The best podcast hosts are like friends, but better, because you’ll never have to go to their wedding and can click unsubscribe if they get weird. They’re company when you’re not dressed for company, officemates when you work from home, and family with a pause button.
Comedians Ed Gamble and James Acaster on the Off Menu podcast are especially good company because they’re funny gluttons. A cheese boy and a dessert boy/genie who, alongside shadowy lever-puller the Great Benito, are the owner-operators of a dream restaurant that asks guests from Dan Aykroyd to Louis Theroux to name their dream starter, main, side dish, drink and dessert, in that order.
If you’ve yet to have the pleasure, do get involved with this pick of the finest Off Menu episodes from the 200 (!) so far. They’ve been expecting you for some time…
20. Jamie Oliver
Throughout the Off Menu podcast, the hosts have many fanboy moments, but in the Jamie Oliver episode you can feel them bursting with excitement and awe (and not just because he brings them his dream starter to share). Through the swoons we get underpant recommendations, cookery tips and three men who just bloody love food having a lovely chat. You can tell how much of an influence Oliver has had on Acaster and Gamble’s food obsessions and it’s really sweet to be an audible witness to.
19. Kiell Smith-Bynoe
Is this the longest Off Menu edit ever? (you’d have to ask The Great Benito). It took a hearty one hour and 45 minutes to interrogate Stath Lets Flats and Taskmaster star Kiell Smith-Bynoe about his food choices and, let’s face it, life choices in this whisky-fulled episode. What’s above is only what made the cut, which included: the disputed origin of popular 2022 internet phrase “Platty Joobs”, Smith-Bynoe’s former career as a school playground Del Boy selling exotic Capri Sun flavours out of his rucksack, Ghosts chat, his mate Tony’s lust for Cherry Coke, and… did they even get around to the food? Listen to find out.
18. Claudia Winkleman
So good they invited her back on as an honorary genie to host the 100th episode in which Gamble and Acaster gave their own dream menus, Claudia Winkleman was chaos. Still or sparkling? Neither! Like the Wicked Witch of the West, or a cat, or a Mogwai, Winkleman fears and avoids water, and any husbands whose lips may have come into contact with it. There’s roast chicken talk, there’s tuna melt talk, there’s a highly specific cheesecake order and a lot more stuff about how much she dislikes wet lips. Don’t expect to understand her, but do expect to be entertained.
17. Tim Key
Shall he be mother? Oh yes he shall. Comedian, poet, actor and Taskmaster contestant and task consultant didn’t just provide a lovely menu, he endowed the podcast with a new catchphrase. If you’re ever in an Indian restaurant and hear the words “Shall I be mother?” before the sound of a thwack followed by shards of poppadom spraying into the air, Key is the man responsible. His Off Menu episode was so enjoyed that he was invited back for the Christmas dinner party live event, alongside fellow favourites Nish Kumar, Rosie Jones, Bob Mortimer, Sindhu Vee and Munya Chawawa.
16. Kumail Nanjiani
One image endures from comedian-actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani’s dream menu: him as a baby loving biryani so much that he crawled inside a pan filled with it. It’s a family legend that never happened, apparently but a charming – if unhygienic – tableau.
This episode is here to represent Off Menu’s many American guests whose cool LA lifestyles contrast with Ed and James’ London fox-feeding, broccoli chorizo pasta chat. Added points for plenty of genie canon discussion and yearning for a pre-Ratatouille world where food has no emotional associations.
15. Jayde Adams
Fans will know why this recorded-in-lockdown episode is a must. It’s not just that comedian-actor-presenter Jayde Adams lives well and knows food. It’s not just because of the #jaydebangamash potato masher story, or the guest appearances from best pal Babs, or the special delivery of a dozen pairs of homemade pants midway through. It’s not even all the Heston Blumenthal chat or the anecdote about the gigantic prawn cocktail. The reason this one’s in the hall of fame is a first for the dream restaurant about which the genie and the maître d’ couldn’t be more delighted.
14. Richard E Grant
What a guest. The hosts are understandably excited about meeting national treasure Richard E Grant, who is on extremely good form here. He drops unprompted luvvie anecdotes (singing karaoke at Olivia Colman’s post-Oscars lock-in), plays along with their fantasy seagull nonsense, and outlines his monthly Christmas pudding habit in a way that makes you think this is a man who’s really got it together. There’s even a very interesting turn when Grant, apparently fascinated by the art of stand-up comedy, starts interviewing Ed and James and gets some real insights. Great work all round.
