I tasted the world’s most expensive kebab

It’s a miserable evening as I make my way through Canary Wharf’s docks in London, but the weather ain’t dampening this spirit – no sir.

As like Rocky before his final fight, I know this is going to be a defining moment and I’ve been salivating all afternoon in preparation…just like Rocky.
I’m heading down to Hazev’s a neighbourhood Turkish restaurant where I’m about to taste The Royal, the world’s most expensive kebab.

I’m greeted by Onder Sahan, owner, head chef and inspired kebab genius who has spent a total of £3,000 sourcing and assembling tonight’s feast for me, which priced at £925 he actually makes a loss on.

I’m also introduced to Hazev’s food scientist, Kalender Guvenc, (that is his legitimate title FYI) who tells me: “This is not the thing that you are eating after getting drunk and in the middle of the night filling your stomach with meaty stuff.

“We wanted to give the kebab the name it deserves by using the finest ingredients.”

Onder’s the kind of guy that wants to push the boundaries of tastiness as far as possible.

A friend introduced him to Japanese cuisine and he loved it, so he decided to use grade-9 listed Japanese Wagyu beef to make The Royal.

Italian food is his favourite so he thought it would be a cool idea to use some 25-year-old Modena balsamic vinegar in there, at £1.85-a-drop.

He’s a fan of mushrooms too, so he sources hand-picked French Morels to cook me up tonight’s meaty feast.

The dish is clearly pure extravagance but he knows that, and he wants people to understand that the kebab is something to be celebrated.

I watch him at work in the kitchen and there’s no denying the passion, craftsmanship, meat and dedication that goes into The Royal (read: mainly so much meat).

First he makes the most delicious parcel you’ve ever seen out of greaseproof paper, which he fills with lamb and goat, morel mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes and smoked garlic, and tosses on the open charcoal grill.

Then, he shapes the minced Wagyu beef, mixed with herbs and spices, around three long kebab swords and places them on the grill to sizzle.

I have to make a mental note not to impale myself on the swords because I do not trust myself in this scenario.

Luckily for me, Onder slides the kebabs off them as he plates up.
And you know what? It’s delicious.

As I sit in a profound food coma, Kalender tells me: “Of course we don’t think that people will come and buy this £925 kebab but people should know that this is a luxury food, instead of a five quid ‘refuel’.”

And I can kind of see the point the Hazev team are trying to make.

That night, my dreams were meat-filled.

I had the kind of disturbed sleep usually reserved for Christmas night, after consuming a dangerous amount of animal fat.

But what did I learn?

Well, that my taste for kebabs has suddenly got super fancy.

I also know that I probably haven’t eaten my last doner, but next time I do, I know I’ll be thinking of The Royal.

Countless human rights violations show why we should boycott Dubai

The Great British Summer is upon us and escaping the wash out is looking more and more appealing.

With London’s sky-rocketing house prices, stagnating wages and never-ending university debt, it’s no wonder generation-rent are looking for more than just a holiday.

The prospect of booming economies and faraway adventure have seen countless of my friends up sticks and head to sunnier climes.

Australia’s budding tech scene is quietly seducing Europe’s digital talent, with big budgets and a developing e-commerce market that has room for growth.

What’s more, if you are to believe the media hype, a deluge of Britain’s junior doctors are flocking to its shores to regain that work-life balance lacking under the NHS.

To the East, Singapore and Hong Kong have long tempted bright city talent as global financial hubs offering big payouts in more exotic climes.

And then there’s Dubai.

A jewel in the crown of the Arabian Gulf perhaps, but that’s not hard when you’re competing with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Don’t be fooled by its outwardly cosmopolitan image, the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf it ain’t.

Pre-2008 recession, there were 120,000 Brits living in the UAE.

By 2012, there were 240,000, the largest western community in the country cashing in on the oil-rich economy and favourable exchange rates.

With less and less red-tape, businesses are increasingly capitalising on its connectivity and infrastructure, with job opportunities for expats on the rise.

But Dubai’s appalling human rights track record is notorious, and visitors who fall short of its hardline laws pay the price.

Dubai’s tourism industry has worked hard to position itself as the playground of the middle-east, but in reality it is no such thing.

