A Michelin-starred restaurant. 2008
They have just ordered. He is on edge.
“I won't shush. It's ridiculous. There wasn't a bottle of wine on that list for under £35. That's outrageous.”
“I suppose it is a bit much.”
“I don't mind paying for good food, but there's no need to pay five-star hotel prices on all the other stuff as well. And then you have to talk bollocks with the wine waiter.”
“Bless you. And he sells you something for £50 which you and he both know full well you can buy down Tesco's for a tenner. I don't care how posh the nosh is, they should have a decent-priced bottle of plonk on the menu. There, that's my first rule of...”
“Of what?” She tips her head quizzically.
“What would it be called – I'm not sure – restauranteurship?”
“The rule of the restaurateur, I'd say, if I had to. Okay, I'm listening. Have you got some other rules?”
“The chef should be fat. That's my second rule. Never trust a thin chef. It's not like they're eating the food. Although, I suppose here they could; given the portions.” He regards his empty starter plate in slight disappointment.
“Which, no doubt, is your third rule.”
“Exactly, getting with the programme I see. Portion control or, rather, lack of it.”
“My dad used to say the secret of a good meal out was for everyone to pat their bellies at the end and say 'Ooh, I couldn't eat another thing.'” She demonstrates.
“For he had wisdom beyond his years. A small cube of belly pork does not a main course make. If I'm spending a month's salary on some ponced-up fish on a bed of puy lentils and wilted spinach I do not expect to have to get a Chinese takeaway on the way home.”
“This chicken is rubbery.”
“Ah, thank you very much.” He pauses for a sip of wine. “What about you, my little gourmand, provider of fancy finger food at middle-market weddings, provender to the stars. What would your rules be?”
“Well, the fat chef rule is silly, naturally. But I do sort of agree about portions. For me, lunch can be small, dinner not. Let's see, rule number four. No foam. It's disgusting. Looks like a slug's masturbated on my plate.”
“Eeeuw. That's put me right off my lamb done five ways with samphire and cuckoo-spit, or whatever it was I ordered. Remember Lampeter? A night out in the early 80s? Steak and chips. That was the menu. In its entirety.”
“Not forgetting starters.”
“Orange juice, soup of the day, or half a grapefruit.” Pleased with the notion, he raises a glass to her and says as a toast. “Here's to simpler days.”
“You know what I blame for all this modern stuff?”
“Ha, yes. The discovery of the eighties, which as a decade generally has a lot to answer for. Take Simon le Bon, for instance.”
“Number five.” She is warming to her theme. “Sauce. I want sauce. Not a smear of something looking like it might have been lurking in your underpants for a few weeks. Nor a little circular blob of nothing. I want sauce. Served separately if need be.”
“Ooh, get you. I thought you liked all this stuff.”
“I do. I really do like fine food. Good grub. And I especially like it when it's a bit exciting, different, when it's stuff I can't make at home. Like a rack of lamb, for example. It's impossible to tell how long you need to cook it for it to be perfectly pink - you need repetition to know. And fresh stuff – remember that place on the Orkneys where the bloke came out of the sea with the scallops, walked into the restaurant and we were eating them ten minutes later? And techniques that are beyond my capabilities, and taste combinations beyond my imaginings. And I do like it when it looks good. But that should be a bonus, the icing on the cake. Or something.”
“Excellent, our manifesto is taking shape...should I be taking notes?”
“Number six. White plates. I don't want my food served on a chopping board, or on a plate the shape of a fish.”
“Or on a slate. I hate that.”
His turn. “Seven. I don't want someone hovering round the table waiting to pour the wine. I'm perfectly capable of pouring my own wine. It stops conversation and it's embarrassing, and I feel like I have to say thank you every time, otherwise it's like they're my slave or something.”
“Yes, and I feel like a flipping alcoholic when we've emptied the bottle and our main course hasn't even arrived. And, worse, when they take the wine away from the table, like here, what’s that about?”
“Indeed.” He nips up and gets the wine from where the waiter stashed it. “And tasting wine. What's that little song and dance about?”
“No, that's okay, I'll allow it. It has a purpose, as long as it's a decent bottle of wine and the person tasting can actually tell if the wine's corked or not.” She looks at the finished bottle and then back to him.
“Counts me out.”
“'Fraid so, love.”
“Ok, eight, ambience. I don't want to eat food in a church. All starched linen and silent homage to the food. Conscious of the sound of your own voice and of other tables listening in. Hearing the scratch of knives on plates.”
She nods in agreement, then adds, "But I don’t want the tables too close together either. You know, where you feel you have to keep talking all the time, else other people are going to be thinking, 'look at that old married couple with nothing to say to each other.'"
"Bless. And dress code? People should make some sort of an effort. I don't want to look at some fat bloke hanging out of a pair of shorts when I'm eating, for crissakes.”
“Yes, although I refer you back to the stuffiness in rule 8. Okay, that's nine. We should have ten, don't you think, make it nice and round?”
He thinks. “How about tipping? Don't add a service charge unless it's definitely going to the staff. I hate that. Including the ones that keep the card payments for themselves. I won't go in those restaurant chains that flout that one. Much prefer it to be voluntary and left in cash.”
“I like it if the staff share their tips though. It's a team game. I always share any extras on my jobs.”
“Excellent. Ten rules of the restaurateur. So, to recap, we want fine food in a lively atmosphere, cooked by a fat chef…"
"served on white plates…"
"with plenty of food…"
“and no foam, washed down with a fairly-priced bottle of plonk with a screw-top lid which we can pour ourselves.”
“And we'll tip what we like.”
“Blimey, where on earth do we find a place like that? How's your rabbit risotto?”
“Um, what's the word? Pedestrian.”
“Really? The Telegraph gave it 9 out of 10 last week.”