 2015

Ferro di Cavallo is a side street trattoria with bright red walls and a maître d sporting a James Murphy beard. Its clientele was reflective of what we had seen elsewhere: the odd young group of friends, but mostly older families – and large families they were too.

As with everywhere else on our whistle stop tour of Palermo, the atmosphere was buzzing. Music filled the room when we entered but soon conversation from the dozens of tables took over all else.

A conversation was struck up with a lone diner on the adjacent table around the time we’d finished our main courses. It soon emerged that our new friend was a Provencal who had grown up in Aix-en-Provence. Excitedly, I began to declare my love for my favourite region of France. And of course, my opinion that Provence is home to the greatest food in the world.

“Why?” he asked. “I think the English look to the south and see French food, in the same way we look to the south and see Italian and Sicilian food. As something better than our own.”

* * * *

We decided to embark on this adventure almost on whim. For a long time, I had promised old former Sicilian and Italian colleagues that I would visit one day to taste the food which they had described with such love and abandon. The timing was last-minute: a desire to escape a much colder winter in London than the last, with a wish to discover something new.

Palermo is beautiful city and one that in many ways reminded me of London. For every awe-inspiring sight such as the Teatro Massimo, there is – usually just a few hundred metres away – something less majestic, grittier, where real life is happening around you.

Take the Ballaro market for example. There’s meat, veg, and seafood but also stallholders selling mobile phone holders, jewellery, knock-off designer bags, clothes. Adults, teenagers and children as young as nine or ten zip by on mopeds, expertly weaving between pedestrians. At the bottom of via Ballaro sits a piazza with bars facing onto it that could easily be in Hackney Wick.

People stop in the street and converse. They meet, they shop, they sit and drink beer, they smoke cigarettes and hashish, which perfumes the air. Yet five minutes away is one of the most humbling and astounding churches I have ever visited.

Yet our first experience of Palermo wasn’t when we landed, but on the plane.

During our flight over, we met a couple of Sicilians who were quick to offer their recommendations (full list included below) and help us learn some much needed Italian and Sicilian to get us by. Enthralled in conversation, we wondered whether every encounter with a Sicilian would be the same.

From that moment on, it was. Taxi drivers, waitresses, barman, the people we drank alongside, met in restaurants, or asked for help in the street. They all were incredibly friendly. All were quick to give us advice of places to visit, of wines to try, and of things to see.

* * * *

On Friday night, keen to try out one of these plane recommendations we headed towards Piazza Magione and, frankly, were disappointed when we arrived. We realised later that arriving at 9pm to a place in Palermo was a foolish mistake. Nightlife rarely begins until much later.

Our first destination for food was Le Pergamene. The owners and locals no doubt thought we were mad when we opted to eat outside in February, but compared to London we were practically in late spring.

I ate papperdelle with a wild boar sauce. Nothing was over complicated. Everything was finely balanced with delicious cherry tomatoes sitting on top that provided a zesty and light contrast to the rest of the food. It was exactly the sort of unfussy but perfectly executed dish that I had looked forward to. It goes without saying the pasta was better than any I had tasted before.

The note I made for wine read “Local wine. Not amazing, but great value. Quaffable – main downside is a jammy bitter/tart/dry aftertaste.”

Truth be told, it sums up most house reds we drank. As with France, this comes with the proviso that while there are faults, for the price (typically 10 euros for a bottle or litre), you could not get wine of this quality in London.

The shining star when it came to the red wine was in Champagneria on Via S. Spinuzza 59. Here, after a long conversation with the proprietor about what we loved and looked for in wines, we were recommended a Feudo Montoni Perricone Vigna Del Core from 2013. The perriocne, which is native to Sicily, is an exceptional grape indeed.

“I find on most holidays, there is one wine that really defines the trip – and this is that wine,” I declared, as the two housemates rolled their eyes. But as with the excellent local organic red I drank in Avignon last year, this really stood out. A strong, punchy, earthy, deeply fruity bouquet, that followed through – as the best wines do – in taste as it did on the nose. If I had been able to bring back a few cases of wine, it certainly would have been this one.

* * * *

Two hours later and we were many drinks deep around Vucciria. “It reminds me so much of Lisbon,” the flatmate said, while I could only allude to the street party feel of Notting Hill carnival. There were thousands of young Palermitans getting drunk, eating street food of oysters, sandwiches and ice cream, while dancing to the many sound systems that lined this isolated selection of streets.