Some of the most extreme forms of self-censorship are practised in the region, with reporters practising ‘polite’ journalism under the government’s restriction of press freedoms.

International press was up in arms over Saudi blogger Raif Badawi‘s flogging and subsequent imprisonment for ‘insulting Islam’ last year, but the same thing is happening as we speak in UAE.

According to Human Rights Watch, Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith and UAE-based Jordanian journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, are currently being detained without charge for comments made on social media criticising Egypt.

Women’s basic human rights are repeatedly criminalised as seen in the case of Marte Deborah Dalelv, the Norwegian woman imprisoned for 16 months after reporting a rape incident to police.

Homosexuality is not only taboo in Dubai – it’s still outlawed.

But legal jeopardy facing rape victims and LGBT citizens is a drop in the vast ocean that is Dubai’s dubious human rights record.

UAE’s new plans to position itself as a global manufacturing hub will do little to force them into improving conditions for their migrant workers who underpin Dubai’s ‘luxury’ economy.

So when will we start boycotting Dubai?

Activists have been calling for change for years yet human rights violations continue and visitors continue to arrive.

Holiday-makers and expats alike have a social responsibility to use their economic leverage to force change in the region.

It might offer tempting opportunities for work or play with sun, sea and sand but those in search of international adventure should look elsewhere.

Next time that job opportunity in Dubai pops up on Linkedin, think again.

Until Dubai cleans up its act, we should all think carefully about whether its tax-free shopping and glitzy skyscrapers are worth the trip.


20 things you’ll know if you survived the NCTJ

1. You quickly realised that good writing was going to be the least of your worries…
2.…And that everything you thought you knew about journalism was just wrong.
3. You’ll never use handwriting again thanks to an indoctrination in the teeline method.
4. …And if you want to read a book in your downtime, it’s an impossible task now that all you see are outlines.
5. You know what a slow news day looks like…
6. And you know how to FOI the shit out of public services…
7. …Which one in 100 times, scores a sweet lead.
8. You find ‘tight writing’ more gratifying than you should.
9. And hold pure disdain for introductions over 25 words.
10.You have a newfound respect for sub-editors because headlines are really hard.
11. But The Fear instilled in reporting lessons makes you check name spellings one thousand times.
12. You are shit hot at media law but still quite scared about defaming someone…
13. …Or being found in contempt of court in your first job.
14. But you know you’ll be revisiting those PA and EML textbooks before long…
15. …Because those NQJ exams will be just around the corner!
16. You know the rush of breaking news…
17. …And the glory of your first bylines.
18. You know that voxpops are your friends.
19. And even though it’s hard, it’s worth it…
20. …Because being a journalist’s the best gig in town.

See the accompanying gifs in all their glory here.

My experience of the menopause at 25

The menopause: the time of your life, said no-one ever.

I hadn’t planned on giving the menopause any thought until my 50s. But last month I was forced to, as into it I plunged, head-first, aged 25.

For a long time, I’ve suffered with endometriosis. It’s not life-threatening, for which I am grateful, but it’s no walk in the park either – Endometriosis is recognised as a major cause of infertility worldwide.

I was diagnosed in January 2015 after years of painful symptoms. Surgery swiftly followed to remove cysts and adhesions and I was told I had stage 4, the most advanced.

I was so grateful that it wasn’t all in my head that the diagnosis almost came as a relief. After more visits than I could count to the GP, finally someone recognised that the pain I was feeling was not normal.

I’ve come to understand this is a typical scenario for endometriosis sufferers. Women can expect to wait seven years on average before receiving a diagnosis.

The mild existential crises that followed the surgery I saw as somewhat inevitable. My fertility was being called into question – at 25 – when I really didn’t want to be thinking about babies. If that’s not worth an existential crisis, then I truly don’t know what is.

Within months, I was in for a second surgery and this time, more extreme treatment intervention was recommended. To keep the endometriosis at bay for as long as possible, my doctor induced the menopause.

I had the first of my monthly injections the day of the surgery. Within a week I was suffering from insomnia, for the most part caused by the hot flushes that feel like you’re being incinerated from the inside out.

