Christopher Hirst

Christopher Hirst is an award-winning food writer and freelance journalist.

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Gin Glorious Gin, by Olivia Williams - book review: How mother's ruin became the toast of London

Even a decade ago, this lively historical cruise round the ocean of gin would have been a publishing non-starter. Towards the end of the last century, London's traditional spirit – neutral alcohol re-distilled with various flavourings and spices known as "botanicals" – was approximately as fashionable as the celluloid collar and the Marcel wave. According to Williams, London Dry Gin was "associated with Betjeman's twee vision of England – of golf clubs, tennis matches and dinner parties". You still encounter red-nosed Sixties types, who, though far from averse to other mind-altering substances, find the very mention of gin to be repugnant.

Travel books round-up: Wonders of the world, from cow wee to the 'waria'

Surely no country offers richer pickings for a cabinet of curiosities than India. The diverting assemblage in Sam Miller's A Strange Kind of Paradise: India through Foreign Eyes (Cape, £18.99) ranges from the putative appearance of St "Doubting" Thomas in Kerala to the mutilation inflicted on 300 British soldiers imprisoned by Tipu Sultan in the 1780s. "Terribly alarmed for our foreskins," wrote one colonel.

The Star Inn the City, restaurant review: This All-Day Menu plays the Yorkshire card with a heavy hand

The Star Inn the City, Lendal Engine House, Museum Street, York (01904 619208)

Christopher Hirst travels to Puerto Rico to test-drive their national cocktail, the piña colada

The exotic rum, pineapple and coconut concoction was made Puerto Rico's 'official beverage' in 1978

My Scotland, Our Britain by Gordon Brown, book review: Homage to home country reveals more of the man than the manifesto

"This is not a political manifesto," insists Gordon Brown at the conclusion of his predictably slanted contribution to the referendum debate. This is true. Perhaps his argument for Scotland staying in the UK would have benefited from a bit more political grit. His book is, however, heartfelt, well-informed and persuasive – if you can stay the course. Unfortunately, its relentless didacticism will have limited appeal, especially among the 98,000 16 and 17-year-olds whose votes may be crucial.

The Westwood occupies a wing of the former Georgian courthouse in Beverley, East Yorkshire

The Westwood, restaurant review: 'A lump of grilled halibut might have come from the creature that housed Jonah'

The Westwood, New Walk, Beverley, East Yorkshire (01482 881999). Around £120 for two, including wine. Set menu £22.50 for three courses (Tue-Fri)

The Valley by Richard Benson, book review: A social and personal history of mining

Having scored a bestseller with The Farm, a closely observed account of his father and brother losing an uphill battle on the Yorkshire Wolds, Benson swaps rural for industrial and skips back a generation in The Valley. Covering a century in the ravaged Dearne Valley near Doncaster, this epic panorama of mining life focuses on Benson's maternal grandparents, Harry "Juggler" Hollingworth and his wife Winnie. Fortunately for both reader and author, they turn out to be good company on this marathon, intriguing oddities with curious lives beyond the colliery.

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