We met with Sophia Money-Coutts, author of chick-lit hit What Happens Now? and took her to Adam Handling’s high end Chelsea restaurant at the Belmond Cadogan Hotel, creatively named Adam Handling, Chelsea, because, well, where else do you take a girl whose surname basically means ‘cash’ twice?
PC: Right it’s recording! Sophia Money-Coutts: great to meet you! Welcome to Adam Handling and what I’m going to coin the ‘Intereview’, because it’s an interview and a restaurant rev- well you get it
SM-C: What a setting! I’ve deliberately not had any breakfast to make room!
PC: Ah, here comes the waiter
Waiter: Good afternoon sir, do you want the five course tasting menu or the seven course menu?
PC: In for a penny?
SM-C: We’ll go for the seven courses
Waiter: An excellent choice, Madam. Seven courses, paired with seven wines
SM-C: Golly…
Sophia Money-Coutts needs little introduction. When I hastily ran into Waterstone’s to purchase her book a few days before, the lady behind the counter knew exactly what she thought about Sophia – she heartily agreed with her recent Evening Standard column on sperm banks. Well bred and pretty, her voice is the sort of low alto that dogs and men obey, unexpectedly giving way to frequent giggles and a wit sharper than those Japanese knives that people go on about. Author of two novels and, until a year or so ago, Tatler’s best known writer, she’s 34, incredibly smart in both senses and hilarious.
SM-C: Our dog was put down today [okay, she’s not always hilarious], it’s fine, it was his ‘time’
PC: What make of dog was he?
SM-C: A Parson, like a fluffy terrier, called Trumpet and I know it sounds corny, but he really was part of the family. I was just a bit weepy, trying to get myself together just before you arrived, and – WOW, fuck me! That is flipping delicious! [the waiter has put down a plate of ‘snacks’ including Adam Handling’s signature cheese doughnut, and to be honest one of these cheese doughnuts would put me in a jolly mood even if they’d just put down my granny!]
It’s the first in a forthcoming fusillade of food, and drink, that keeps on coming for the next three hours of culinary bliss. The restaurant is small but bright, thanks to the large windows looking out onto posh Cadogan Square and the super high ceilings. Tucked away round the back of this beautiful hotel, the simple furniture and a paired back parquet floor ensure the focus is on the food, at least it would be if gossip wasn’t first-and-foremost.
PC: So you had the dream job as Features Editor at Tatler, and then you, um, seemingly left in a hurry? A lot of people ask me why on earth did Tatler sack you?
Waiter: Madam, the mother
PC: What? Gosh, no, she’s not- [gesticulating wildly] we’re not –
Waiter: [Reassuringly] Sir, it’s the name of the dish, The Mother, named in honour of the chef’s own mother [he sets down our next course, it’s vegetarian and an enigmatic combo of celeriac, egg yolk, apple and dates and, like everything we’ll eat today, wonderful; though I’m a little hazy about what it reveals about Handling’s mum – I wonder if a child of mine might one day grow into a Michelin star chef and present The Father, a plate of beans on toast…]
SM-C: So I got offered this book deal, very lucky, and of course I rushed into the office expecting to hand in my notice and when I got there it turned out by chance that Tatler were planning this big raft of redundancies, so rather than working out my month’s notice I got a pay-off which made me feel braver about going freelance.
As we enjoy a glass of 2016 Loire Valley Romorantin, it’s clear that it’s turned out well. Sophia has just released her second book, What Happens Now?, which has met with critical acclaim (octogenarian sex pot Jilly Cooper, no less, has praised Sophia’s writing, saying ‘So funny. And the sex is amazing – makes me feel like a nun!’), and the books are filled with upper-middle-class romance, angst, drama and, of course, bonking.
PC: Blimey, it’s a little… racy
SM-C: Yes, have you read page 26?
PC: Have I? I’ve got x-rated PTSD!
SM-C: My family are pretty open about sex, luckily. So after racy page 26, it becomes a story about a single 30-something teacher who can hardly pay her own rent but suddenly finds herself pregnant and isn’t sure what to do. Can she manage on her own? Could her baby sleep in her chest of drawers? Who even is the mystery man who ghosted her after their first date and so on. Have you come across the word spurgling?
PC: Er, nope?
SM-C: It means sperm-burgling. I wanted to write about that, basically. A woman who was accused of deliberately trying to trap someone.
PC: Goodness! [Then channelling my inner Paxman] And do you really go to the loo eight times a day?
SM-C: Wait, do I say that in the book? Gosh, that really is oversharing [slowly counts on her fingers], but yes, that sounds about right, eight or nine, I always get up in the night…
As we tuck into the curried scallop, paired with a fantastic Californian Maranne, Qupé (Sophia’s tasting note: “This is bloody amazing”), we look forward to the next course of mushroom anolotti, garlic and girolles, which we’ll liberally wash down with a glass of South African chardonnay (‘Limestone Hill’, De Wetshof Robertson). I wonder if writing posh Mills & Boon (albeit crossed with a healthy dollop of PG Wodehouse) was what she always wanted in life?
