June 18, 2021

Living the Cheapskate life: food writer & Vittles editor Jonathan Nunn on smashed cucumbers & being a tribal south Londoner

Camberwell-based Jonathan Nunn is a food writer contributing mainly to Eater London, The Guardian and Prospect Magazine. He is also the editor of Vittles, the weekly food newsletter “for people who normally hate food writing”, which seeks to diversify both food writing and the industry itself.

I rest my head in…

Camberwell. I’ve lived in an arc around north London my whole life, but I’d say Camberwell is the first place since my childhood home in Hackney that I’ve felt a real sense of belonging in. More and more I’m starting to consider myself a South Londoner, and I’m starting to exhibit most of the tribal prejudices that go along with that (even though I retain a soft spot for all north London Turkish restaurants and Sam’s Chicken).

Where’s the cheapest place you’ve lived in London?

Cheapest place would technically be my parent’s house in Bounds Green where I did not have to pay rent after I came back from university. Cheapest place I’ve paid rent on was in Camden, where a very good deal on a flat share meant I was paying about £350 a month.

And the most expensive?

Primrose Hill ─ I literally couldn’t afford it and lost all my savings, which is what you get for proximity to a lovely view and absolutely no culture. 

Where’s your favourite place to eat for cheap? What would you order?

I have no idea.

Your perfect no-spend London day would involve…

A crumb of sunshine, a cycle ride to a park, a free museum trip or exhibition hopping around galleries in Mayfair, a walk on the South Bank and a free film at the BFI’s Mediatheque, a barbecue in Burgess Park.

Have you ever had a free Pret coffee?

No, and despite not wanting to ever drink a Pret coffee I consider it a personal insult that I’ve never been offered one. 

Where’s your favourite free place to visit in the city?  

Burgess Park or the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate on a sunny day. Both make me feel much more hopeful about London as a place to live in.

What’s your top London ‘hack’?

At one point I had memorised where to get on and off tube trains and how to interchange quickly, but someone made an app solely about this so now this earned knowledge is completely useless. I don’t know if it’s a hack as such, but I’d say a great thing to do if you’re bored is just pick a direction and walk somewhere.

Have you ever charmed your way out of a fine of some kind?

No, my days of trying to scam TfL ended with Oyster cards. Before then you could simply put your thumb across the date of your week old 40p paper bus ticket and hope that the driver didn’t clock. 

If you were mayor for the day, what would you change about London?

Install myself as mayor for life and then abolish the City of London Corporation.

What’s the biggest London rip off?

I’m going to skip the obvious one, which is rent, and say the inflationary price on smashed cucumbers. We all know what a cucumber costs so where is this mark up coming from? There needs to be some kind of smashed cucumber cap because this situation is only going to get worse as they become more trendy. 

If you were going to splurge in London, what would it be on?

A meal at Five Guys. 

Any small London businesses you'd like to shout about?

Native and Co for home accessories; Moxons and Fin and Flounder for fish; 40 Maltby Street for wine and food; Postcard Teas for tea and ceramics (full disclosure: I work there); Two Columbia Road and Frost for furniture; Hostem for clothes; the London Review Bookshop and Tenderbooks for books.

In three words, what makes someone a Londoner?

Born or chosen.

Subscribe to Jonathan's food-centric newsletter, Vittles, here. Follow Jonathan on Twitter and Instagram.

Interview by Caitlin Allen. Follow Caitlin on Twitter here.

Subscribe to the Cheapskate London newsletter - the ultimate guide to the capital's best free events - here.

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