Lunch with... Oona King

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 3 May 2013 in Culture
Anoosh Chakelian meets the Labour peer, erstwhile London mayoral candidate and MP. Photo by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

This article is from the May 2013 issue of Total Politics

Life peer since 2011 and former Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow; the second black woman to be elected as an MP, in 1997. King currently divides her time between the Lords, working as diversity executive at Channel 4, and various charity boards.

The restaurant


Named after Rome’s presidential palace, this little Italian restaurant – hidden underground in Millbank, but with the airy brightness of a terrace – is the unassuming home of delicious Italian fare, from stracchino cheese to chocolatey budino.

The menu

Starter Grilled prawns and scallops; radicchio salad with gorgonzola and walnuts.

Main Pearl Tuscan spelt with braised octopus and chilli; stracchino and ricotta-filled ravioli with pumpkin.

Dessert Warm chocolate budino with vanilla ice cream.

We drank Still water; macchiato coffee; Earl Grey tea.     

We discussed

The Milibands Ed has come from being a dead man walking – even a year after he won the leadership, people were saying ‘he’s down-and-out, there’s nothing that can resurrect Labour under Ed Miliband’, and he’s proved that is completely wrong. He’s showing people he has immense talent. I’m really sad to see David [Miliband] go. I think without a shadow of a doubt he’ll be back. I’m fairly certain he’ll be prime minister. They might both manage it!

House of Lords culture shock When I got to the Lords, I needed IT, and they said “you go through Prince’s Chamber, up the stairs, turn right, and it’s next to the sword cupboard”. I just thought ‘oh no’. It’s a cross between Harry Potter and Porridge − sort of a very luxurious prison. I couldn’t believe I’d been sucked back into this antiquated world when I’d just got out. But if you can influence the legislative process from inside, that is the be-all and end-all. The Lords does that, which is a huge contrast from its antiquated demeanour.

Double standards As an MP, I was asked what sexism I’d experienced in politics, and gave an example from before I was elected, when I was a political assistant and an MEP had offered me £10,000 of taxpayers’ money if I’d sleep with him. The Evening Standard put it on the front page, and I was blamed for it – my whip said “it brings your political judgement into question”.

Death threats As an MP, I started to get death threats with the regularity that I used to receive thank-you cards. One of the worst points was around the time of the Millennium, when Scotland Yard gave me a pole with a mirror on the end to check under my car each morning. About the only thing that got me through was a friend telling me to imagine my forefathers who were African-American slaves, and had threats of being lynched every minute of every day and night, and they got through – I drew on their strength.

Gordon Brown The media stereotype doesn’t fit the bill. I had my first policy meeting with him as a spad, and was taking my 18-month-old baby to the childcare centre, but it was shut. I arrived with a baby on my hip. Gordon just looked massively unimpressed. The baby started crying and I looked round and Gordon had gone. I thought he was going to sack me. Then his head popped out from behind his desk, on his hands and knees, and he brought out this train set and played with him for about 10 minutes.

Perfect for

Those eager for diverse and authentic Italian dishes.

Not suitable for

A quick lunch. The food’s rich flavours mean you’ll need a while to take it in.

The cost

Main courses range from £13-£20.

To book a table at Quirinale, call 02072227080 or email

Tags: Anoosh Chakelian, Issue 58, Lunch with, May 2013, Oona King, Quirinale

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