To us, Camilla is Queen of the Commonwealth. But to Tom, she’s just mum

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To you and me, Camilla is the wife of King Charles – Queen of the United Kingdom and hence, also Australia. But for food writer Tom Parker Bowles, she is just mum, who once snuck him into a screening of Crocodile Dundee when he was underage and still occasionally cooks for him.

“No, I am not cooking for my mother,” says Parker Bowles, who is also a restaurant reviewer, author and TV host, during a lightning visit to Melbourne to hang out with his mate, restaurateur Scott Pickett.

Tom Parker Bowles is in Melbourne for four days to hang out with his friend, restaurateur Scott Pickett.Credit: Jason South

“She might cook sometimes … when she’s at home, where I grew up,” he said.

“Oh, just like scrambled eggs on toast or roast chicken, which I can bang on about until the cows come home.”

Three weeks ago, Parker Bowles told his buddy Pickett, owner of Estelle and Matilda restaurants, that he had a spare 72 hours. Suddenly, the food writer is back in Melbourne for four days. On Wednesday, he hosted a Thai dinner at Longrain, while Friday lunch will be at Audrey’s, at the Hotel Continental Sorrento, with seafood and British favourites on the menu.

“It is a proper food city, Melbourne,” said Parker Bowles, who lived in South Yarra for several months while filming a TV show, and knows to swiftly heap praise on the hometown for the local paper.

Tom Parker-Bowles is in Melbourne for a series of events with his friend, Scott Pickett.Credit: Jason South

“Any great food city is built on immigration. So you have the high-end, the hat stuff, and then you have all the local stuff, whether it be Thai, Chinese or whatever.

“Sydney, you fall in love with immediately. It takes a lot longer to fall in love with Melbourne. But once you do, you know you’re in it for life.

“There’s a seriousness about Melbourne about the food – not pompousness – but seriousness. People take food seriously. And coffee.”

Parker Bowles last visited pre-pandemic and noted Melbourne’s CBD was “quite quiet” compared to before the lockdowns.

Tom Parker Bowles, Queen Camilla and King Charles at Royal Ascot in June.Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

“We went to Chin Chin last night. That was rammed. But when we were walking there, it was like a ghost town. I noticed that sort of very obvious difference – I guess more people are working at home?”

The 48-year-old, familiar to local TV audiences for his judging roles on The Hotplate and Family Food Fight, projects a relaxed, lived-in vibe. He dresses in a dark blue blazer, white T-shirt and sneakers, accessorised with rumpled hair.

He formed an early impression of Australia at the age of 13 when his mother, who doesn’t like garlic and chilli, once snuck him and his young sister into see Crocodile Dundee, despite the film being rated 15-plus in the UK. “My mum sort of pretended that we were all 15 and got us in.”

How did he get into food?

“I was sacked from every other job that I did. I could string a sentence together, and I could eat.”

He wrote a column for posh society magazine Tatler for many years, before joining the mass-circulation Mail on Sunday as a restaurant reviewer.

Next year, he will release a book about what the royals eat, titled Cooking and The Crown: Royal Recipes from Queen Victoria to King Charles III.

“I don’t care what anyone says about the king. He’s a good, kind, thoughtful man who was way ahead of his time in talking about sustainability and regenerative farming.

Tom Parker Bowles, second from right in the back row, with members of the royal family when his mother, Camilla, wed the then-Prince of Wales, Charles in 2005.Credit: Getty

“People would say back in the day he was eccentric, and now it is seen as mainstream. He was a pioneer. There are few people I know in the world who know more about how farming works.

“He’s a farming hero, food hero and a very nice fella.”

Parker Bowles is quick off the mark about the price of restaurants in London, where Sushi Kanesaka, part of the Dorchester Hotel, charges £420 ($803) a head for its omakase menu. And that is before drinks.

“Oh my god, it is so expensive.”

But Pickett points out a £40 main course, for a normal plate of food, would be almost $100 here. “Australians are spoiled for what we pay for food in this country.”

During the Friday lunch at Audrey’s restaurant at the Continental Hotel Sorrento, Pickett, 47, proudly expands on the seafood-focused, British-influenced menu. But Parker Bowles can’t help but add a food writer’s perspective.

“The first snack is our little take on coronation chicken,” says Pickett, which prompts muttering from Parker Bowles.

“But you wait until you try this one, it’s a little tartlet,” Pickett protests, before his friend slips into critic mode about the dish seasoned with cream of curry sauce.

Coronation chicken is “lurid, yellow, overly sweet muck”, Tom Parker Bowles says.Credit: Alamy

“Coronation chicken is one of those debased dishes; it started off as something quite good. It was debased in the UK, turning up in cheap service station sandwiches. A lurid, yellow, overly sweet muck,” Parker Bowles replies. He is sure Pickett’s version will be lovely.

We move swiftly to the next menu item.

“We’ve done some jellied eel,” Pickett enthuses. “There’s some great eel in Victoria that’s smoked, and we make a consomme out of that and set it in a little glass jar.”

“Even the English don’t like jellied eel,” Parker Bowles interrupts.

It’s a friendship that seemingly wouldn’t work on paper, but in real life is robust.

During Wednesday’s dinner, Parker Bowles told the audience that Pickett was attempting to get him to join him and the restaurant staff at a nightclub.

Parker Bowles replied: “My Revolver days are long over.”

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