The Hungry Hacks

High living in hard times.
Great food on a budget that won’t break the bank.

Introduction

For almost a century between us we have lunched at the expense of others.

Around the world the Press barons of Fleet Street paid the not inconsiderable dining bills of Roger Allen and Allan Hall, run up in the pursuit of tabloid glory.

Underpinning the headlines, captioning the photographs, fueling the insatiable lust to get the story at any cost were magnificent meals few mortals get to savor.

You see, in the good old days of newspaper excess, before the Internet made the wheels come off and nourishment in gastro-temples was traded for flaccid sandwiches consumed at office desks, mad dog proprietors viewed expense account living as an acceptable perk they were gladly willing to pay for.

It was almost as if the tycoons considered brief luxury living for their journalists as wholly necessary if they were to mine and exploit human failings for the pages of their sensational organs.

BUT NO MORE . . .

The Street of Shame is now home to mortgage brokers, banks and acupuncturists. Large living for its erstwhile denizens, now scattered in pot-plant strewn, neon-lit, no-smoking hutches across the capital, gone the way of the carriage horse and the match girl, the wheeltapper, the shunter and the lamplighter.

A LOST WORLD

The Michelin starred, Gault Millau cosmos we once navigated is now denied to all but a few cossetted, highly paid columnists and editors.

Most newspapers now will pay for little more than an industrial-grade cheeseburger and a soft drink for dinner for the hacks still toiling at the coalface. The licence to M&G – Misbehave and Gorge – in parts exotic has been withdrawn for most.

Man cannot live on memories alone, mouthwatering though they may be. So it is through the prism of recall, together with remembrances of repasts past, that we bring to you our guide for high living in the age of low rent, made entirely possible by our devotion to the cause gourmet.

For while many colleagues and enemies during the glory years only focused on the next mission, Allen and I – black and blue from the times we had to pinch ourselves to realise how privileged we were – always had an eye on the only way we could live as millionaires.

THROUGH THE STOMACH

It was with this future vocation in mind that we set out, at an early age, to chronicle what Charles Dickens never wrote: the best of times and the best of times.

After our gargantuan slap-up feeds and fermented grape-juice benders we would eke from proprietors, chefs, waiters and street food sellers the secrets of their recipes, those culinary twists and turns which transform food from mere nourishment into something ambrosial.

Along the way we honed our kitchen skills with cooking courses and a collection of books from which one could create fine dining for 1,000 years.

So this is it. High living in hard times, great food on a budget that won’t break the bank.

This is our time-travel log, one where the Tardis of taste is guaranteed to always land somewhere gastronomically worthy, to bring you a smidgin of the table glories we once enjoyed.

ADVENTURES

D-Day – June 2004

D-Day – June 2004

The bray of the English upper classes is hard to miss. Sort of a cross between a donkey's snort and a duck's quack, it cut through the busy brasserie in the French port of Caen with the penetration of a well-educated sonic boom. I had been despatched from Berlin by...

The Barrymore Adventure 1993

The Barrymore Adventure 1993

My first culinary romp with Roger Allen - indeed, the first time I ever met him - was born out of that essential ingredient for success in journalism. Luck. Old hacks can bang on about contacts, schmoozing, working all hours that God sends etc. etc., but without...

Perdido the Cat, 1987

Perdido the Cat, 1987

A peculiar animal mania gripped the Daily Star newspaper in the 1980's after the underdog to The Sun wrested from its clutches a donkey called Blackie that had been tormented in a Spanish street festival. 'Mule Never Walk Alone' was the headline which heralded...

Bosnia 1993

Bosnia 1993

War zones don’t normally spring to mind when it comes to great food. But during the Bosnian conflict that raged at the heart of Europe in 1993-1995 I ate some of the best Balkan food on offer. My travelling companion was Ted Oliver, a great reporter from Belfast. Not...

The Flashman Bully – Germany 1987

The Flashman Bully – Germany 1987

The body lay motionless on the road, feet at right angles, the head lolling to one side. The harsh metallic crack of studded boots sparking on concrete and asphalt provided a jarring soundtrack to the pulsing sea of blue strobe lights from the military police vehicles...

LATEST RECIPES

Stuffed Onions

INGREDIENTS 3-4 large Spanish onions (about 2.5lb in all) 1lb spinach 10 ozs ricotta cheese 2 eggs 5ozs freshly grated Parmesan cheese Dried oregano 8 fl ozs cream 6 fl ozs of tomato puree Pinch of cayenne pepper Salt and freshly ground black pepper HOW TO DO IT Make...

Pork in the Style of the Auge Valley

INGREDIENTS (per person) 1 fine pork shop, trimmed of fat and rind Chopped flat leaf parsley Chopped shallots Olive oil Good glass of dry cider HOW TO DO IT Score the chop both sides in a criss cross-cross pattern with a sharp knife. On both sides spread a well...

Potato Straw Cake

INGREDIENTS 1½ lbs of floury potatoes Butter HOW TO DO IT Shred the potatoes with a hand grater or through the middle blade of a food processor. Rinse thoroughly to remove starch and dry equally thoroughly in a few tea-towels. You want them dry when they go into the...