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Food For Thought: Fine flavour of Italian family cuisine a boost to wellbeing

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Murray’s health regime is paying off but he still treats himself to the occasional top-notch pizza…

I’m three weeks into a new health regime and the clarity, sharpened focus and weight loss it’s revealing are so obvious that I can finally see my voom through my vava – not always the prettiest of sights but it’s resolutely heartening to witness anything still functioning reasonably well at the age of 61 and in the middle of a pandemic.

I have so much energy and, despite the relentless beating we’re taking from the Tories, Covid and Brexit, it’s not all negative! This is actually a pretty incredible feeling and I really recommend a reset like this if you’re waking up every day feeling sluggish, as if you’ve already done a full day’s work before tackling important stuff like checking your Instagram, Douglas Ross’s increasingly factional Twitter feed and thus your sanity.

Not drinking

One of the main benefits of getting healthier is that sleep is better and I’m not waking up with the fuzziness that was becoming the lockdown equivalent of jetlag, without the excitement of actually going anywhere – that feeling when all your senses seem muted and you’re unsure if English as a foreign language has become your terrifying new reality.

Not drinking is one key component of this change although I do sometimes get to 8pm and think “if not drinking is the answer then what exactly was the question?”. But as the son of an alcoholic father, I know all too well how easy it is to rely on booze to get you through the night, especially in lockdown when just getting to 6pm feels like you’ve reached the end of a triathlon.

Those L’Oreal ads truly have a lot to answer for because just how many Mars Bars, red wines, expensive face creams, Apple watches or cashmere jumpers does it take before you finally feel that your worthiness has been duly rewarded?

It’s true that the longer this lockdown has gone on, the harder it’s become to invent excuses for treating your body like an increasingly desecrated temple. January was a write-off anyway because it’s just so grim – but February brings us closer to the gentle spring of March, and also enforced denial feels more achievable in a shorter month.


The first thing you really have to do is stop drinking. Well, in fact that’s not true – it’s only alcohol you have to quit. Anything else should be consumed like your life depended on it – which, actually, it does.

Unfortunately for some, drinking more doesn’t mean it’s OK to include vats of Coke and its eternal bridesmaid Pepsi. I don’t much like “soft” drinks anyway – certainly not carbonated, sugar-filled stuff – and only ever have Coke to ameliorate the fiercest hangover or to boil a ham in on Christmas Eve.

So that means water – and plenty of it. That’s hardly a hardship when we’re blessed here with our great Scottish tap water. When I lived in London, I swore I could taste the ghostly presence of 10 different beings every time I drank water from my own tap.

Funnily enough, I always loved the stridently arsenic top notes of New York tap water which really did feel like any passing Bunsen burner might ignite it – but, like everything in New York, it was somehow more glamorous to think that your seventh-hand diluted chemical water intake had perhaps already passed through Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and Madonna, thus making it way cooler than anything else available in the city without a prescription.

During exercise though, I have been trying Actiph water, the UK’s first alkaline ionised water, with a pH value of nine (regular tap water has a pH level of between 6.5 and 9.5, while pure water has a pH of seven).

Putting aside any supposed health benefits, I like the taste of Actiph because it reminds me of Fiji water – but without the air miles (I still have an issue with plastic waste but at least Actiph bottles are fully recyclable). You can read the interesting story of Actiph water on their website – – and also read about the health benefits they claim for their product.

Murray Chalmers
Murray Chalmers.

Much has been written in recent years about the importance of reducing acid levels in our diet and there are countless books preaching the benefits of a predominantly alkaline diet. My favourite – although it’s hardcore – is the Viva Mayr Diet, based on the principles practiced first at the original Mayr Clinic and subsequently at Viva Mayr, both in Austria.

Spelt bread

Everyone I know who has been to this clinic raves about it and it certainly seems to get results. The retreat is mega expensive though and not somewhere you go for a sybaritic rest. That being said, many of the principles can easily be followed at home, although chewing your food 40 times might be a labour of self-love too far during a particularly harrowing Coronation Street.

