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.

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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.

Orthorexia, the disease disguised as a virtue.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis this year. The subsequent surgery was unexpected and I came out the other side of the ordeal completely destabilised. The shock was exacerbated by the ill-informed GP who broke the news that I’d almost certainly have difficulty conceiving, a notion that at 24 is incomprehensible. Wanting to regain some control over my life and health, my only real option, learned from previous episodes of soul-searching, was to hit google hard.

Like millions of other young men and women, I found infinite advice on diet relating to my condition imploring the benefits of pathologically restricting your diet to include only ‘healthy’ food. I decided to cut out meat and dairy for a while to see how this would help my symptoms. The feeling that I was actively taking back control of my health provoked such a self-righteous high that I found it dangerously easy to up the ante. Gluten had to go, along with refined carbohydrates. They had too much of a bad rap. Next was sugar, that most obvious of villains, until finally I whittled down my diet to the purest of pure, cleanest of clean: an organic, plant-based, gluten, refined-carbohydrate and sugar-free diet.

Four months on and things weren’t looking so virtuous. What had started out with the very best of intentions after months of poor health no longer seemed so healthy. Feeling anxious that nothing was ‘safe’ to eat and almost bankrupting myself on anything labelled a ‘superfood’, I realised that I was developing symptoms of Orthorexia Nervosa, and knew I had to make a change. But how did I get so sucked in and end up so far from my original intention of promoting better health?

Over the past 5 years, the health food industry has boomed, and the 22 million posts on Instagram bearing the hashtag ‘eatclean’ show this isn’t just a fad being adopted by East London hipsters. Sales of organic produce are up 4% year on year, totalling £1.86bn in 2014, according to the Organic Soil Association. Contributing to this explosion is the rise and rise of the well-being blogger set. Arguably the poster girl for clean eating, Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella fame has shared her own experience of managing chronic illness through a gluten-free, vegan diet. And she’s not alone. The Hemsley sisters, Anna Jones and Madeleine Shaw, among others, all advocate variations of vegan, gluten-free or alkaline diets in order to achieve better health. But can any kind of restrictive eating really be healthy?

Penned as the ‘Disease Disguised as a Virtue’, incidences of Orthorexia, an obsession with consuming ‘healthy’ foods, are growing. Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders believes the issue is on the rise as “modern society has lost its way with food…it’s everywhere, from the people who think it’s normal if their friends stop eating entire food groups, to the trainers in the gym who [promote] certain foods to enhance performance”.

So why the quest for ultimate health, and why now? The rise of Orthorexia speaks to me of a wider issue. Our growing distrust of the grocery sector and its lack of regulation, perpetuated by episodes such as the horsemeat scandal in 2013, has created a heightened consumer awareness of what we are eating. Instant access to information in our digital age makes everyone a nutritionist and contradictory marketing messaging means there is no coherent rhetoric on what makes for a healthy diet. It’s hard to know what to put in our mouths and the well-being bloggers cater to a public looking for answers.

I have a lot of admiration for Ella Woodward and her remarkable success story. These women are undoubtedly positive role models in some respects, putting an emphasis on freshly prepared food, healthy body image and championing a movement of people who are questioning the status quo. I also feel it’s important to mention that many sufferers of inflammatory diseases such as MS or arthritis have found that gluten and dairy free diets may ease their symptoms.

For me, I’ve learnt that any diet that becomes restrictive doesn’t improve my health. Nutrition therapist Sondra Kronber outlines the danger clearly, “If you cut something out it’s hard for the compulsive brain to add it back in…that’s the way it is with most eating disorders, it starts out with a choice.”. My concern with Orthorexia is its virtuous guise. The ‘clean eating’ recipe books that dominate Amazon’s top 100 paint a picture of ultimate wellbeing, carefully choreographed by PR and brand teams. Consumers need to be aware of the impact any drastic change in lifestyle can induce both mentally and physically before overhauling their diets, parting with their money and potentially putting themselves in harm’s way.

Is this what running is supposed to feel like?

So this week, I’m on a health kick. My appetite for French patisserie has seen a small, yet noticeable tire creep onto my middle – insulation for winter one might say. On the other hand, one might also say that I should put that croissant down and do some exercise…

So this week, that’s what I did.

I woke up on Saturday morning with a fresh resolve, a sense of productivity that had been eluding me for some time. So, quickly, before it disappeared again, I decided to get my trainers on.

My flatmate wanders into the kitchen around 11am and eyes me with suspicion. “Why are you wearing trainers?” he asks, bemused. “I’m going jogging”, I reply, my tone superior and my stance even more so. Hand on hip, I start stretching whilst flatmate suppresses a snigger. He saunters off. Phew, I can stop stretching now.

I head towards the door and catch a glimpse of the street below. It is grey. It is wet. And it is cold. My resolve slightly wavering, I force myself into the corridor just as I hear “Wait, I’m coming with you!”.

Oh. Good. God.

The flatmate, that is coming with me, is the same flatmate that spends his evenings boxing, playing squash and contorting himself into strange positions at his local gymnastics club. He is also the flatmate that spends his weekends engaging in an activity known as ‘parkour’ or ‘free-running’, a discipline (according to wikipedia) that developed out of military obstacle course training. Enough said.

He is the first out of the door, a wry smile on his face as he says, “this is going to be fun!”. I feign a half smile as we descend the stairs onto the street below. Panic rising in my chest, total humiliation is imminent.

