Jessie and Lennie Ware first invited us round to theirs back in November 2017, when they had Sam Smith over for turkey meatballs. Since then they’ve had more than 150 celebs for tea, and become such a cornerstone of the podcasting ecosystem that it feels like a significant wedge of new chat pods since have tried to emulate its freewheeling, slightly chaotic energy.
The format’s simple: a guest heads around to the Wares’ for a really, really nice meal – of varying complexity and refinement, depending on what Jessie and Lennie can be bothered with that day – and a chat. That’s basically it.
It’s ingenious though. The loose structure tends to encourage unguarded conversation – see, to take an example from that first Sam Smith episode, Smith admitting they accidentally froze their hamsters as a child, and thought Mexico was in Europe – and the consciously lo-fi sound makes you feel like you’re standing at the kitchen island with a glass of cold Chablis on the go.
The guestlist has tended to be heavy on musicians in the past, with John Legend, Alanis Morrisette, Kylie Minogue and Carly Rae Jepsen popping up, though so have the likes of Ed Miliband, Riz Ahmed and Kiefer Sutherland, which might be the first time those three men have ever been in a sentence together. Here’s where to start…
S4 Ep 1: Nigella Lawson
If you’re a food podcast, then a visit from Saint Nigella of Lawson is the final benediction. Lawson is as effortlessly charming and engaging as you’d expect of the woman who’s done more than most to promote cooking for friends as the highest form of joy and fulfilment.
Despite having been a broadcaster for a good couple of decades, there’s a rare openness to Lawson in this episode. She talks about how making her mother’s chicken soup is “an act of devotion” since she passed away, and the underpinnings of her unifying theory of food. “Cooking as performance art has never interested me,” she says. Which is, you know, exactly the kind of thing that means more from someone who could quite easily do cooking as performance art.
There’s also the revelation that Lawson used to eat rice pudding for breakfast, which is an attitude to life we could all learn from. Listen now on Spotify.
S10 Ep 6: Dawn French
That unguarded conversation thing we were talking about really came to the fore with Dawn French, who was revelatory about what she’d discovered about herself since starting to write books in her late forties.
“What I started to discover when I started to write was that it was quiet and just me on my own in my own head,” French tells Jessie and Lennie. “What I think I’ve discovered about myself through my writing is that I’m a kind of functioning introvert. That’s who I really am.”
It’s a pretty startling thing for a lifelong performer to say, but that’s the kind of thing that people do end up saying on Table Manners. Alanis Morrisette’s experience of postpartum depression over lockdown, Zawe Ashton realising that moving her entire life to the seaside was a terrible idea, and David Schwimmer being incredibly lovely about his daughter. Listen now on Spotify.
S11 Ep 18: Paul and Mary McCartney
The deep love and unvarnished snappishness between the Ware Junior and Ware Senior is a key feature of Table Manners – along with hearing the clatter of plates and cutlery and everyone milling around in the kitchen, it’s the very real mother-daughter dynamic. Naturally, that sometimes spills over into bickering. In front of the former Beatle and his daughter, it turned into a proper barney.
“Usually, it’s just a nice chat over food,” Jessie reflected later. “But sometimes with my mum you get all the baggage of previous discussions we’ve had off-air coming to the forefront. That doesn’t stop when you’re meeting a legend.”
Most podcasters wouldn’t have the chutzpah to keep it in, but it quickly became a very big Table Manners moment. Plus, there’s the revelation that Macca puts his good eyesight at the age of 79 down to ‘eye yoga’. You could have locked him in a room with David Frost for six hours, and he’d never have got near that titbit. Listen on Spotify.