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 The licence to M&G – Misbehave and Gorge – in parts exotic has been withdrawn for most.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

The Lamont Affair – August 1992

The Lamont Affair – August 1992

The cupboard was bare, the UK economy was broke. In the following weeks Britain would crash out of the Exchange Rate Mechanise (ERM) and interest rates would soar to 15%. The mismanaging of this financial disaster was presided over by Chancellor of the Exchequer...

Sleazeville – USA & Mexico 1994

Sleazeville – USA & Mexico 1994

The lawn was straight out of Dukes of Hazzard central casting. Cannibalised car engines lay rusting in the steamy southern heat next to discarded children's toys, log piles, bricks, used fast food wrappers and a chained up puppy dog of indeterminate breed. On the...

The Blind Bears of Bangalore

The Blind Bears of Bangalore

Being a sloth bear in India was not much fun if you’d been orphaned as a cub and taken captive by a nomadic tribe of Kalandars. A red hot poker was pushed through their snout and a rope threaded through, it would stay there for life. The Kalandars lined the road out...

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...

LATEST RECIPES

Mushroom Soup

INGREDIENTS (per person) 600 g of field mushrooms 1 onion 1 stick of celery 4 cloves of garlic 150 ml of cream 1.5 litres of chicken or veg stock A small chopped bunch of thyme HOW TO DO IT Chop the onion, celery and garlic. Place in a large pan with four tablespoons...

Focaccia Bread

INGREDIENTS500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour2 tsp salt2 sachets dried easy blend yeast2 tbsp olive oil400ml/14fl oz cold waterolive oil, for drizzlingsea salt2 sprigs of rosemaryHOW TO DO ITPlace the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water...

Caprese Salad

INGREDIENTS 2 large beefsteak tomatoes nice and ripe 2 Mozzarella cheeses A bunch of basil leaves pulled apart Olive oil Maldon sea salt HOW TO DO IT Slice the tomatoes the width of a pound coin. Slice the cheese a bit thicker than the tomatoes. On a nice plate layer...