SM-C: Gosh no, I wanted to be a war correspondent!
PC: No way, bringing Hunter wellies to Raqa? Pashmina Kate Adie?
SM-C: You mock! So before I finally accepted the job at Tatler (I’d actually turned them down twice before), I had a vision of being this tough war correspondent and, I mean, going to work for Tatler is quite literally the opposite of that.
PC: So I’m guessing you didn’t seriously consider it?
SM-C: No, no, I very nearly did. My grandfather was a war correspondent [for the record, her grandfather, the late Lord Deedes was a total legend, covering Mussolini’s Abyssinian war in the 1930s) and I had this random relationship with this guy who was about to go to Northern Syria and he was, like, ‘come with me’…
PC: Should I be calling MI5?
SM-C: The plan was to fly into Turkey then get this UN ambulance over the border and meet up with these Kurdish freedom fighters, and so I got drunk enough in this pub in Victoria to be totally persuaded. It was definitely on. Then the next day, I realised maybe I’d gone a bit far…
PC: You were so nearly the next Shamima Begum, how different things would’ve been if she’d ended up at Tatler – ’The best burkhas at Burghley’ and so on…
If your fried chicken comes in a box and is finger lickin’ anything, then get yourself to Adam Handling Chelsea instead. Paired with a glass of Tattinger’s ‘Prélude’ Grand Cru Champagne, the fried chicken and caviar is a remarkable reinvention of a South London classic. Try asking for a side of caviar in Chicken Cottage!
SM-C: Is fried chicken and caviar a bit much though? It feels a little like it’s been designed for Instagram, this [vaguely waving her fork], it’s perfect for the sort of person who wants to tick off ‘caviar – check’ ‘Champagne – check’, but I’m not sure I especially like enjoy flavours together, and-
Waiter: And how are you getting along with the fried chicken and caviar?
SM-C and PC [in unison]: Absolutely delicious, thank you!
SM-C: Perfect!
PC: Wonderful!
The meal crescendos with Scottish lobster, served with lemongrass and carrot along with a delightful Austrian rosé, dark, rich and called Winifred from the Gut Oggau family. This is swiftly followed by a course of salt-aged duck, which comes with artichoke, parsley and mushrooms paired with Greek wine, an Agiorgitiko. By this point most diners have probably lost count, but we’re on the seventh course of nine (yes, this was meant to be a seven course menu, but the fried chicken was supplement and presumably the ‘snacks’ don’t count – tell that to WeightWatchers).
PC: Back to the book… With a name like Money-Coutts and a background at Tatler, it seems inevitable that you’d end up writing about toffs
SM-C: Yes, it’s not just that it’s what I know, they’re endlessly fascinating, they pop up everywhere and can be so funny. The other day I had to have my appendix out (oh my God, soooo painful), and after hours lying on the tiled floor at Charing Cross A&E they finally realised what it was and I was quickly prepped for surgery. The very last thing I remember before I passed out was the anaethestist leaning over and asking me ‘do you know Edward St John Webster?’
Starting to feel a little like Monsieur Creosote, I glug back my glass of New Zealand Chenin Blanc and return to hard hitting journalism.
PC: And so books and stuff, eh? Is the plan to keep on, er, writing them?
SM-C: Yep, my game plan is to write one a year, I love the process, I’ve taken a lovely cottage up in Norfolk to write the third, which I’m working on now, and I just wake up in the morning, look out toward the sea and write; it’s idyllic, I’m just absolutely loving life right now and-
PC: Sorry to interrupt, but have you been to the Jorvik Viking Centre? The one in York?
SM-C: What? Um, no
PC: Because this tastes just like the smell there
SM-C: Oh, I’ve been to the London Dungeon and I do know what you mean, that sort of ye olde street smell?
PC: ‘zactly, I think it’s the honey, no?
We’re enjoying Handling’s yoghurt, sweet cicely, milk, crumb and marigold, which as well as tasting like the smell at the Jorvik Viking Centre, is as moreish as everything else we’ve sampled and gives way to a farewell dish of compressed cucumber, burnt basil and dill and an Australian wine The Rude Mechanicals ‘Suck-It-And-See’ – which, come to think of it, would be an ideal tagline for What Happens Now? It’s time to finally depart, rolled out like Augustus Gloop.
SM-C: Well, that was absolutely lovely thank you, I’ve got to go back to my flat now to find my latex cat suit – don’t ask – [glancing at my phone which is still recording] and now you’ve got two and three quarter hours hours to transcribe. I bet you can’t find anything that’s printable…
Sophia’s book, What Happens Now, is available at all good book stores (except the Wandsworth Waterstone’s, annoyingly), or contribute to the demise of publishing by purchasing it here.
Meanwhile, Adam Handling’s 7 course tasting menu is truly unmissable and worth every penny of £165 (paired with ‘classic’ wines – you can go ‘prestige’ and pay £255).