The treatment coincided with me going back to university, so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my classmates probably think of me as the girl with permanent upper lip sweat. Eurgh…

The mood swings feel like I’m losing my marbles. Disproportionate rage about stupid things will wash over me for a while, then leave as quickly as it’s come. Anxiety creeps up on you and tells you every ailment you have is cancer, and on top of that, vacillating between depressive and hyper-active is draining.

The experience has really opened my eyes to the realities of going through the menopause. So few people know what it’s truly like, apart from the women who have faced it.

Unlike me, those women will largely do so under the radar. You probably won’t notice a thing, but it’s given me a heightened appreciation for my mum, my aunties, my grandma and for all the women in my life.

It’s a massive change and it comes at an age where many women will be at the heights of their career with children still at home. To those women, you have my eternal admiration.

I think we all need to find a little compassion for those who are winging it. Those that aren’t necessarily talking about it but are going through what is a really weird time, navigating through a major reboot of their bodies and minds while still keeping their shit together.

Soon, this surreal experience will be over for me, but I won’t be quick to forget the menopause. More importantly, I’ll never forget the resilience women need to transverse The Change.

Willkommenskultur after Cologne

On 31st December, gangs of men gathered in Cologne with the premeditated intention of sexually assaulting and stealing from women.

The news was hard to swallow. As many as 1,000 men were said to be involved, with upwards of 90 complaints deposed by female victims, and eye-witness accounts claiming the majority were of Arab or North-African origin.

The horror of the scene is hard to imagine. Especially for Germans who have been praised and criticised in equal measure for their Willkommenskultur.

This summer, Europe suffered its biggest migrant crisis in history, and Germany responded by opening its doors, with more than 1.1 million claiming asylum in the country in 2015 alone.

The German response was heavily praised by the European left as an example of progressive, humanitarian politics and as one of few to offer a compassionate solution to the crisis.

In the UK, there was appetite to increase the number of Syrians given refuge, with Amnesty International leading a high-profile #OpentoSyria campaign that gained much public traction but did little to change opinion in Whitehall.

Following the attacks, German mood shifted and the far right were quick to stoke the flames. On Monday, a rally held by the Xenophobic Pegida movement turned violent. Protesters hit back at Merkel for her ‘open-door’ policy, holding signs proclaiming ‘Rapefugees not welcome’ and shouting ‘Merkel out’. Cars were burned, buildings were vandalised and 211 arrests were made. And tensions are only escalating.

In response to the growing anti-migrant sentiment, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor has announced tougher punishments for those seeking asylum convicted of serious crimes, including deportation. And it’s not just Merkel’s own party the CDU who are pushing for tougher measures in response to the assaults.

Linke, the traditionally leftist party are also behind the measures which will require parliamentary approval before they are passed.

Politicians must now strike a finite balance between appeasing the growing anti-migrant and increasingly anti-Islam sentiment, whilst finding tangible solutions to ensure that an episode of this scale will never happen again.

Merkel is right to firm up internal policy but she must be careful not to victimise or discriminate against the 99.9% of refugees who had no part in the events.

The crisis meant that millions arrived in Germany before appropriate home affairs measures were put in place, so now is the time to review.

As Sahra Wagenknecht, the Linke co-leader, said this week, “Those who abuse the right of hospitality, lose the right to hospitality.”. Whilst the message is uncharacteristically conservative, she’s right. Germany should not rush to abandon their Willkommenskultur, instead they should ensure that correct legislation is there to protect them in the case of a small percentage of opportunists slipping through the cracks.

A group of Pakistani and Syrian refugees wrote to the Chancellor this week. They said, “We strive to uphold the dignity and honour of women…we respect the laws of our host country without question. We are happy to have been given protection in Germany”. Their views doubtless echo hundreds of thousands of other asylum seekers who have escaped unthinkable oppression and violence in their countries of origin.

The last notable influx of refugees to Germany was in the 90s, and they were, as a whole, left to their own devices. German immigration policy must evolve as a result of previous failings.

Germans will have to adapt to this New Society and Merkel’s tougher stance will be imperative for them to do so.

Going cold turkey: can Britain beat the booze?

This week, Chief Medical Officer for England, Sally Davies, announced new, tougher guidelines for recommended alcohol consumption in Britain based on evidence that drinking, even in moderation, increases our chance of cancer. Her advice is clear, cut back on the booze or risk the consequences. So can Britain kick its alcohol habit, just like that?