13. Judi Love
The very best Off Menu episodes often result in the creation of a box-fresh comedy character, and Judi Love’s might just be the finest. Lady Bacchus is a Waitrose-shopping posh white lady who enjoys the finer things in life, and she gets her first outing in this episode. In a packed hour and a quarter, Love provides enough backstory for her Taskmaster character Queen Zufufu to fuel a film trilogy, while talking funeral dining etiquette, staying healthy on tour, and the guilt of eating sea creatures you’ve met that day. She also refuses to be drawn into misogynist Loose Women goss and flirts with James and Ed to beat the band. In short – fun.
12. Miriam Margolyes
Every booking agent must punch the air when Miriam Margolyes is confirmed; whatever she’s appearing on, she never disappoints. Unsurprisingly knowing Miriam, the chat in this top-notch appearance jumps around and you never know what tangent she’ll go down next.
There’s no messing as she won’t stand for any of the lads’ nonsense; she chastises the boys for keeping it “below the waist” (even though she started it and continues it) but after all she’s a woman who likes ‘serious bread’ and eats onions like apples. In her episode the most dominant food is nothing she orders on her dream menu, but the cheese and onion sandwich that she’s munching – on-brand and brilliant.
11. Bridget Christie
Not only is the very funny Bridget Christie well able to outdo any strangeness James Acaster can throw her way (see: the Mr Tumnus menopause thermostat fantasy), her dream menu is surprisingly moving. What shines through it is Christie’s love for her family. Her courses are nostalgic and meaningful, the prize for a life lived well.
In addition to that, she’s also a lunatic with ant-like qualities who keeps her children’s umbilical cords in a box along with their discarded hair and teeth. Listen in for talk of spinach, egg-feathers, the existential threat posed by Turkish Delight, and the scarring time a mouse ran over her amniotic fluid. And did you know she’s 50? Don’t know if she mentioned it.
10. Harry Hill
You can tell when a podcast host is blagging familiarity with a guest’s career, and this Christmas special is the opposite of that. James and Ed hang on every word from Harry Hill about his early days on the stand-up circuit and clearly know his material inside out. They’re delighted with the man and the result is just a lovely time had by all. We get clarinet impressions, Hill’s best chicken-related heckle comeback, spag vong, lots of Bake-Off, You’ve Been Framed! and TV Burp talk and so much genuine laughter this should probably place higher on this list come to think of it.
9. Alison Spittle
Irish stand up Alison Spittle was a joy on the podcast, not because of her food choices (which were pretty odd) but because she was completely and absolutely hilarious. During her appearance we learnt that ‘funeral’ is a soup flavour, there’s a global WhatsApp group for soup enthusiasts, there’s a limit to how many prawn crackers someone wants to eat when they are offered an unlimited supply, and a blended family can be brought together with a (to be honest weird sounding) Ainsley Harriott recipe. A completely bonkers and incredibly fun episode.
8. Greg Davies
There’s a sweet spot when it comes to comedians having their comedian mates on a podcast, and this is it. Maybe it’s because, although former tour-mates Ed Gamble and Greg Davies clearly know each other very well, their rapport is more al dente than soggy and overdone. This Christmas special is a great crossover for Taskmaster fans (see also: Alex Horne, another solid episode with somebody who couldn’t care less about food), characterised by easy camaraderie, funny anecdotes and weird behind-the-scenes details of life on a comedy tour.
Also: in his menu choice, Greg Davies does something so injurious to Ed Gamble that you can’t help but love the chaos. Betcha by golly, wow.
7. Nick Mohammed
It feels almost overwhelming to try to succinctly describe this rollercoaster of an episode. Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso, Stath Lets Flats) is an excellent guest but his food choices are (respectfully) completely unhinged.
In his appearance we learn about the levels of roasts in his house (35 minute mini, Sunday, Christmas), sloppy stuffing, tortilla lasagna (commonly known as nachos) and his friend Lee’s official summer cocktail (squash, lemonade and a floating grape). Mohammed is a true trailblazer and teaches us that we can cast off tradition and make a roast whatever the heck we want it to be. Vine leaves? Check. Rice? Of course. Half a raw onion? Why on earth not!
He sums it up perfectly when he declares at the end of the episode, “It is a mad one, isn’t it?“. It certainly is. Mad but my goodness, thoroughly entertaining.
6. Kathy Burke
Kathy Burke had long been on the list of dream guests for Off Menu (or as she calls it the ‘Where’s Me Dinner’ podcast) and the dream came true for us all when she joined the (over the moon) hosts to share her choices.
Naturally hilarious and completely charming, Kathy is hard not to fall in love with during the hour she spends with Gamble and Acaster. She knows what she likes and wants to cook all of her choices for herself (of course), doles out some brilliant anecdotes, moans about vegetarian menu choices of the past (including Gordon Ramsay’s rejected risotto) and sage advice (the invaluable “Ed…..some people are c*nts”).
