London Shops

How To Buy Anything

What to say in specialist shops to avoid looking like a clueless dipshit (according to the people who work in them)

How To Buy… Meat

The fear: You stride up to the counter and purposefully ask for their “finest shank”. The butcher sneers. Everyone knows butchers don’t sell shank on Thursdays! Laughter ringing in your ears, you leave in tears.

Perry Bartlett, butcher at the Ginger Pig in Clapham, says: “Don’t overlook kill dates – that’s the age at which the beast was killed. In our opinion beef should be slaughtered at 30 months; chicken at 60 days (although we do a 100-day option too for a more intense flavour); pork at seven to 10 months, and lamb is four to nine months during the spring and 10 to 11 during the winter. These dates offer the best flavour and fat coverage on each of the animals in question.”

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How To Buy… Wine

The fear: More than your job, your family or your actual face and body, an ability to “get” wine defines you as a modern man. So how is it you’ve just confused a Malbec and a Merlot? Sickening imbecile!

Eugenio Ciccarelli, from Vinarius wine shop in Bow, says: “One thing to bear in mind is that appellation [what region wine is from] is as important as the type of grape. Hearing a particular country can be more useful to us than a grape variety – two Bordeaux wines grown just kilometres apart can vary massively. So say ‘I want a big French red’ and I’ll know where to start.”

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How To Buy… Cigars

The fear: A pal’s wedding is coming up. Just the occasion to honk on a couple of “fat cat’s follies”. But the shop’s dark wood panelling, the palpable air of wealth, it’s all too much. “Just browsing!” you blurt out before making your hasty exit, once again in tears.

Dirk Seyfried, Master of Habanos at James J Fox, says: “The amount of time you want to smoke your cigar is just as important as the flavour. So, if you want a box of cigars to crack open at a wedding, I’d recommend something with a smoking time of 15 minutes – it won’t overwhelm a beginner or have you away from the party for too long. If you’re planning some self-indulgent leisure time we could take you up to 90 minutes. Where you want to smoke is as useful to us as what you want to smoke.”

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How To Buy… Cheese

The fear: You know that some cheeses are hard, some are kind of hard, some are runny and some look like they’ve gone off but are, you’re assured, great. But which one is actually nice? Too late: you’ve pointed at the cheddar!

Nathan Coyle, manager at Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard Dairy, says: “Cheese can change in flavour from week to week, depending on the batch. So ask us what’s great on that particular day.” Gareth Hewer, his colleague, adds: “There’s almost a level of seasonality. For example, cow’s milk cheese will taste very different in the summer, when the cows are fed on grass, than compared to the winter when they’re eating silage. Today I’d recommend our Lancashire hard cow’s milk cheese, for example.”

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How To Buy… Swords

The fear: “Prithee, sire,” you say to the blacksmith, “outfit me with your keenest blade.” But you’re taken for a merry ride by the steel-selling charlatan, who palms off on you a broadsword of dubious manufacture, and come the day of battle, you’re left bloodless and asunder by myriad blows. Cruel fate, how sharp thou art!

Max, owner of The Viking Store in Walthamstow, says: “When buying your first broadsword, you need to be aware of micro-fractures. If you get a sword made of substandard, too-hard steel, the blade can develop almost-invisible cracks, and then one day when you’re blocking an attack – snap. There’s not much you can do with half a sword, so my advice would be to go for something made of vanadium steel.”

Photos by Grant Howitt. Words by Grant Howitt and Chris Sayer

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