Mr Hendy Presents: flick through the bookmarked pages of his enchanting online world.

How to describe Alastair Hendy? An avowed category dodger, he darts from one sublime creative pursuit to the next, his unerring eye making all around him outrageously beautiful. Voted at once the ‘World’s Best Food Journalist’ and the ‘World’s Best Food Photographer’, you would think that the dual accolade would keep him far too busy for just about anything else. And yet Alastair is by turns, a retailer (more on which later); a brand consultant for the likes of M&S (he also creates the mouth-watering imagery for much of their food packaging); an art director; a cookery writer for magazines such as Australian Vogue and Sunday Times Style; a TV presenter; and a designer. No wonder, then, that Neale Whitaker, editor of Vogue Living, described him as a ‘human magazine.’

Alastair cut his teeth as a chef at Antonio Carluccio’s then-legendary Neal Street restaurant, and today, when the weather is fine, he employs those skills picked up then (plus many since) in opening up the patio outside his Hastings home ware shop to rustle up lunch for an appreciative in-the-know clientele.

And it is the shop that has introduced many, beyond the creative cognoscenti, to Alastair. For in 2012, after three years of painstaking renovation, he opened the doors to AG Hendy & Co Home Store, a paean to the utilitarian beauty of life below stairs. Groaning with enamelware, ostrich feather dusters, the most exquisite cleaning brushes, sinks and glassware you ever saw, it is almost like entering a stage set (Alastair is, after all, a master of scene setting). And yet it is a living, mutable, real place: a distillation of one man’s utter joy and pleasure in this sublime expression of the Edwardian aesthetic.



And yet he is not an Edwardian obsessive: far from it. At his London home, a warehouse in Shoreditch, the aesthetic is modern minimal. Meanwhile, in his 16th-century Hasting house, which you can rent, the atmosphere of a Tudor dwelling (with rather more, albeit discreet, luxuries) pervades. It is beautiful and uncannily like stepping back in time several hundred years. The uniting thread? When he decides to do something, he commits wholeheartedly and with exquisite attention to detail.

Here he tells us the heartbreakingly poignant story behind the last book he read, and why he’s a ‘Hoptimist’ at heart.

Follow Alastair on his personal Instagram, as well as the shop’s own account.

My favourite website...

Astier de Villatte for its shear creativity and madness; and the fact they don’t give a damn about how user unfriendly it is. Nothing of significance is priced. Fabulous! At the polar opposite, is the thoroughly useful – if not so lush - the-saleroom.com, which is handy for keeping track of antiques popping up for sale in auction houses throughout the UK. Sign up and they send you email alerts in your chosen areas of interest. And my most used site: pixelz.com for our website product cut-outs. Efficient, fast and a bargain; and their site is a doddle to use for those lacking in tech-patience, and that’s me.

My favourite app...

Snapseed, for all my iPhone photography editing.

My favourite blog...

poorlittlerichgays.com, a dry comedy of gay-driven angst that dogs the daily chores of Adrian Edge (writer Thomas Blaikie), featuring The Gay Mother (Blaikie’s mother – she’s 90, not gay) and friends, who are ‘London’s Outstanding Gays, rich or poor or both but never mediocre.’

Friday 10th April: ‘This morning I managed to include a visit to Joshua Baring’s windowsill in my morning exercise routine. His lockdown is at the luxury end – Neal’s Yard and a Shoreditch butcher are delivering. Leila is also obliging. Geranium Cream and Tarte aux Pois Mousseline have featured. As Joshua Baring says, ‘Just for one. If only you could invite someone round…’ Well, yes, but entertaining was shattering, when we used to do it, I reminded him.’



My favourite podcast...

Podcasts are for the car. To distract the backseat driver while toing and froing between Shoreditch and Hastings. I drive – and too fast apparently. Calm is administered by Skeptics Guide to the Universe hosted by Steven Novella, a dry debunking of pseudoscience and some brain exercising – particularly in its Science or Fiction quiz. And for a mirror on our life, we have In and Out of the Kitchen, the comedy by Miles Jupp – a perfectionist culinary writer, with his partner Anthony and their Irish builder, Mr Mullaney. Mullaney is always the level-headed voice of reason. Their carry-on is me and my lawyer partner John, and we too have a Mr Mullaney lurking somewhere in our lives as standard.

My favourite YouTuber...

I confess. I have shared the cute and furry: baby pandas rolling in baskets. Yet my present go-to Tube is a 50-second indoor skiing creation Freeride Skiing at Home by Philip Klein who has captured the spirit and resourcefulness we need during lockdown. It’s probably also a favourite because I am a fanatical skier. And this guy just does brilliant things with a bedsheet.



My most recent buy online...

An automatic waterer for the vast Gunnera Manicata that reigns magnificent from a water tank in my Tudor house garden. It’s greedy for water and fills the whole yard with lushness throughout summer. Auto waterers are the only thing I buy online, as they’re the most boring things to go and buy, like loo rolls and Bird’s custard.

Last book you downloaded or read...

