I have a friend from school. We were pretty close at one point, and stayed in contact even when I went to university and he fluffed things and had to stay on a year to take his A levels again. He’s done pretty well for himself. He’s now a reconstructive surgeon. He’s a bit secretive about it, but he sure as hell doesn’t do the Make Donnatella Versace Look Like An Inflatable Doll Where They Forgot To Stop Pumping stuff. As far as I can tell he works for the Government giving people new faces for their protection. Seems to pay pretty well; he’s not exactly stinking rich, he’s pretty comfortable.
He’s still a nice guy, mainly. We still meet up. But he’s become a food bore.He even writes occasional restaurant reviews for the broadsheets. I can’t see the point of this. I’ve been to some fairly swanky places the critics love, and come out going ‘Is that it?’ I’ve been to some dives and come out going ‘Hellfire, that was good.’ You never can tell, can you?
And he talks a load of nonsense about ‘Ambience.’ This is posh speak for feeling comfortable there. But I might not feel comfortable there, so why stick it in the review?
Rating service is not worthwhile. Sure, if you’re paying the 100 quid a head I avoid like the plague, and have to wait 20 minutes and get served the starters ordered by the table over in the corner, not yours, then the service is shoddy, and it might annoy you a lot. But it might just have been a bad day. It happens in any business. And some of the most aggressive service is found in the Chinatown of any big city. ‘Wha yo wan?’ being yelled by a diminutive Chinese cook wielding a cleaver is not likely to endear you to the place. But they can get the order right, and deliver it promptly, all at the same time. Good service? Yes. Friendly? No. Who cares? The food was the raging mutt’s nuts, and it was served hot, and I didn’t need to take out a second mortgage. No complaints from me.
My mate Tom is different. He frequently talks and writes nonsense, and I tell him so. This can lead to harsh words on occasion. Such as the aftershock of his phone call.
‘Hey, fancy dinner? I’ll pay, knowing you’re a pauper.’
‘Yeah, OK. Just don’t talk bollocks.’
‘What do you want to eat? Anthing you like as long as it’s not fusion or crossover cuisine. I can’t bear that. I love the purity of national cookery and dishes.’
‘You choose. You’re paying.’ He was going to pay in more ways than one.
We ended up in an ‘English’ restaurant. I ordered roast venison. I like venison.
‘Do you want chips with that, you heathen?’
‘Nope. I’m like you. I don’t believe in mixing national cuisines.’
‘French fries. They’re French. They invented deep fried potatoes. Chips. They’re French.’
‘Boiled or mash then. They are quintessentailly English.’
‘How can they be? Potatoes come from South America. How can they be English? They didn’t arrive here till after the 1500s. That also gives a problem with the traditional ‘neeps and tatties’ for Burn’s Night in Scotland. There were no tatties till Columbus and his merry men did the job. And do you think that potatoes are a traditional Irish foodstuff? Think again, my friend.’
‘It’s like carrots. British my bum. They originated in Afghanistan, then arrived here via Holland where they bred them not to be purple, but the colour we expect now, in honour of William of Orange.’
‘Yes but look at national cuisines as a whole. Think about Italy. Who can imagine a world without pasta and tomatoes?’
‘Wrong. Pasta was developed as a direct result of Marco Polo going to China and finding noodles. I’ve even got a recipe for Chinese ravioli, and that dates from just about 200 BC. Tomatoes? South America, again. Thank you Columbus.’
‘Come to think of it, South America has a lot to answer for. Potatoes. Tomatoes. Chillis. That knocks the idea of any of the spicy Asian cuisines being somehow authentic.. You can also take chocolate out of the equation, except in chilli con carne. The Aztecs had chocolate buttoned up a long time ago. Thanksgiving in the US? Turkeys are traditional? Give me a break. They came from South America. Red, green, yellow, orange peppers? South America again. Try to imagine French or Itallian, or Chinese, or Indian cooking without them.
‘Then the quick grinding of black pepper you get on your not really very Ialian pasta. Africa and the Far East. Cardamom? Cumin? Nutmeg? Cinnamon? You can’t grow them in Europe, can you? That’s why the Spice Wars happened.’
‘So you’d be happy with a beef sandwich and a cup of tea?’
‘Beef sarnie, fine. Bread, derived from wheat, fine, add some bits of cooked cow. Yep. But hold the traditional cup of English tea. That came from China. Hold the coffee too. That’s South American. Oh yeah, think of the traditional grits and gravy in the US. Grits are made from maize. South America again. And the gravy is made by deglazing the skillet where you’ve fried the ham or bacon with, guess what? Black coffee, which is…’
‘Oh shut up and drink your wine. It’s a very good Montrachet…’
‘Wine? You may not have noticed that England only has a few, and very recent vineyards. Wine’s an imported luxury. It’s not a native drink.’
‘Beer for you then?’
‘Some good evidence that arrived from Scandinavia with the Vikings.’
‘Anything else, while you’re at it, you ungrateful little sod?’
‘Yeah. Don’t ever write a review again where you state that lemongrass somehow enriches the flavour of beef bourgignon, then have a go next week about national culinary purity and the debased nature of identity.’
‘Oh for goodness sake, let’s get drunk.’
‘OK. Of course there’s the whole issue of Thai cusine. It’s a head on collision between Chines, Malayan, Indonesian. And a bit of European, the use of basil as a herb.’
Now I had him on the defensive I did something a bit naughty.
‘Anyway, are you still seeing that medium?’
‘Just wondering. Is she still channelling that half Apache guy as your spirit guide? What’s his name? I can’t remember. Billy No Mates?’
‘It’s Johnny Two Rivers.’
‘That’s the boy. Still being channelled is he? Or has the handmaiden to the priests of Osiris put in another showing? Or that artilleryman from the Napoleonic wars?’
‘Oh do shut up.’
I was on a roll now. ‘Here, I’ll tell you something. If I believed in that stuff, do you know who I’d want channelled? Doris Stokes. That’s who I’d pick. I mean, she knew everybody, didn’t she, in the spirit world, I mean. Why doesn’t old Dot get channelled?’
‘Oh do shut up.’