* * * *

17 degree heat in February. #triptosicily

A photo posted by Joshua Lachkovic (@joshlachkovic) on

The following morning – none of us anywhere close to our best – we found ourselves in Mondello. If there is one place that really soothes a hungover head, it’s a place by the sea.

Here we ate at Al Gabbiano, a recommendation from our taxi driver.

I started with a caponata, a Sicilian stew of aubergines and celery in a vinegar and caper sauce. A Palermo version of this dish reportedly adds octopus, with the upscale version adding lobster or swordfish. Both were absent in this more classic variety.

For the first few mouthfuls, the local aubergines and celeries came together to make a delicious combination. Yet almost immediately the sauce that covered the dish became overpowering. It will not be a plate that I revisit again.

But if I was disappointed at the caponata sauce that detracted from the natural taste of the aubergine, the same could not be said for our shared sea bream we had for the main. After choosing the bream from a display, it was grilled and brought back to us on a serving platter that would have made Keith Floyd happy.

It was deboned and filleted in front of us and then presented to us while we sipped prosecco, just metres from the sea. As far as hangovers go, they don’t get much better than this. A special note should be added for the potatoes, which from what we could work out were sauted heavily in olive oil – certainly a change for a British palette.

* * * *

Being situated as it is in the med, Sicily is privy to some incredible natural ingredients. From the fish on its shores, to the veg it grows inland. The less cluttered and less busy their dishes are, the better. Though there seems to be an aversion to salt that could have brought some life to the more average dishes we had along the way.

Sicilians, like the Provencals, have a love for their food.

Yet what I can’t quite shake is the comment from our new friend at Ferro di Cavallo. Is my palette less sophisticated than his for not understanding why Italian or Sicilian cuisine overtakes that of Provence, or indeed the rest of France?

Or is simply the desire for the unknown that gastronauts all the world over share, which drives his attentions further south into Sicily?

Whatever it is, his search – like ours – was met with some beautiful food, breathtaking scenery, but I think mostly, incredible company. Everyone has a story to tell, something to share and a passion they want to convey to you.

It so happens that the people of Palermo we met and those drawn to it, seem to share our passion for wine, food and gastronomy. And so when you are placed together, it produces something quite wonderful indeed.


2014 in music

“If you look at my last three end of year lists, there’s a pattern”
“Yeah some good music with token contrarian pop choices as talking points”

And so here we are again. I tend to start getting excited by these lists around October.

That’s when I realise for those recent six weeks, I’ve only been listening to one thing. It could be a genre or label or producer or style or show or whatever, but I’ve been listening to that obsessively. And I realise I’ve been missing out.

So I start to trawl through magazines, websites, download sites, blogs, friends, whatever. Find new things, draw new links and start on another little mini-obsession.

Most of my tastes over the past ten years follow that exact same pattern. Find something, surround myself with it, lionise everything to do with it and then just as I’m about to feel like I’m drowning in it, I find the new excitement, the next itch.

Sometimes that shift towards the next thing can can be subtle. Leon Vynehall’s album this year grabbed my attention with tracks that reference The Legend of Zelda (It’s Just (House of Dupree)) and The Streets (Be Brave. Clench Fists). Yet it was the lush, rich samples that he integrated into that record that set off a mini-house journey towards more sample-based sounds. And on the way exploring every artist he’d referenced whether through sampling, interviews or song titles.

The shift isn’t always so subtle. When Moodymann’s self-titled album dropped at the beginning of the year, it was in Lyk U Used 2 and Sloppy Cosmic that I found most joy and in both tracks we’ve got the closest allusions to hiphop, funk and broken beat drum loops.

What else is there around this tempo that sounds like this? And so I start exploring. And oh, what fun you can have at the 90bpm mark; still with energy that a lot of house or technoheads might ignore.

And then there’s the new obsessions or journeys which depart entirely from what’s known. The tempo might stay the same but all of a sudden, Point Point’s Morning BJ appears from nowhere. The French producers proving that there’s beauty to be heard in all sounds. Is this trap? Bass? EDM? Whatever it is it captures you in shock and awe for two minutes – and that’s where the real magic happens as the jazz piano introduces the biggest surprise of the year.

Clap Clap are the same with their drums: rhythms that would be at home in mid-to-late 2000s US hiphop. Yet as with tracks like Kuj Yato, those rhythms are layered with these incredible African choral elements and instrumentation that create some really raw.