The brilliant ‘Motherwell’, written by my dear and very talented friend the late editor and writer Deborah Orr, who we sadly lost to cancer at the end of last year. Motherwell is edgy, touching, dry, witty and so beautifully written – and it reveals a gentle side of Deborah rarely shared. Me and my partner are the trustees and executors of her estate, and we’ve now had offers in for TV serialisation, which is fab. I just wish Deborah was here to bask in all the glory. She was gone before the book was out. Her great accomplishment. Heart-breaking beyond words.

Favourite tweeter...

I don’t tweet. But I will flag up Deborah Orr’s Twitter account – sadly removed – for she was a very accomplished and controversial tweeter; documenting the break-up of her roller-coaster marriage to author Will Self and her incredibly brave final days.



Favourite Instagrammer...

Lorenz.weisse. He reaches the most remote and extraordinary landscapes, and captures them tenderly and in the most perfect light.

Also ladyandpups, a cook who can cook, with a new touch and new voice; and then goes on to take a good food picture and styles her food effortlessly.

Favourite tech gadget...

My iPhone. It just does everything – takes great pictures, and holds all my digital resources. About time it made the tea.

The most useful gadget/item on your desk...

My Hoptimist, designed in 1968 by Danish designer Gustav Ehrenreich. Totally useless – but totally useful when in need of a smile and comfort. Tap his head and it bounces up and down. I had one in the early seventies as a child. We lived in Germany and bouncing Hoptimists in all colours were the craze – like Slinky and Clackers – and I drove my parents mad until they bought one for me. It’s my cheerful reminder of my childhood Germany days, and my lovely mum, who I’ve now lost. He sits on my desk – happy.



Most useful digital resource (website/app etc) during lockdown...

Instagram. During lockdown my store increasingly relies on sales generated by posts made through Instagram; and linking Instagram posts directly with products to buy on the website is simple and genius.

Most inspirational digital resource during lockdown...

To be honest, inspiration is coming from stepping back – away from anodyne digital resource; getting to go for long walks; seeing spring unfold; listening to nature rather than the world. Enforced curtilage offers unforeseen therapy.

First thing/app you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning....

Instagram. Someone out there might need answering. Patience on social media is peculiarly un-tolerated. Manners! We’ll come on to that.

Last thing you binge-watched...

The Stranger, one of those long dramas that reels you in, gets you wedded – totally invested; and then dumps you at the end with the unexplained, unexplained. If they’re a bit noir or Scandi and grey, then you’re fair warned, but this had Jennifer Saunders. Any title that starts with ‘The’ is now prime suspect. Another, The Nest; I’m watching this potential let-down right now. The previous binge watch was White House Farm. Gripping. May be because it was a true story. It starred my Hastings neighbour Amanda Burton, who gets killed in the first episode and then plays the part of a shaven-headed corpse in the mortuary throughout. Afterward, every time we met in the street, [for me] she’d been through a terrible trauma, surely she was dead.

Favourite brands you have discovered online...

I don’t do brands. Though I do wear Levi’s and always have a Fairy in my sink.

Social media allowed me to meet...

The fashion photographer Tim Walker, who turns out to have once had his studio right next-door to my home in Shoreditch, yet we never bumped into each other then. He stays in my Tudor house in Hastings, and after his first visit texted, ‘So impressed by your work at the house…and I really know how hard it is to make a fairy tale functional’. We are both in the business of creating magical narratives/other-worldly experiences, and I felt honoured to get a Gold Star from the master himself.



The best digital advice I've been given...

Get a website.

My screensaver is...

A wonderful grey pebble beach with the waves breaking in the distance that I shot in The Dingle, Kerry, Ireland. [Imagine the Tubular Bells album cover]. It was taken yonks back, when shooting a campfire beach story involving a wild salmon as big as your leg, chargrilled with rosemary on a large pre-heated flat stone. I’m a big outdoor cook.

My standout online memory...

A real but fake customer. Totally deranged. Ordered volumes of expensive vintage items off our website accompanied by a plethora of well-crafted chatty emails discussing everything. After various bank transfers not occurring, I was then told by email that she’d been in a car crash by ‘her friend’ – which was her of course, same written speech patterns – and that she now was hospitalised and wouldn’t be wanting the things. In our emails she’d let on where she worked, a security firm – so I called her employer, to find that she was indeed at work that day. I didn’t say anything, just left a message to tell her I’d called. Job done.

My pet online hate is...

Manners, grammar and spelling. The lack of – and especially around Contact Us. Those contacting often can’t string a sentence together. Their questions are often shouty and so chronic in punctuation, they must be sitting on the toilet or something. English gone down the pan. We then jump through the hoops for them, measuring this and that; researching postage, and whatnot; and reply in smiley words. And… silence. Not even a thank you. Manners online are surely remiss. We need an online etiquette manual, one that pops up on the recidivist’s screen!

Do you have any online rules or resolutions (such as a time your religiously switch off devices, for example?)...

No. Running your own business you have to be fluid and tuned in permanently if you’re going to try and make things a success. Devices are Tough Love.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?...

For good, for the developing world. Though for us…? Of course. But I loved handwriting a cheque.

info@aghendy.com

By Nancy Alsop
May 2020

Gustav Temple
Tom Hodgkinson
Su Blackwell