So today is blog deadline day. I have to have my copy filed and hell if I don’t know what I’m to write about. My brief, at least the one I’ve given myself, is that I’ll loosely review a restaurant every other week or so, but instead of focusing on what’s on my plate; giving you a chew by chew account of my dinner, “I had scallops to start, then I had the plaice which I thought was a little over done, blahblahblah”, I’ll write about a certain something else because I am not qualified to describe or write about food; I haven’t swallowed a thesaurus, I mean, how many words are there for delicious? But perhaps more importantly, I am not that interested – so I am looking for something more universal, more ephemeral – I am trying to work out what it is that I find so appealing and fascinating about restaurants – because for me it is very rarely about the food. I’m no fawner, I do not worship false idols. I don’t tend to get breathless over a burger, or go weak at the knees because of a pannacota – sure I know what’s good and bad, what I like and don’t, but there is also that special something about a certain meal in certain place that elevates, that takes you someplace else; the meals after which you walk out into the world, your system recalibrated, your beliefs recharged – the meal after which you walk out and realise you’re in love.
That special meal or great restaurant isn’t always the most obvious. I’m lucky in that I have eaten in some ‘great’ restaurants, restaurants on lists, restaurants whispered about by people whoknowpeoplewhoknow Simon Rogan, critically lauded restaurants, restaurants that if filled with the hot air that has been expended on them would float. There have been those that I thought I’d love that have left me cold, those for whom as soon as I walked through the door I knew the weight of hype could only ever crush the experience – there have been a few that live up to the ‘great’ moniker – equally there are restaurants on my own personal map, that hold an importance, that I go back to (either physically or in memory), that I remember and relive fondly – that are tied up and wed into my own psyche.
Yes, the two match up – the great restaurant and the great meal, from time to time, but expectation, hype, PR, good reviews, they can kill it – along with innumerable other things (the usual: service, food etc.). Sometimes magic happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Why? As I said, innumerable reasons. You discovered a place yourself, time, place, company coalesced. If you were to tell me I had a table at the Hand & Flowers on Friday or that I could eat again at a tiny Indian restaurant in Lyme Regis called Lal Qilla, like I did the other week, a meal that for me was as near to perfect as I could hope, a meal during which I asked myself a question: have I ever been happier? Then I’d take the latter. Sometimes the most extraordinary things happen in the most unremarkable places.
Why am I telling you this? Where is the review you ask. Well truth be told when I was thinking about writing this at the end of last week I was planning to go to a restaurant I wouldn’t have chosen to go to and I was quite happy to take the place down, give the place a good hiding, because it stands for everything I rile against.
There is a certain section of the restaurant market that has emerged and grown over the last few years – gimmicky, vulgar, terrible food, the most atrocious service you can imagine, grossly overpriced – success based on hype, a ‘cool’ place for dreadful people, style over substance, I could go on – you know the type of places. How do I know this restaurant is so diabolical? I was taken in its opening weeks, 18 months or so ago and as I descended into this ghastly place to meet my friends on Saturday evening it all came back to me – but luckily I couldn’t make the meal on Saturday, I met my friends thereafter for drinks, so I don’t have to go through it again. I am not going to name and shame this establishment because even though it is the kind of restaurant I despise, the purveyor of one of the worst meals I have eaten, it doesn’t really matter – because for someone there on Saturday it may have been great. They may have been there with the girl or boy they were falling in love with, maybe they were celebrating news of a pregnancy, an engagement – it is too subjective to call.
So instead I’m going to tell you about the Turkish restaurant I go to often on Mare Street, Hackney – actually to be more precise I am not going to tell you about it. When I’m tired and hungry and just need space to breath, to look out of the window or in at myself it is somewhere I like to go, and I am happy it is there, 5 minutes from my front door. Is it great? Should it be in a top 10, a round up, does it warrant an award? Probably not – but that really doesn’t matter.