Food Humour Interview Magazine Spotlight

Two Eds are Better than One

Ed who’s Cumming to dinner.

In early 2003, when I was doing my GCSEs and Google was a more young and hopeful place, I searched for my own name. ‘Ed Cumming’ throws up a few different things online and we needn’t go into all of them here, but the salient discovery was that there was another Ed Cumming. He was a student at Cambridge, evidently a few years older than me, with a publicly visible email address. I sent him a note. ‘How funny, we have the same name,’ I said, or words to that effect. ‘Right you are, you little freak,’ he replied, or words to that effect, with the polite reserve of someone edging away from a lunatic at a bar.

20 years later, we finally arran­ged to meet. I needed a free lunch in a hurry. Kolae, a smart new Thai restaurant in Borough Market, graciously stepped up.

As I checked in with the front of house, I noticed that the reservation on the iPad said ‘Ed Cummings’. This may come as a surprise to readers with a puerile bent, but one of the most annoying things about being called Cumming is people’s instinct to pop an s on the end. As far as I know, no other surname has this problem to the same extent. Nobody mistakenly writes down John Smiths or Andy Murrays. Reading this, it is possible even some of you are under the impression I am called Cummings. I blame E. E. and, more recently, Dom, for the error, which comes to grate much more than the obvious jokes.

In this instance, I reflected, for the first time ever the plural was correct. There were two Ed Cummings. Maybe the staff had meant it. But was that even the correct plural? Should we be Eds Cumming? As I say, I don’t want to seem narcissistic, but Ed Cumming is a name in the intersection of ‘a bit unusual’ and ‘not weird enough for there not to be a few of you’.

If you have a common-as-muck name, like Charles Baker, you grow up comfortable that there are lots of people with your name. Chris Evans isn’t even the most famous Chris Evans. If you have an unusual name, Cush Jumbo, say, you spend your whole life confident that there is just you. It would be a good topic for psychologists to research. Is it healthier to feel special or to know you are part of the mass of humanity?

Before I could dwell on this any longer, Ed Cumming had appeared behind me and was soon shaking my hand. I reflected sadly that he was noticeably thinner and more handsome than me, with a commanding aquiline vibe that others, including my wife, have compared to Tom Hiddleston.

‘Don’t you hate it when people put an ‘s’ on the end?’ he asked. We were off.

‘I have a picture-perfect memory of where I was sitting when that email dropped into my inbox,’ he said. ‘I was like, what?’

At the risk of sounding dramatic, Other Ed Cumming has haunted my life since I sent it. When I got to Cambridge a few years later, he had just graduated. Everywhere I went I found his T-Rex-sized footprints.

‘We’ve just had one of you,’ I remember someone saying, as though he was dismissing a Jehovah’s Witness from his doorstep. It turned out Other Ed Cumming had been a textbook Big Name On Campus: President of the Union, Chairman of the Conservative Association and champion law student. He explained that he, too, had suffered from the comparison. ‘I remember after I left, people would ask why I was still writing for the university rag,’ he said.

Professionally he went by Edward, rather than Ed. There was no hope for me on the SEO front. When I started work, I had to go with Ed. By forcing me into this less formal diminutive, perhaps other Ed Cumming condemned me to a lifetime of more frivolous work. Who knows what I might have achieved as an Edward?

Worse was to come. In 2018, Other Ed Cumming was made a QC when he was just 34, making him the youngest silk in modern history. His chambers website quotes directories describing him as ‘the perfect modern barrister’ and a ‘superstar in the making’.

Not long after his appointment, my wife, who went to the same college as him, received a copy of the alumni magazine with his face staring out next to the headline ED CUMMING: WHAT A LEGEND (I paraphrase). ‘Did I get the wrong one?,’ she wondered aloud, and I couldn’t disagree. Aside from anything else, Top Barrister Ed Cumming was doubtless much richer than the lifestyle features journalist version she had contrived to hitch herself to.

What finally prompted our meeting was Other Ed Cumming’s inclusion in a list published last year by Graydon Carter’s Air Mail magazine of ‘25 Young Londoners Lighting Up the Scene’, an eccentric roster which also included the chefs Tomos Parry and Thomas Straker. Other Ed Cumming’s entry said he was ‘acknowledged by his peers as a legal superstar’ and concluded:

‘Those who remember Bridget Jones’s Diary might be reminded of Mark Darcy, Colin Firth’s dashing, noble barrister. Those who don’t will think solely of Edward Cumming.’

I was sent this list by many, many people. ‘Now we finally have to meet up for a drink some time!’ said Other Ed. We swapped numbers. I received a WhatsApp saying ‘Ed, it’s Ed’, and here we were.

Kolae is the second site from the team behind the excellent Som Saa in Shoreditch. Several years ago, Som Saa was embroiled in a scandal, but this isn’t the place to go into all that. Restaurants need to feel secure that if they are generous enough to host a lunch for The Fence, they will not have their history dredged up. It’s not that kind of column. What I will say is that it’s a bit depressing that Kolae is in Borough Market. As Clapham is to recent graduates, so Borough Market is to restaurateurs: an area that ticks a lot of boxes in theory, with footfall and transport connections, but is hellish on the ground. Because it is free and out of the rain, thousands of tourists head down to mill around like penguins, queuing for mediocre paella. I had not thought death had undone so many. Still the restaurants come.

There is no quibbling once you’re inside Kolae. The name is apparently to do with a grilling method from southern Thailand. The food is more than good enough to make you forget you’ve had to come to Borough Market. The menu is short, with only 16 dishes including sides and puddings, and I wanted everything, so we let our waiter, Fabio, order for us. We were brought whole prawn heads, fried to a deep gold, crunchy and warming. Fat mussels, tangy with marinade and served on skewers. Sour, sweet, chilli-hot pickles in coconut water. Perhaps best of all was the Phuket-style pork, ribs and belly, braised with soy. ‘These are a present from the chef,’ said Fabio, as he dropped them off. It didn’t seem the moment to explain that as we were liggers having lunch for The Fence, everything was a present from the chef.

It gives me no pleasure to have to report that Other Ed Cumming was smart, gossipy, entertaining company, although the four mango martinis I used to swill down the food mean I can’t remember exactly what we talked about. The only things in my notebook are ‘Colonel Gaddafi’ and ‘Soho Farmhouse’, although I’m not sure if they were part of the same conversation.

There was one inadvertently devastating revelation, which he saved for the end of the meal. ‘I suppose my media claim to fame was that I think I introduced Oly Duff to Simon Kelner,’ he said. As keen media students will know, this was the union that created the i news­paper. (In an amusing twist, Simon’s daughter, Phoebe, is the PR for Kolae. What an enormous city London is!) Apart from anything else, he’d been a more influential journalist, too. Damn you, Ed Cumming.

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