Image Credit: Spotify Studios
I don’t listen to podcasts. I have tried many times to get into listening to them; it passes time, whilst also being intellectually stimulating (depending on the source material you are listening to). Occasionally, I have listened to gossip podcasts, often hosted by YouTubers or internet personalities I have subscribed to, but even these I struggle to follow in the long term. If I have my headphones in, I am usually listening to an eclectic music playlist, rather than a virtual talk show.
However, over the first lockdown, my home went under renovation with various rooms being painted and redecorated. During this time, my dad listened to the Off Menu podcast hosted by comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble. I remember liking the initial premise of it, and listening with interest as I painted various walls around my house, but I cast it from my mind when I returned to uni. Cut to March 19 2021, and I had a long train journey ahead of me – York to Bristol Temple Meads, where I was returning home for the Easter Holidays. At this pivotal moment, I searched Apple Podcasts, and downloaded numerous episodes of Off Menu, remembering how much I enjoyed listening a year previously. For the next four and a half hours, I was riveted.
The premise of the podcast is simple. Gamble and Acaster host the show, inviting various, usually British, celebrities on for a general chit-chat and discussion of their favourite foods. They are asked to culminate their dream menu for their dream restaurant, in some cases even going so far as to describe the aesthetics and vibes of the restaurant itself, with basketball player Ovie Soko entertaining Gamble’s and Acaster’s idea of throwing coats ‘three-pointer style’ from the door to hang off the backs of the chairs in the restaurant.
Once the initial banter has subsided, each guest is asked whether they want still or sparkling water, poppadoms or bread, and what they would then choose as a starter, main, dessert and drink for the rest of the meal. Each celebrity has a “secret ingredient” which is a food or drink that Acaster and Gamble are particularly opposed to, ranging from edamame to candy canes, and everything in-between. If the celebrity mentions the “secret ingredient” as part of their dream meal, they get kicked out of the restaurant, and that’s the end of their appearance on the podcast.
The general overview of the podcast is one of creative genius I think, if, like me you are particularly invested in food, and always ask what your friends are having for tea. During my long journey home, I listened to three episodes of this podcast - with guests basketball professional and love islander Ovie Soko, singer Anne-Marie, and comedian and fellow Bristolian Russell Howard. Each celebrity provided excellent listening, and a huge variety of food choices, bouncing off Gamble and Acaster’s jibes, ultimately creating a podcast for fluent listening as well as providing a lot of laughs (which must have made me look quite weird on my solitary journey in the quiet carriage home).
Part of the reason the podcast works so well is the varying humour Acaster and Gamble bring, and how well they get along with each other. Acaster’s dry, almost awkward humour, paired with Gamble’s more smooth-talking, observational comedy allows for a duo which every guest gets along with, regardless of whether they have a comedic background themselves. Often pairing up to tease their guests on the choices they bring to the restaurant, humour is supplied through the sense of cynicism the two share towards some of the meal choices; particularly involving Joel Dommett’s choice of a protein-shake, Ovie Soko’s favourite drink being water, and anyone who chooses a cheese-platter instead of dessert.
Off Menu also engages really well with the audience, as it allows you to think about what your own dream meal would be, and reminisce about any restaurants visited pre-covid. The podcast website itself also provides actual culinary help, with a section dedicated to all of the restaurants mentioned by individual guests, so if you’re particularly interested in any of the food discussed on the show, you can visit the restaurant website yourself, and book a table.
The show passes time with no added sense of commitment as the episodes can be dipped in and out of and listened to in any particular order. If the guest on the show one week is someone you don’t like, it is easy to give it a miss, and tune in to your favourite celebrities instead. If a podcast novice like me can binge-listen for hours on end, I can certainly see why Acaster and Gamble have received many awards since their beginning in 2018, from The Guardian to the Online Influence Awards. If you ever have a spare moment, give Off Menu a listen, although I do suggest you have a snack.