Shopping has become a war of attrition. For most of us it usually means rushing headlong to the nearest supermarket where we seem to teeter between between hysteria and panic. Alone is always best.
I see many unlucky enough to be accompanied by demanding infants outperforming Houdini from within their wire cages. In my case, very occasionally the Belgian shows willing. But tempers fray as he tends to spend the entire experience immersed in a taxing mental negotiation between the varying benefits of brands of cholesterol-lowering yoghurt drinks, or steering me away from the aisle housing the essential finest ingredients for my kitchen.
I often see bewildered husbands and boyfriends clutching shopping lists and being guided into their target on a mobile phone. Often in completely the wrong place, they’re looking for something they couldn’t identify even if they could find it.
Let’s face it, supermarkets in Britain are brash and unrewarding places where we are intimidated by price and choice – usually both – and are just too tired or busy to care. Inevitably I make as quick an exit as possible in a muck sweat with a two metre long receipt mouthing ‘how could it possibly be that much?’
There are some who have all day to source and shop for the finest ingredients and local produce money can buy. I long for the life that allows for days in pursuit of food. Up at dawn to Billingsgate for a box of fish; tea and toast before heading to Smithfield, and dive down to Borough for some freshly picked Hampshire watercress.
Others still are fortunate enough to simply slide into Fortnum & Mason to stock up on life’s little necessities. Now, that is a deliciously elegant shopping experience. More akin to slipping on a pair of very sheer denier stockings before a cocktail party or being transported to slumbers in an English summer garden with the scent of honeysuckle and the sound of a Chopin prelude.
For me, food shopping is a little weekend pilgrimage. Doing it freestyle always offers unexpected delights. This week it began with Steve Hatt in Islington. These friendly fishmonger boys are loud, butch and rather sexy, which of course enriches the pleasure. Their calloused hands deftly handling some of the best fish in London. Wild(ly expensive) salmon from Sutherland, octopus from Galicia and a Cromer dressed crab.
Over the road in Chapel St Market, you’ll find the most inexpensive artisanale French cheeses available in London from the Le Petit Village stall. Brought in a van from France every few weeks, I am spoiled with something new and perfectly ripe on each visit.