A pastiche achieved with equal beauty on Rhythm Section International’s debut LP from Al Dobson Jr. Artists like these paved the way so that when I heard Ryan Hemsworth’s Surrounded just a few weeks ago it became an instant replayer rather than one I had to work with to understand.

2014’s been a year with quite a few changes in it for me. I’ve changed job and that leads to little things like a switch away from radio, which means I know very little of the pop music that’s graced the charts this year. As such, I looked out only for the artists I know and love. And with that, it’s Taylor Swift who makes up my “token contrarian pop choices” in this year’s list.

“1989” is definitely my favourite complete Swift work to date. There’s no big Never Ever Getting Back Togethers or 22s, and the middle eight in Shake It Off is one of Taylor’s few truly embarrassing moments she’s ever recored to tape. But as a complete work it’s strong, it reveals a personality that she’s slowly been building over the years.

She delivers the album’s more serious moments with an earnestness that she hadn’t even hinted at before. And her moments of whim are delivered with a style that elevate her away from the saccharine tendencies of most current pop.

I’ve been going out clubbing less this year and I imagine that will show through the list – and if it doesn’t it certainly would throughout my general listening habits for the year. The list is still seasoned with electronic music but it’s the inclusion of, for example, The Monk rather than anything else from Jason Vroon’s new full length that is telling. Lauer’s Stigma and Portable’s Surrender too are both great electronic records but sit more comfortably at home or a late night Uber than in a club.

The list isn’t entirely without it’s dance-orientated moments however. Weirldy, considering I’ve gone out less this year, I’ve listened to more techno than usual. While most of it has been older, pre-2014 stuff, the inclusion of Auden’s Whispers symbolises for me a lot more than just one track in a top-20.

The remix Tale of Us remix of Caribou’s Can’t Do Without You again sits in clubland well, as do the aforementioned entry from Moodymann, Riccio’s insatiable rerub of You Can’t Fight It and Dimitri’s corker of a remix of old Paradise Garage favourite The Boss.

I still can’t work out if I know the vocal refrain in Raumskaya’s U Knew Before and I just can’t remember, or the song instantly created a sense of nostalgia the moment I heard it. Either way, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

But it’s Raury’s God’s Whisper that just clenches the number one spot for me. The drums ripped right through me the first time I heard them. The production alludes more to that late-2000s lo-fi indie sound than it does the hiphop moniker that got plastered onto it in the immediate aftermath.

Overall, it’s been an interesting year for me. I worry that my diversions away from what I know haven’t been as stark as usual. And as someone always on the lookout to hear something different and new, I dislike that. If I were the type to make new year’s resolutions, then maybe diverging away from the known might be a good one.

But whatever has been the case, 2014 has been a great year for music. Whether that’s in the surprise bridge between trap and jazz, the sound of Todd Terje not taking himself too seriously, or the whirlwind of emotions Taylor manages to evolve through in the space of three minutes.

Listen to the playlist here (minus Taylor Swift as you can’t find her on the internet anymore).

Top 20 songs of 2014

20. Lauer – Stigma
19. Jason Vroon – The Monk
18. Portable – Surrender
17. Kendrick Lamar – I
16. Auden – Whispers
15. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
14. GoGo Penguin – Kamaloka
13. Sylvan Esso – Coffee
12. Todd Terje – Svensk Sås
11. Taylor Swift – Out Of The Woods
10. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
9. Moodymann – Lyk U Used 2
8. Leon Vynehall – It’s Just (House of Dupree)
7. Jimmy Chambers – You Can’t Fight It (Riccio Rerub)
6. Ryan Hemsworth – Surrounded
5. Taylor Swift – New Romantics
4. Diana Ross – The Boss (Dimitri From Paris Remix)
3. Point Point – Morning BJ
2. Ramuskaya – U Knew Before
1. Raury – God’s Whisper

Albums of the year (unranked)

Francis Bebey – Psychedelic Sanza
Leon Vynehall – Music For the Uninvited
Moodymann – Moodymann
Taylor Swift – 1989
Tin-Man – Ode

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset
Food and Wine, September

Provence, September 2014

Elizabeth David’s anecdote about the English still selling olive oil in chemists in the 50s is renowned. Even in post-rationing Britain, the thought of the dishes David covers in French Provincial Cooking, while we were using powdered eggs, must have sounded incredibly remote.

A lot has changed in the fifty-two years since that book’s release. English food is now some of the best in the world.

