Podcasts of the week: from a gripping siege to Chinese insights
Featuring Siege, Table Manners, Off Menu, River Cafe Table 4, Comfort Eating and Chinese Whispers
“Well, shake up my prejudices and slap on my headphones, there was such a great drama series on Radio 4” earlier this month, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. The show in question is Siege, a “gripping” five-part thriller (30 minutes each) that’s part of the station’s Limelight podcast strand, and has “zoomed straight on to my best of the year list”.
Written by a team of three exceptional talents – Katherine Jakeways, Darragh Mortell and Eno Mfon – it is set in a present-day London mini-market, where an armed robber strikes one lunchtime, taking a security guard and five very different shoppers hostage. From the start, the characterisation shines and the set-up captivates: it’s a “state-of-the-nation commentary and a white-knuckle edge of your seater, all in one”.
In the “ever-expanding pantheon of celebrity podcasts”, the foodie sub-genre is thriving, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. Singer Jessie Ware was an “early adopter” with Table Manners, chatting to famous friends at her dinner table. Another “ratings-busting” success is Off Menu, which sees comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble talk to guests about their dream meal. And food critic Grace Dent’s Comfort Eating is a “funny, freewheeling” podcast in which guests are quizzed about the food they eat behind closed doors.
A very listenable new addition to the roster is River Cafe Table 4, hosted by the chef and River Cafe owner Ruth Rogers, which launched last autumn. Rogers’ London restaurant is a “fabled hang-out for actors, artists, writers, musicians and fellow chefs”, and she’s bagged some impressive interviewees: the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Michael Caine, Tracey Emin, Al Gore, Paul McCartney, Jake Gyllenhaal, Salman Rushdie, David Beckham and Nigella Lawson. Rogers is not yet always the “smoothest” of hosts, but the conversations are “intimate, revealing and real”.
If you want to understand contemporary China, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times, a great place to start is Chinese Whispers, a fortnightly Spectator podcast hosted by an “impressive twenty-something presenter”, Cindy Yu. Born and raised in Nanjing, Yu moved to London with her family at the age of ten after a neighbour shopped her mother for being pregnant with a second child.
She’s clever, with a masters in contemporary Chinese studies from Oxford, but not “intimidating” – and her podcast goes both “high and low”. You’ll find “enlightening” analysis of the plight of the Uyghurs, for example – but also topics such as China’s love of drinking, and its addiction to the social media platform Weibo. It’s “not just a talking shop for seasoned Sinophiles”, but a very accessible attempt to answer: “How do the Chinese see these issues?”