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Culinary crush: James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (©HBO)


On February 9, 1935, Unity Valkyrie Mitford, the most eccentric of those six famous sisters, wrote to her father Lord Redesdale describing “the most wonderful and beautiful day of her life”. Having installed herself in a Munich pension the previous year, Unity had commenced a le campaign of stalking and staring in the Osteria Bavaria restaurant, the favoured lunch spot of her idol, Adolf Hitler. Her strategy finally paid off when Hitler invited her to his table, where, after a lengthy conversation, the Führer presented his 21-year-old fan with a signed postcard: “To Fräulein Unity Mitford, as a friendly memento of Germany and Adolf Hitler.” Unity succeeded in becoming a member of Hitler’s inner circle, remaining in Germany until she attempted suicide at the outbreak of war.

Hitler has to win the prize for Weirdest Crush in History, but apparently Unity was not alone. A quick trawl of the net reveals a startling number of women confessing to Führer fantasies. I am extremely grateful that my subconscious has never played me such a cheap shot, but I have to admit to some fairly unlikely pashes. At the moment I fancy someone who isn’t even real — spy novelist Mick Herron’s overweight, flatulent, sardonic and perversely sexy creation, Jackson Lamb. I’d take him over James Bond any day.

When I lived in Manhattan, I attempted a Unity-style stakeout of James Gandolfini, the actor who played my fantasy lover du jour, Tony Soprano. Gandolfini was reportedly a regular at Strip, a steak joint on East 12th Street. Vast slabs of meat and cheesecake came with lashings of self-conscious irony on the side, all red flock wallpaper and low lighting, and whiling away the evenings in the hope of a glimpse of my balding, overweight — yes, there is a theme here — madly erotic crush showing up, I consumed a reckless amount of rib-eye. (It would be unkind to note that apparently so did Gandolfini, as he died of a heart attack in 2013 aged 51.) We never met, and I still haven’t really got over Tony, but I did conclude that I would happily never eat a fatty steak again.

Fat is fashionable once more, presumably much to the delight of many restaurant critics, who have been banging on about its joys for years. Marbled, yellow, gushing fat, threading its flavour through any steak worth the name in waves of unctuous umami — a proper respect for fat is pretty much an entry level qualification for a food writer. Despite my efforts with the rib-eye, though, I’ve never come round to it. Not the taut, firm edging of a fiorentina, not the degenerate cow cellulite that is wagyu. Raw meat, yes. Grouse so high it has developed a soul, yes. Crimson fleisch and puddles of blood, venison, hare, even horse, but fetishistically hung mosaics of cholesterol-speckled steak? Fat, for me, just interferes.  

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