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Meet Irene and Margaux

What song will always play in your ears?

Irene: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, every time the intro becomes word “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves”, I see Mary dancing on the porch, hear Roy Orbinson singing for the lonely, and I am hooked, forever.

Margaux: Just a Little Lovin’ by Dusty Springfield

Just a little lovin’
Early in the mornin’
Beats a cup of coffee
For starting off the day

What’s not to like?

It’s a melancholic day, or the fridge is almost empty and you need a pick-me-up, what’s your rescue dish?

Irene: tomato risotto. It’s an instant cuddle and one that is all about the marriage of simple: risotto rice, passata, tomato puree, onion, vegetable stock quickly made with a stock cube and parmesan to finish. The fun and secret pleasure of it is all in the seasoning, in balancing the tomato acidity with sugar, limiting the salt by adding an anchovy or miso instead. It’s a potion, it makes you forget about the worry that brought you there in the first place.

Margaux: if I need a pick-me-up, I most likely don’t want to spend time cooking. If I feel melancholic, I want to smell toasts. It’s unlikely that I have fresh sourdough bread at hand so I’ll go for a slice of rye bread, open a tin of sardines – hopefully I’ve some spare la belle-iloise cans from my family home in Vendée –  and spread the oily fish throughout. Pepper and oregano to top it up: tadam!

*Full disclosure: I’m drinking an Asahi beer straight from the bottle.

The 3 ingredients we’ll always find in your pantry?

Irene: anchovies, garlic and passata

Margaux: passata, cumin seeds and a sprig of thyme

What are the 3 books that would travel with you to a desert island?

I Promessi Sposi by Alessandro Manzoni – to not forget my language and country’s history, but also to meet again with old loved ones, from Renzo e Lucia, to Fra’ Cristoforo, read the fascinating story of the Monaca di Monza, and why not, given the circumstances, read about the plague in Milano!

The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher – a book that teaches you how to be lonely and with mouthwatering writing. In lack of restaurants and a fancy kitchen on the island, I can always feast on Fisher’s food memories.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – I have an Italian tome, I have a memoir, now I need the novel, to keep me at the edge of the shore. It doesn’t matter if I know its twists and turns, I want to untangle them even more, in the language, in the pace, in imagining all the characters’ back stories. And dream of Manderley, from the island.

Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera by Anne Carson since no writer has ever kept my brain as engaged as Carson’s words do. If I were to live with myself on a desert island, I certainly will have some fun “undoing the creature” in me, with one of the most playful and sharpest minds I’ve ever read.

Mémoire de fille by Annie Ernaux for the French and the cushion of girlhood. And because Annie Ernaux. Annie Ernaux pour toujours.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, because there are so many stories to draw from this one book.

Words matter – what are the 3 you each use the most?

Irene: madonna, brilliant, babe – a slightly profane Italian word, an acquired English one, and the appellative for my most loved ones. 

Margaux: putain, outrageous, wild – to capture the exact instant when you hurt your toe against the coffee table, to process the pain, to summarise what just happened.

Living London: a place to write, a place to eat alone, a place to share

To write: Söderberg – I can only think of places where we write together, this is a happy place, for brunch, coffee, a sweet treat, a cocktail after work, I always leave it inspired since you took me there the first time!

To eat alone: Koya – buta miso ramen at the counter on a day off.

A place to share: Santore in Exmouth Market, a place that has become a place of one’s own over the years. Dinners, lunch breaks, my first date with Matt, the constant debate on whether to order the Rotolo rustico or the scialatielli with aubergines and smoked cheese. Make sure you book and try pizza al metro!

If this had been a couple of years ago, I would have picked Gaby’s Deli in Leicester Square. My first real discovery in London, thanks to a dear friend. You could go there any time, my favourite thing would be sitting at the back in this narrow back aisle that couldn’t be seen from the counter, the walls were plastered with theatre and film stars that had dined there over the years, they opened in the 60s. I remember Matt Damon’s photo and autograph clearly. We didn’t need to look at the menu, we always ordered the same. The big warm or cold salad plate – 7 heavenly salads surrounding a pile of the best hummus I’ve ever eaten topped with falafels. You had to go to the counter and choose the salads in person, this involved tasting a wide variety before taking your pick. I’d always go home with little presents, two falafels and some brownies in paper bags. I hold on to a photo I took of its front on its last week before closing in October 2018, I brought them a thank you card and ate there one last time with my friend Giada. It was the first time I lost one of my places in London.

To write: the dreamer in me wishes they had a romantic bistrot name to insert here. The truth is that I need silence and four walls to write. So, to write, I sit on my bed with my back resting against my window, a mustard pillow in between so I don’t hurt. The sun shines through the window most of the day and at night I love to feel the wind coming through the single-glazed glass. I now have a tanned neck – what’s not to like about that?

To eat alone: the lunch deal at The Little Duck Picklery, including a main and a glass of wine. I sit on one of the high stools at the bar, where the cooks also prep the food. I often scribble in my notebook, sometimes I read, and I always observe the staff as they work. You can also order coffee by the cafetière (a welcome kick after dessert and a second glass of wine). A dear tradition of mine is to book the 1st of November off and have a long lunch at The Little Duck before I walk to Broadway Market.

A place to share: the salmon pink kitchen. Alright, alright, this is cheating. Then it has to be the dance-floor of Oslo in Hackney Central, where I have had more night-outs than I can remember. I lived near the venue during my first three years in London and with my friend Annalisa we used to sprint there, leaving our coats behind at home since we never have change for the cloakroom – and because it’s more fun. I don’t live as close anymore but I still go, still with Annalisa, who now is my flatmate. I love to dance. I often dance in the salmon pink kitchen too.

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