Elizabeth David, in my mind the world’s greatest food writer, has sadly passed away. And Keith Floyd grew up and made the best food TV there’s ever been.

It is almost entirely in these two figures that my love for cooking was born. Keith Floyd’s style, constant drinking and laissez-faire attitude were inspiring: cooking can be fun.

And through Keith Floyd’s frequent mentions throughout On Fish, On Food, On France and On Britain and Ireland, he said one name more than anyone else’s.

“As Elizabeth David once said,” start so many Floyd stories as it is clear we are watching a man talk freely about someone he idolises.

And so it was natural for me to find myself wanting to pick up a book of hers to see what the fuss was about.


I remember opening the pages to its first chapter as she launches into her ode to Provence vividly now. It joins eating lobster for the first time at Bonnie Gull or Iberico jamon for the first time in Stop Madrid Taberna, as one of my three favourite food experiences of my life. Reading about a place.

From that moment on, reinforcing the brilliant exploration that I saw Floyd reveal months before, I have wanted to go to one place more than any other in the world: Provence.

Today, as McDonalds line the streets of France’s capital city and the locals don’t seem to mind, I had to wonder whether Provence would still provide that joy.

Will you still be able to go into a small cafe bar and eat beautiful fruit, wonderfully flavoursome tomatoes or beef slowly simmered in red wine with a zest of orange peel? Or would fast-food have caught up with this part of the world that David writes of like no other?

Strangely, the latter nightmare scenario has not become true. In over 200 miles of driving, around 24 of walking, all the while looking for restaurants and places to eat, I saw just one McDonalds. One.

Drinks in Cucuron

The Provencals take food as seriously as you hope. In Cucuron, locals came out in droves for lunch as the shops shut and we picnicked after a long walk through the vinyards that engulf this village. They return again at night. We drank rose in Bar L’Etang, until it closed early with a lock-in for five or six friends.

One door down at Restaurant L’Etang, we catch a late night meal of duck confit. Served simply with adornings of fat. While mine was cooked unevenly with an overcooked side to it, the Girls had no complaints of theres. We drank rose and then red, both locally sourced and both delicious.

In larger towns, where tourist traps try to draw you in with their almost kitcsch blackboard and chalk menus, you’re left wishing that the restaurants of Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden served food to this standard.

In Avignon, at Lou Mistrau, the first lunch of the trip, I ate pork fillet served with tapenade and a salad. A Provencal dish of the highest standards. Wonderfully salty, full of flavour and honestly cooked. There was more brilliant rose, with a pitcher costing the same as of a Mojito at a low-level London cocktail bar.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Afternoon drinking made us temporary friends with a pair who offered one of the best pieces of advice of the whole trip: go to L’Ubu for dinner.

L’Ubu set a very high precedent indeed for the meal of the first night. Red wine was ordered and I had to stop the conversation on first sip, “One moment, because we need to reflect on this wine.”

Full of black berries and deeply velvety, I asked the waiter what it was. “It’s from a friend of mine who lives just outside of Avignon, it’s organic.” No Rhone I’d drank before had been this marvellous.

Despite the red, I had two seafood courses for food. To begin, we had squid with a coriander salad. Floyd or David would have been singing to the heavens about its simplicity and honesty.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset

The squid was the most delicate I’d eaten – nothing at all like a piece of food that so often struggles with a chewiness problem. The plat borrowed from the south introducing couscous and sweetness to a simply roasted cod, which tasted of the sea.

In Aix on day three with the heat picking up, we sat in Cafe Cardeurs in Place Forum des Cardeurs, and a cold lunch seemed most appropriate.

A beef carpaccio served with an ice cold beer was a surprisingly refreshing combination in the 29 degree heat. And the tomatoes that were served with it edged ahead as the best of the trip. By mistake I ended up with the same again in a momentary lapse of uncertainty as we ordered dinner that evening in Bistro Romain.

If the architects of Brasserie Zedel were attempting to allude to a certain pastiche of railway cafe and high-ceiling opulent dining, then it wouldn’t surprise me if they found their inspiration here. The carpaccio wasn’t on a level with that of Cafe Cardeurs, but the starter of jambon and the charming staff more than made up it.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Finally, we arrived in Cassis – the closest to a tourist destination we had found. Yachts lined the harbour, the sands were golden, and the sea crystal clear. We swam, we sunbathed, and we had a late and not-so-petit, petit dejuner for eight euros a piece.

