Catherine Hanly on why she loves eating out, Michel Roux Jnr and The Gramercy Tavern in New York...

Catherine Hanly knows her stuff when it comes to websites. She spent five years at Emap as Editor of movie website, and a further five years as Editor of parenting site,, before moving to, where she works today as Associate Editor. In her spare time (yes, really), she runs Hot Dinners, her own site, which she launched with her brother as a way of indulging her real passion: food. When it comes to the best restaurants, the latest food news and the top chefs, Catherine is at the top of her game. We caught up with her to find out more.

The inspiration for Hot Dinners came… after the second or third trip I’d made to New York with my brother (and site co-founder Gavin) purely to eat, rather than shop. We realised that, while there were a number of excellent Manhattan restaurant websites we could use to get all the latest news and gossip about the NYC foodie scene, there was nothing doing the same job for London. We thought there was a gap in the market and the reaction we’re getting from foodies, chefs and restaurateurs makes us think we were right.

I’m a five-to-niner… When my regular four-days a week job finishes, the Hot Dinners day starts. I’m either heading out for a launch party, eating out at a new restaurant or working on the site, writing up news stories, tweeting to our (almost) 3000 followers and interviewing chefs. One of the things I love most about the restaurant world in London are all the new friends I’ve made from food bloggers to Michelin-starred chefs; we’re all completely obsessed about food, which makes conversation easy.

I’m always excited about… the next place at which I’m going to eat. London is currently experiencing a total boom time for new restaurants and there’s always something exciting about to open. We do pick our favourite restaurant over the course of the year in our annual awards – last year it was Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell. We loved it because the food was consistently brilliant every time we’d eaten there and the dining room has such a buzz to it.

My favourite restaurant in the world is… the Gramercy Tavern in New York. It’s always the first place we head for when we arrive. The best way to experience it is sitting up at the counter, chatting to the bar staff while they keep you from succumbing to jet lag. It’s where we were inspired to start Hot Dinners, so we have a real soft spot for it.

My most memorable meal was… our epic four-hour lunch at The Fat Duck the week we launched Hot Dinners. It was an utterly magical and theatrical experience - a bit like the restaurant equivalent of going to a mind-blowing fireworks show. Lots of oohs and aahs at the right moments.

My favourite dining companion is… no question, my brother. He’s so into what we do and up for eating pretty much everything he’s great to dine out with. What’s more, he never minds swapping dishes half-way through, or ordering three starters so we can try everything we like on the menu.

My dream dinner companion… would have to be someone both interested in food and with plenty to say - I’d like to break bread with the Metro’s reviewer Marina O’Loughlin, mainly because no-one knows what she looks like, and she’s really funny on Twitter, so she’d be an entertaining dinner companion.

In London, there’s only really one place to be seen at breakfast… and that’s The Wolseley...if you can get a table there. I’m sure it helps if you’re a hedge-funder regular or Kate Moss, so my visits are rarer than I’d like. If your budget’s more constrained, Caravan in Exmouth Market is really good - the staff there are lovely.

Back when I was a relatively penniless editorial assistant… I used one of those Eat out for a Fiver deals to go with a group of friends to Simpson’s on the Strand. They treated us like idiots, swapping expensive ingredients for cheaper ones thinking we wouldn’t notice. Given that most of the group ended up as lawyers or in the City where they take clients out to eat regularly, it was a bit of a Pretty Woman ‘Big Mistake’ error on the restaurant’s part. I’ve never eaten there since.

I love to cook… although I’d never claim to be a particularly good one. I do turn out a good pommes dauphinoise (from a Gordon Ramsay recipe) that friends always rave about. I’m also pretty good at baking and get sadly competitive about my Victoria sponges.

I couldn’t live without… an appetite? Food-wise I’d have to defer to my Irish heritage and say potatoes in all their varied forms, although bread would come a very close second - as you can imagine, the Atkins diet was never going to work for me. I definitely mark down a restaurant if the bread isn’t up to scratch.

For my dying dinner… I’d want a meal that was both comforting and excessive, so I’d say champagne and caviar with blinis to start, roast beef and all the trimmings for the main course and something deeply calorific for the dessert, as I wouldn’t be worrying about my waistline, probably involving meringue or lots of custard.

I love wine… I’m always interested in trying new varieties and spotting trends. At the moment, Picpoul is on all the good lists at the moment and it’s the perfect drink for summer, light and refreshing. That said, there’s nothing I like more than a good glass of fizz to kick start the evening - particularly if it’s Veuve Clicquot.

Apart from deep-seated greed... I can’t claim my love of food is from my parents - my mother was a terrible cook. Or perhaps that’s why I’m so appreciative of good food now. I was also pretty fussy as a child, so I’m making up for all those lost years. Mainly I love everything associated with eating out, the buzz, great service, excellent food and not having to wash up afterwards.

Right now, I’ve got a bit of a thing for Michel Roux Jnr… His programme on Service for the BBC made such a difference in how people perceive front-of-house staff and apparently it’s already having an impact on young people wanting to train up to become sommeliers and maitre d’s. He’s so passionate about training up the next generation that you can’t help but be impressed.

In five years time… I’d like Hot Dinners to be the first place anyone thinks of when they’re wondering where to eat out that night. Think of it as a not-so-secret weapon to making sure you’re the most clued-up of your friends when it comes to knowing what the hottest restaurants in London are, and why.

The website I use the most is… Twitter. I was a pretty late adopter, but now I can’t imagine daily life without it. It’s been a crucial tool in building up the Hot Dinners readership and having attracted almost 3000 followers in just over a year, we use it to break a lot of our news stories.

19th April 2011