We start walking. “We’re walking?”, I think to myself. This can’t be so bad, we’re going to warm up, then jog in a leisurely fashion. Perhaps we’ll stop on a bridge to admire the view or make a detour via Notre Dame.  “This is going to be downright pleasant”, I think. Oh, how I was mistaken.

Without warning, flatmate starts sprinting. I lurch forward trying to catch up, yelping “slow down” in a strangled tone. He doesn’t. His feet pound against the concrete in a rhythmic pattern as he paces further and further ahead. He dodges pedestrians and positively skips across crossings. I, on the other hand, am red and struggling. We have been running for 5 minutes and I am so out of breath that I have to pretend to tie my hair up just to give me 10 seconds of respite.

Flatmate sees I have stopped. He glares, he turns, he runs towards me. Oh God. He runs in circles around me shouting “DON’T STOP, DON’T STOP, DON’T STOP!!”. “I’M NOT, I HA-HA-VEN’T”, I reply, lying to his face.

Finally, 30 minutes and more shouting later we arrive in proximity of the apartment. He slows to a jog, and then to a walk. I am barely walking by this time. My knees are slack and my back hunched. I am dragging my feet and trying to hide my beetroot red face. Unsuccessfully it would seem as he asks me “Are you OK?” a look of concern sprawled across his features.  “Oh yeah, great! Great run! Had a great time!”, I reply in an entirely unconvincing tone, partly due to the fact that I cannot breathe.

Back at the apartment, it takes a good 3 hours for my face to return to a normal colour, something that tells me perhaps I should exercise more often. Or, perhaps, something that tells me to choose a more suitable running partner next time. Baby steps, as they say.

Unsuitable footwear

However much I might try to avoid it, my fate is inescapable. I will be forever doomed to wearing unsuitable footwear. However many times I check the forecast, or repeatedly stick my arm out of the window in the morning to test the temperature, undoubtedly I will curse my choices later in the day as the realisation that I am wearing unsuitable footwear sinks in.

This normally occurs at approximately 9:02am and is followed by feelings of both shame and envy simultaneously. I am on the tube and I can feel the stares. The stares of those who have cautiously chosen a wool and cashmere blend sock to ease the transition of foot to heavy-tread leather boots, those who have taken the initiative to wear pop-socks with their ballerinas in a beige-hue that tricks the untrained eye into thinking, ‘This person isn’t even wearing socks!’ and of those who choose comfort over style in running shoes. This latter person I may well judge, we all know they’re not going running, but then who am I to judge really? Who wins in the end? By 4 in the afternoon on a rainy day wearing ballerinas with bare-naked metatarsal and achilles to the wind, I can guess that Mr. Running Shoes has a bigger smile on his face than I.

Perhaps this is where I should take comfort. Perhaps, my unsuitable choices of footwear are one last rebellion, one final stick-it-to-the-man that is adulthood. To me, suitable footwear represents responsibilities that I am not ready to accept which include (non-exhaustive); wearing suitable clothes and acting in an altogether suitable fashion. The next time I feel rain water seeping through my soles, or damp socks clinging to my prune-like toes from wading through snow in non-waterproof boots, I will hold my head high, flaunting my irresponsibility and impractical choices driven by youth. Surely that can’t be such a bad thing?

The open mic.

In a bid to develop my somewhat narrow list of extra-curricular activities, I participated in an open mic this week with my flatmate (yes, the very same flatmate who dabbles in parkour is quite the acoustic guitarist), and after a month of “yeah, we’ll definitely play next week”, we finally got our act together.

The bar was already filled with musicians when we arrived, toting instruments and chatting in a friendly yet slightly detached way. Both non-chalant and cool, I mentally noted.

It was clear there were some regulars. People knew each other and already, at this early stage in the night, there were obvious cliques dividing the room. On the far right there were the girls in denim shorts and tights, edgy headbands and studded jewellery. At the bar were the slightly worn-looking rockers, all faded Levis and thick facial hair. Then there was us. Sat in the corner looking over-fazed and poorly dressed, we silently observed as we got the feeling of being ever so slightly out of our depth.

Once the music started our confidence grew. Drawing inspiration from the other acts, we planned our performance reminding ourselves to “engage” and “don’t look down”, reassuring each other that no matter what happened we would carry on.

As the night wore on, the bar heaved. Friends of the predominantly international musicians turned up to pack out the small underground space and more than once I heard an over-excited English accent exclaim: “They serve cider here!”, a rarity in Paris. Our friends and flatmates arrived en masse to offer words of encouragement and enthusiastic smiles so that by the time our debut was imminent we were feeling confident, aided perhaps in part by the pints of beer said friends had been buying us as we waited.Open mic.

And so we played. Our three rehearsed songs passed by in a blur and to be honest, I’m not sure how it went. Our previously inflated egos gave way to clumsy mistake-making as we stood under bright lights at the mercy of our mildly inebriated public. On at least two occasions I forgot the words, forcing me to awkwardly scan my just-in-case post-its on which I had scrawled lyrics just minutes before.

At the end of our set, we were reassured by an applause. The same applause that every musician before us had received. The same words of congratulations and encouragement from our friends and strangers that the others had graciously accepted.

It is perhaps this lack of differentiation between acts that makes a night such as this so special. For all our feigned competitiveness, by the end of the evening it didn’t matter who was best, and we didn’t care. It is amateur, it is non-competitive and everyone is treated the same. The diversity of the acts is celebrated with hearty applause no matter what happens. It is a veritable example of the taking part that counts. Something that, fortunately for us, means we’ll be playing again next week.