By the time that evening arrived, having nibbled on cheese and swigged three euro rose from the supermarket, we knew we wanted one thing: seafood.

Wandering past lots of places that we thought ‘yeah, we could eat there’, I worried momentarily that we would only find a so-so establishment.

Instead, we found Restaurant Calendal.

Midway through our meal, the Italians who were sat to our side started to complain in English, while the owner came out to see what the problem was.

“The sauce has no flavour, the meat is dry, the pasta is dreadful.” They left shortly after paying just for their wine and a starter between them.

What food they were eating, I couldn’t tell you. Because I was eating bouillabaisse for the first time.

There are few things that will prepare you for a bouillabaisse. The richness and body of flavour in the soup is incredible. The seafood it composes all take on that richness and depth while retaining their own identity. It is quite simply brilliant.

There are people who argue over the dish’s ingredients and some writers claim to favour a tomato-less version: I am not one of them. The fish, which many I did not recognise, were perfect.

So when the Italian couple complained about their food and stormed off in a huff, we took great pleasure in telling the owner that ours was a meal that perfectly finished a trip of very high quality food indeed.

Everywhere – from the supermarkets to the street food markets, from roadside cafes to city bars, and from restaurants overlooking the quietest pools of water – the people of Provence take their food incredibly seriously.

While the larger towns do not shut in the way that Cucuron did in the middle of the day, there were more than just tourists filling the restaurants for two-to-three hours every lunch time, and from six o’clock until midnight in the evenings.

My fears that the globalisation, which I love for bringing different cultures and cuisines to London, would have turned this place into a soulless and heartless entity were completely unfounded.

In over fifty years since the release of French Provincial Cooking, England has become a place where I think you can find the greatest food in the world. More restaurants open in London than I can keep up with and know I would love.

Olive oil is no longer sold in chemists but delis, supermarkets, artisanal shops and the corner shop when you buy your tobacco and four-pack of Stella at the weekend.

And yet, Provence still secured the place in my heart that it did for Elizabeth David fifty years ago. Provence is a country I am returning to next week, next month, next year – or, quite frankly, whenever I get the earliest chance.



2013 in music and my top 20 songs of the year

TL:DR? Jump to the list

Well that wasn’t a very good year for pop music, was it? We had to wait until November until we were given a half-way decent pop hook (Rihanna’s Monster chorus), but even that was replicating the exact same formula Ri and Slim nailed for the first time a few years ago.

Of last year’s two really big hitters, only Taylor came out with one great tune (“22”), but that was actually from 2012 and Carly Rae was nowhere to be seen.

The biggest summer sellers both used Pharrell in what must have been a very profitable year for him. And both tracks became the de facto back-to-back option for lazy DJs everywhere. “Blurred Lines” provided guilty pleasure plays long after its release and “Get Lucky”‘s brilliance was put to the test of being played to death. Unfortunately both failed. I haven’t voluntarily played either since August.

Elsewhere, Miley Cyrus has encouraged moral outrage across the country by being provocative. She’s outraged more people than even the Daily Mail managed to this year. And last time I checked, it has always been the role of a pop/rockstar to piss off the adults of the world. Teenagers love her and all your outrage is doing is helping her shift records. The only depressing thing about Miley is that she hasn’t recorded a decent tune since Party in the USA. Miley, be as naked as you like, but please get back in the studio with Jessie J asap.

Eminem brought out the MM2, which aside from the Monster was terrible. Kanye’s Yeezus flirted with trap too much to be anywhere half good (Bound 2 being the only exception), and the new Jay couldn’t even manage one good tune.

In RnB, Amel Larrieux released an exceptional album, which is probably my favourite longplayer of the year. It sounds like some late 90s RnB and for that I’m incredibly thankful.

The real blossoms (unsurprisingly for me, granted), were with dance music. Let’s first get the bad out the way. The deep house sound from the past two-to-three years, spurred on by the Jamie Jones’ of the world has entered the mainstream well and proper. MK’s Storm Queen remix was massive but not particularly inspiring (unlike his LDR take), Duke Dumont witnessed relative success for a good few months, and BrEaCh (sp?) saw to it that even the Radio 1 Breakfast show wasn’t without its house cuts. 

But the best thing about deep house’s entering into the mainstream has been the need for the underground to recreate itself (its been long overdue).

