Sainsbury's Magazine - March 1997
Lychees and lemons, papaya and pineapples – these are the way to Richard E Grant’s heart. But kippers you can definitely keep.
What food always reminds you of your childhood?
The stench of kippers for breakfast, which my father regularly scoffed down, is still with me. What I think of is a mouthful of bones and the conundrum of eating a fish that looks like it has been steamrollered and dyed Day-Glo orange. At the time I thought all fish tasted like that.
Do you cook, and if so, what do you like to cook?
I did once cook and opted for colour combination rather than flavour. The resulting plate of orange, red and bright green blobs proved inedible. My attempt at spaghetti Bolognese in university digs resulted in mince that was black on the outside and raw within and memorably relieved me forever from the cooking rota.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or a favourite type of restaurant?
The River Café in Hammersmith. They cook food that looks simple but tastes sublime enough to kiss a credit card goodbye. My real weakness is the pudding list and their fruit tarts induce withdrawal symptoms till the next fix.
Is there anything you hate about restaurants?
Anything overpriced, undercooked, boiled, or remotely resembling that Eighties aberration, nouvelle cuisine. Bismarck silver helmets topped with gold pineapples, ceremoniously lifted to reveal a plateful of food by a conjuring waiter at a hotel in Penrith was pure embarrassment.
Is there anyone, real or fictitious, living or dead, you would like to have dinner with?
Steve Martin, as he is always funny and fussier about food than I am, which lets me off the hook. He is also rare in being an American who eats with his mouth closed, so you are spared the open washing machine three-dimensional effect.
Is there something you always keep in the fridge?
A year’s supply of lychees, tinned or fresh, whichever are available. It is the one fruit that tastes and reminds me of where I grew up in Africa, and their unique texture is as close to the feel of a tulip stem that I have discovered so far.
What was the best meal you ever had?
My wife is a fantastic cook and last night she made a dish involving strips of fresh tuna and mushrooms in half a papaya with lime juice that prompted a renewal of marriage vows.
What would be your nightmare meal and have you ever had to eat it?
When I was filming in Israel I was invited to shul (synagogue) where the menu consisted of eggs, liver and gelfilte fish. As I don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy or cured fish my panic matched that of Mr Bean when he ordered steak tartare and had to find places to hide it. Likewise a trip to the loo and a stash of paper went some way to clearing my plate every time my incredibly generous hosts ooh’d and aah’d at their infant. However, when they saw how much I had bolted down, this prompted gasps of ‘Oh, you must have some more’. Vommed the lot up on the way home.
Do you ever grow or catch your own food?
No patience for the former, or guts for the latter. Other than beans in a jar of damp cotton wool at junior school.
What food would you find hardest to give up?
Fruit, of every description. Fresh, liquidized, baked, stewed, dried or pulped. The perfume colour and taste of it is better than anything else I have eaten. I have never drunk milk, always substituting orange juice to have on cereal, but have since dropped the cereal and now I just liquidize more fruit.
Can you always get a table in a restaurant?
I often phone at the eleventh hour and always anticipate a “Who the hell do you think you are?’, which hasn’t happened yet but it might well do. It still makes me blush though.
What would be your ‘last supper’ if anything were available to you and where would you eat it?
I would picnic with my wife and daughter up a mountain in Swaziland. Guavas, lychees, papaya, mangoes, cherries, grapes, pineapples, smoked salmon, raisin bread, lemon sorbet, Christmas pudding – a fruitcide at sunset.