The best meal I had was stolen. I wasn’t supposed to be in the Swan Bar at Shakespeare’s Globe; I was supposed to be meeting an old friend, staring at objects in a museum and having an intelligent conversation. But my friend had lost his phone - so I lost him. What next? The museum cost fifteen pounds to get in. Eggs Benedict was only eight. Much as I love, a. Shakespeare and b. staring at objects, I love food more. Sorry, Shakespeare, but you cannot compete with bacon.
Tucked into a corner, by the intricate wrought iron gates that open onto the Thames riverside, the Swan doors open into a mix of pub and restaurant, empty but dotted with light on this grey November morning. The dark wooden floor, muted walls and softly padded window seats take you like an embrace. Warm, friendly and knowledgable staff are quick on the mark without being obtrusive.
When the food arrived, every part of it was perfect: thick cut dry-cured local ham flashed over a melting hollandaise sauce. Notoriously difficult - hence its luxurious quality - this hollandaise was fiercely fresh, the blend of smooth, buttery textures and slight tartness, harmoniously pitched. A plump soft egg oozed warm yellow yolk over the new-baked bread which was exactly the right amount to mop it up. Which is exactly what I did.
My mum’s a magician in the kitchen. She can take a soft pink steak, put it in a pan and out comes the stuff of dreams. Slapped on the plate, on a bed of yellow lettuce is half-charcoal brick, half meat-ice cream. Did I say dreams? I meant nightmares. It’s black on the outside and frozen inside. The three milimetre layer that is cooked has the taste, and texture of a tyre, lurking just below the carbon crust. Peel it up, give it a chew for an hour or two. This is meat as meat is roasted in hell, fed to the damned with red-hot forks.
I’m not sure where my mum learned to cook. What mad chef, in what feverish land of sweats and shakes and vomiting, devised this slap-and-dash to the toilet approach to perfectly edible ingredients? It’s a special kind of alchemy. Take a plump red steak, then freeze it hard. Remove from the freezer five minutes after mealtime and blast it in the microwave till the outer layer is brown, rubbery and bubbling. Plop it in a pan when the oil is about to burst into flames then wait till the smoke alarm goes off. Chisel it out and you’re ready to prepare the salad.
I say prepare. What I really mean is rummage frantically in the fridge, knocking out three bowls precariously stacked and smash them on the kitchen floor, splattering a baked bean, pasta and mashed potato medley up the kitchen units. Wipe, curse vigorously, cut yourself and curse some more, knocking a bottle of medicine out of the kitchen cupboard as you search for the plasters you know you haven’t got. Bleed a bit more. Once you’re bleeding less, fetch out a week-old lettuce, peel off the plastic and the liquified outer layers, wet it thoroughly and prise a leaf onto each plate where it will wait, patiently, until it is scraped into the bin along with the outer and inner layers of your steak.
A week later, remember the chips that you cooked to go with it, a greasy black layer welded to the baking tray in the oven. Bon Appetit!
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Or, if you're bored, and want something else food-themed, you have got to see this. You might die laughing though...