The issue is a complex one. Britain has a reputation for its booze culture that spans continents, and a social dependence on alcohol as part of our Anglo-Saxon DNA. The Great British Pub represents the beating heart of our communities, with the unique potential to unite groups of strangers, friends, families and co-workers irrespective of age, sex, race or gender. Our economy also reaps the rewards, with pub culture, as of 2014, injecting £21 billion a year into the national GDP.

But that’s where the romance ends. According to the latest figures released in 2014, our nation’s alcohol dependence costs the NHS in excess of £3.5 billion each year, a figure that is rising along with alcohol-related illnesses such as liver disease and cirrhosis. This 31st December, like many before it, 48 alcohol-related arrests were carried out on London’s streets alone with the associated anti-social behaviour putting unprecedented strain on our already sorely stretched public services. It’s clear that our dependence is a problem on a national scale, seeping through every strata of society, with claims that drink rather than fees is the biggest problem facing British universities today.

Introducing revised alcohol consumption guidelines will do little to change the habits of a lifetime, when our drinking bears the most resemblance to any recognisable British ‘culture’ we have. Our healthcare providers have an obligation to inform us of the risks associated with drinking but we need tougher, alternative measures to curb the habit and relieve the strain on both our health and our social services. Before we can go cold turkey, a wider shift in mentality needs to take place, which won’t be popular. Implementing minimum pricing per unit should be a priority and further deterrence measures should follow, including increased advertising regulation. A pro-health stance has to be adopted by our government if we’re to tackle the problem, although there is a clear conflict of interest at play here. David Cameron, since first announcing his support for minimum pricing per unit measures in 2012, has flip-flopped on the issue, amid increasing pressures and aggressive lobbying from the global alcohol producers.

Until public health is prioritised over the economic power of the alcohol industry, change will be hard to come by. Britain is in the grip of addiction and guidelines alone won’t be enough to tackle the problem.


Distorted mirror: why the media is failing to reflect today’s women.

Last month, I looked at  anti-ageing adverts and the implications of their dangerous inference that ageing is a solely women’s issue. Sexism in advertising is rife and sadly, anti-ageing ads are just the tip of the iceberg.

Advertisers’ sustained misrepresentation of women reaches as far as the eye can see, an undeniably cult example of which has to be the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. For weeks in the run up, the media examine the models in forensic detail, offering up tips on how to achieve that model figure with the perfect Angel arse. A mere cursory glance at the comments below any such articles crudely exposes the impact of this scrutiny on women’s own self-perception, with the hashtags ‘bodygoals’, ‘thinspiration’ and ‘thighgap’ gaining ever-increasing popularity in 2015. The VS catwalk is socially-accepted sexism in its purest form, a multi-million dollar publicity stunt born out of the objectification of women’s bodies perpetuating a dangerous myth: that one single body type alone equates to beauty and success.

Caroline Nokes, Tory MP and chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, has hit headlines in the past weeks as she picks up the baton from many campaigners before her on the age-old size debate in the fashion industry. It’s been a contentious subject since the ‘90s and despite increasingly vocal warnings against emaciation as an aspiration, there has been little to no change in the advertising arena. Nokes rightly defends the importance of realistic representations of women in our media stating, “If someone can come forward and offer an explanation of why a size six woman is too large to model clothes when the average woman in this country is a size 16, then I am very happy to hear it”.

Nokes herself has been criticised as an ‘obesity-enabler’ and, ironically, her position as chair of the committee has put her own size under media scrutiny, making the importance of what she’s doing all the more stark. Portrayals of women in the media need to be inclusive and truly representative of their diversity. That should include young, tall and slim women, but it should also include the 99% of other body types, ages and demographics that are sorely underrepresented.

Advertisers change when consumer habits force them to but when consumers are presented with so few alternative examples, how can they flex their purchasing power? Advertisers need to recognise that their rhetoric is harmful and wake up to a growing discontent for media misrepresentation, although I fear they’ll be loathe to do so without a legislative nudge.

Female empowerment has come a long way since the ‘50’s – all the more reason to stamp out the out-dated, cultural misogyny in our advertising.