5. Rylan Clark
Before going into this episode, it’s important to know that inside Off Menu is another podcast: investigatory true crime series ‘James Acaster v Celebrity Bake-Off: The Unravelling’. In it, Acaster lures in guests connected to his 2019 Bake-Off appearance under the guise of a normal episode, and then grills them for answers about his time on the show. (He’s unable to answer those questions himself because he’d taken leave of his senses during filming and still maintains that he was robbed of being awarded Star Baker despite serving soupy flapjacks and a solitary cream horn that dripped like a Dali clock in the Technical.) Rylan Clark being one of his competitors, this is Acaster’s chance to dig up the truth.
The truth is dug up, and with it, so many treasures. Number one is a live phone call with Rylan’s mum, who’s been stealing his lamps and checking the cupboards in his house for his chopped up corpse. Number two is the ‘falling on a hake’ incident that gave Rylan his fish phobia. The list goes on. It’s a very funny episode, the menu of which is totally irrelevant to your enjoyment.
4. Bob Mortimer
Usually, Off Menu guests are dragged along as passengers on Gamble and Acaster’s flights of fancy, but here, Bob Mortimer is the pilot, performing loop-the-loops of bizarreness that cover topics including meats (both pocket and car), desert scorpion hunts, Peter Beardsley, how a genie might affect play in a standard FA league match, and mystery fish fingers.
Bob’s food choices are largely driven by nostalgia (he misses the days when crisps were really a very dirty thing) and sodium content. He explains why sixteen sugars in a cup of tea is the right amount and seventeen would be too sweet, his appreciation of the Ginsters range, and the correct way to swirl condiments on a family member’s Odeon hot dog (with your finger). If you’ve enjoyed Mortimer on Taskmaster or Would I Lie to You, you’ll know both what to expect, and why this is a must-listen.
3. Michelle Keegan
Put simply, Acaster’s 2019 appearance on Celebrity Bake-Off changed the man (see above: Rylan Clark), and this beauty of an episode with Star Baker Michelle Keegan is our proof. Actor Keegan is a bread-loving delight who quickly tuned into her role as chief winder-up of James Acaster – always a rewarding dynamic. By the time she makes her dessert choice, all hell breaks loose and the result is glorious chaos.
Even before the cheese board schism, Keegan’s childhood memories provide a rich selection of ‘hang on, what?!’ befuddlement. Fence-hopping to scrounge food off the neighbours, eating leftover school dinners, bits boards, 2am ham toast snacking, everything coming with a slice of Warburtons (even her choice of wine is bread-related)… it’s a very fun, very carb heavy time.
2. Ainsley Harriott
Human manifestation of joy Ainsley Harriott does not disappoint at the dream restaurant; there’s a lot of singing, constant belly laughs and a shedload of fun in truly one of the podcast’s best episodes. The boys describe Harriott as a huge part of both of their childhoods and you can feel how much they love him and are so happy to hang out with him.
It’s no surprise that a man who coined ‘Susie salt and Percy pepper’, went viral with “why hello Jill!” and told us to “give your meat a good ol’ rub” is a soundbite-machine in this episode; he’s so entertaining you don’t notice while you’re listening how many actually useful food tips he’s doling out – such is the magic of Ainsley, he’s teaching us all through hilarious osmosis.
1. Joe Thomas
If you came away from his stint on Taskmaster still not quite knowing who Joe Thomas is, then his Off Menu will tell you: the man’s an absolute mess. Where to begin? Thomas holds full conversations with himself, posing and answering his own questions, arguing with his violent inner monologue, flipping from hesitant and cerebral to absolutely enraged with zero requirement for outside input. It’s very, very funny, but you’re also left worrying whether he’s getting quite enough sleep.
This episode starts slow with a great deal of butter chat before building to a headline story involving a dead lamb, a local dad at a romantic time of year, and a hole in the back garden of a woman known only as Soft Touch. Then Willie and his Perfect Chocolate Christmas gets involved, the wheels come off, and somehow James Acaster emerges from it as the straight man. Weird, funny and unforgettable, the lamb story and Willie are now such a part of Off Menu lore they’ve even made a return visit for a 2020 Christmas special. A bonafide classic.
You also can’t go wrong with the extremely patient Professor Brian Cox, the suave Stanley Tucci, Nicola Coughlan locking herself out of her flat mid-recording, David O’Doherty‘s seafood slaughter soup… oh, just start at the beginning and work your way through.
The Off Menu Podcast is available to stream on Spotify, Apple, Amazon Music and more.