Did I mention that the food is based around regular consumption of days-old spelt bread chased down with Epsom salts? Apparently communal severe depression kicks in on day three.

Jokes aside though, I do believe in the principles. If you want to read more about the subject and follow a 14-day plan, then The Alkaline Cure by Dr Stephan Domenig (£14.99) is a good introduction, although the hardier among us should head straight to the Viva Mayr Diet book (£8.99) and get our salivary glands ready for mobilisation.

All this healthy living and mindful eating inevitably led to a desire for pizza. It’s just a rule of life – for every yin there’s a yang and sometimes only pizza can get you through.

This week I was the last man on Tayside to discover the infinite joy of Luigi’s, a venerable Dundee institution that shines like a beacon on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of Strathmartine Road. This discovery doesn’t come without pain, though, because once you discover Luigi’s there’s no turning back and there’s no going elsewhere.

As I imprint the words “everything in moderation, even moderation” on my elasticated waistband, I decide to ration myself to one Luigi’s order a week and dive right in because… I’m worth it.

Everything we had from Luigi’s was glorious, as you might expect from a place that has been trading in Dundee for three generations across 71 years and was voted best pizza takeaway in Central Scotland in 2019.

They know what they’re doing but, even then, this family business punches well above its weight in terms of the quality and range of what they offer. It’s a place to treasure and the fact that founder, Luigi Esposito emigrated from the Amalfi Coast in 1938 after his own grandfather had introduced gelato to Dundee in 1920, means that authenticity was never in question with this family.

Luigi, Helena and Maria in the early 60s – Dominiques grandfather, grandmother and mother.


The Calabria pizza I had was listed as a guest pizza special and I just learned that it’s proved so popular that Luigi’s have put it on the permanent menu. I can totally see why. It was just terrific, the honey providing such a wonderful sweet hit against the spicy Calabrian sausage and the chilli.

The blistered crust was perfection. I’ve had pizza all over the world, including Naples, and this was up there among the best. David’s Amalfi vegetarian pizza was equally as good. There isn’t a thing on this menu that I wouldn’t order.

In practical terms, the wood-fired oven is obviously a big asset here but what really shines through at Luigi’s goes deeper than that – it’s basically a dedication to serve the best food possible. I spoke to owner Dominique Newton and asked her what the secret is to a great pizza, and she said: “It’s passion, time, dedication and great ingredients.

“We ferment our dough for a minimum of 24 hours, which means better flavour. Cooling and heating the dough in a temperature-controlled environment is a vital part of the process.


“Everything is made in-house where possible and we season most of our toppings in our wood oven prior to opening each day. We make most of our garnishes and side-orders from scratch too, firmly believing that home-made brings happiness. We are big on flavour and think everything we create should make you smile when eating – and maybe do a little food dance.

“Our specials are normally inspired by something we have cooked on our days off (my mum and I adore cooking) or something nostalgic that brings familiarity to most people.

“Luigi’s offers flavour, family, freshness and friendliness. We want to make the whole experience easy and joyful.

“A rare and special fact is that many of our customers’ grandparents were fed by my grandparents. Knowing we have fed our community for generations brings pride and joy to us as well as a drive to continue Luigi’s legacy with just as much passion as he had.”

Luigi’s is such a find. The pizzas are perfect but also you have to order the superlative cheesecake (blackberry and white chocolate the week we ordered) AND the exquisite gelato, made by Joelato in Perthshire. We had hazelnut and it was a delight, bringing a taste of the Amalfi coast to a dank winter’s night in Dundee.

Our meal deal was a bargain at £26 for two pizzas, two drinks and two side orders, one of which was the best potato fritters you’ve had in your life. I shamelessly ate one for breakfast the next day. In an age of transience and fast food mediocrity, Luigi’s is authentic, pure and totally brilliant.

Luigi’s Pizzeria, 21 Strathmartine Road, Dundee, DD3 7RL. Tel: 01382 814041 and also download their very good app to order.

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