My life in food: Tom Allen on sandwiches in Spain and the culinary highlights of his South London suburb

Suburban Bromley in the 1980s and ’90s wasn’t exactly a gastronomic hub. Growing up, we’d often have a Sunday roast and quite a lot of convenience food: crispy pancakes, potato waffles, oven chips — various things from the freezer, basically. And that was usually followed by an Angel Delight; sometimes strawberry, sometimes butterscotch. 

Rotisserie chicken reminds me of childhood. We occasionally went on holiday to Spain, to a place called Javier, where they covered the chicken in local herbs. It was always so delicious. This was about 30 years ago, and I still think about that rotisserie chicken. And sándwich mixto, which is basically a toasted cheese and ham sandwich. We’d get it at the beach, and it was folded into triangles in greaseproof napkins. I thought it was an exquisite treat. 

Salt Fat Acid Heat, by Samin Nosrat, is such a great book. I interviewed her for BBC Radio 4 and was so starstruck. For things like chicken, I really took a leaf out of her book. Not literally, it’s a really nice book. But her tips, like not being afraid to season food, salting a chicken in advance and adding herbs and flavourings early, make such a difference and give you crispy skin and a flavoursome chicken. 

I got into baking because I was bored during the school holidays and my nan said, ‘Why don’t you make a cake?’ So I made a Victoria sandwich and it really opened the gates. My dad used to have a book club at work and he bought a Le Cordon Bleu cookbook. While my parents watched TV, I’d look through these impossibly extravagant recipes and dream of making them one day. Mousse- and meringue-based chocolate gateaux, for example — rich, very French patisserie deliciousness. I was always enthralled by that. But I didn’t have any money and had to use whatever was in the kitchen. 

The Vietnamese food in Melbourne is amazing. There’s a big Vietnamese community there and that’s where I tried the food for the first time — things like pho and bánh mì sandwiches. In a way, they’re quite simple dishes but made with so much love. I love things like pho that are made over a long time.

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