Todd Terje was the absolute victor this year. His edit of Lindstrom’s “Vos-Sako-Rv” was exceptional, and so underappreciated (yet when I played it out at a summer party this year, it killed it). But of course his “Strandbar” release has to be the one that constantly turned heads and wowed dancefloors everywhere. And when you got bored of Disko for its more in-your-face piano explosion, Samba took over to bring out the intracacies for months after.

Fort Romeau was my personal favourite producer of the year. In 2012, he was putting out harmless deep house that lounged its way through out soundsystems very unoffensively, but this year – my word! “Jetee” was an absolute banger uniting acid influences, hands-in-the-air breaks with truly melancholic piano in the space of 6 minutes. “Stay/True” was the real glory moment though. Weatherall-esque drugchug taking the acid thing even further produced exceptional tunes at well below the regular bpms.

The love for lower bpms for me this year was created by my greatest clubbing experience in five years (I.e. Clubbing zero one) as I found Rhythm Section. As if by magic at a time when I was getting utterly bored by the London club scene as it was sluggishly playing dull, insipid and uninventive four-to-the-floor house or techno for an audience that needed a head full of horse tranquilisers to appreciate anything more than 15 minutes of it, I found RS.

Rhythm Section, headed up by Bradley Zero, better known as ‘the guy in dreads’ in the Boiler Room videos, changed everything. Here I was dancing to music at anything from all over the world at any given tempo, and it all ignored the paint by numbers house and techno that every other club seemed to be playing. 100bpm never felt so natural to dance to. And my mix of the year is without a doubt the first RS show on NTS I heard: solidifying that early RS sound that I fell in love with: “Stop Bajon”, and “Rising to the Top.”

My love for disco expanded this year in tandem, and in particular with the re-edits scene. Fingerman’s “Too Much” and Late Nite Tuff Guy’s “I Want Your Love” mix (which admittedly isn’t a re-edit) stood out on top, but I could have easily put together a top 20 of re-edits that all sound as excellent today as they did when I first heard them this year, while simultaneously bringing some life back to forgotten originals.

There’s some jazz entering my heard properly for the first time outside of the Miles Davis and bigband canon that previously existed. The jazz influences on the King Krule album in particular were standout for me, and really impressed me with the modern genre-blurring he achieved. Dysnonia blew my mind as to what jazz could be, as did the Sons of Kemet album. My love for both comes from Gilles Peterson who also turned me on to countless other jazz sounds throughout the year.

Looking back, I got into the Philly Soul sound via hearing Tom Moulton’s incredible anthology that I only found this year. Likewise, a new appreciation for Screamdelica was found as I realised there was more to that record than Loaded.

Albums by The Range, Bilal, Jai Paul, Colin Stetson, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Rhye also all left a mark, in the pits of late night bus journeys, early mornings and soundtracks to loosing myself in books.

Vampire Weekend’s new long player was my surprise like of the year. I don’t often find many guitar-heavy albums that satisfying anymore, but the new VW LP was really excellent. The afrobeat influences from the first record are still there but the world music sounds have diversified even more, which was consistently refreshing with an album that got better with every play.

It was a great year for a lot of music. My dance music tastes broadended, RnB and guitar music seeped back in, but after last year’s great twelve months for pop, I was a tad disappointed this year. Still, you can’t win them all.


My top 20 songs of the year

20 – King Krule – A Lizard State
19 – Bilal – Lost for Now
18 – Kan SANO – Everybody Loves the Sunshine (Leftside Wobble Remix)
17 – Gil Scott Heron – Bottle (Disco Tech Rework)
16 – Andras – Running Late
15 – Romanthony – Ministry of Love (Andres edit)
14 – Fort Romeau – Jetee
13 – Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
12 – Amel Larrieux – Afraid
11 – Daft Punk – Get Lucky
10 – Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
09 – Chaos in the CBD – 78 to Stanley Bay
08 – For Romeau – Stay/True
07 – Fingerman – Too Much
06 – Late Nite Tuff Guy – Bless the Rains
05 – Taylor Swift – 22
04 – Sons of Kemet – Inner Babylon
03 – Lindstrom – Vos-Sako-RV (Todd Terje Extended Dub)
02 – Paul Simon – Diamonds (Ame Private Mix)
01 – Todd Terje – Strandbar (Samba Mix)


Albums of the year

Bilal – Love Surreal
Amel Larriux – Ice Cream Everyday
Dawn of Midi – Dysnonia
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
King Krule – Six Feet Beneath The Moon
Mountains – Centralia
Rhye – Woman