Executive Editor Michael Hodges is doing the very worst things on offer in London, so you don’t have to. This week, number 854, sharing a restaurant with a group of City boys…
Someone else’s arse is eating my meal and I could do without it. Frankly, these are tough enough times for London’s diners as it is. Most of us are pretty much skint, and if we can afford to go out for a meal we must take on an increasingly unlikely array of dining concepts that began simply with pop-up burger bars and moved quickly to Peruvian cheese shacks, mobile tandooris mounted on mopeds and, coming soon – if rumours are to be believed – the opening in Penge of London’s premier, and so far only, Hawaiian omelette concession (if you’ve never had one, they’re heavy on the pineapple and light on the eggs. Essentially, it’s pineapple). Occasionally these concepts work, like the trend for tapas and small portions. If you find enough money to buy yourself a meal or, even better, someone else finds enough money to buy you a meal, this is a great way to eat Spanish food, mainly, I suppose, because tapas is Spanish.
I’m in a place that serves Middle Eastern and Spanish food. The restaurant is very narrow, essentially a corridor with a bar down one side and a line of tables down the other. It’s quite late, so some of the people in here are waving their hands about and laughing. But as long as everyone maintains the minimum of goodwill and consideration toward their fellow Londoners, it works.
Then the three giant City boys arrive. They do not maintain the minimum of goodwill and consideration toward their fellow Londoners. They barge and bounce their way down the corridor, knocking people and chairs out of the way as they go. The waitress, a civilised and attractive person from a country where they don’t have people like the three giant City boys, is astonished by their behaviour and momentarily looks as if she will cry, before she recovers her composure and guides them to their table. It is next to mine.
The giant City boys are in very high spirits. It isn’t bonus time yet, so I presume that they’ve just contrived the collapse of a third-world country’s currency, condemning millions of already impoverished citizens to abject misery and, possibly, starvation. Naturally, to celebrate, they want to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of drink.
As the baby squid, quail’s eggs, pardon peppers and mini pitas on my table suggest, this food is not aimed at those expecting massive platters of nosh. So when the three giant City boys’ order arrives, it’s met with brays of anger, hoots of derision and trumpetings of dismay. There is not enough, so they order everything else on the menu. And the specials board. Then they start to eat. Shovelling up great gobs of hummus and nobs of black pudding, they force the food into their mouths then splutter it out on those sitting around them. Soon I hear the almost – but sadly not quite – imperceptible plop of a small object from another’s mouth landing in my wine.
More food comes, but the giant City boys have decided to dance. They careen around the corridor for a minute before coming, panting, to a halt by my table again. A giant backside hovers over my food. The small candle on my table flickers on bravely, but to no avail. I look up for the sobbing waitress, but, along with the other diners, she has fled – it’s just me and the giant arse now. Inexorably and with the force of tectonic plates colliding, it starts the unstoppable journey down and on to my baby squid. Michael Hodges
Also not recommended: Five more unsettling London eating experiences
Eleanour Bull’s Bar and Diner, Deptford
Spring 1593 and playwright, boy-fancier and occasional spy Christopher Marlowe joins fellow south Londoners for a boozy lunch. All goes well until he queries the bill and is run through with a sword.
Savoy Dining Room, The Strand
October 2002 sees dying screen legend and hellraiser Richard Harris taken from his Savoy suite by paramedics. He bids them stop by the queue for dinner. Harris whispers from his stretcher, ‘It was the food.’
Mrs Cracknall’s Bakery and Bunhouse, Deptford (again!)
Deptford 1867, and puckish locals are dismayed when Mrs Cracknell’s eponymous bun house is overrun by an angry rabble which sees off the police and takes all the bread. And buns.
Birdcage Tavern, Bethnal Green
June, 1848, East Enders about to enjoy a pie and pint are thwarted when 500 furious Chartists arrive. It takes a squadron of mounted policemen with swords to restore order – by which time the pies are cold.
AD 60, and Roman and Celt alike are tucking into larks’ tongues at Britannia’s premier outdoor food concession when Queen Boudica’s rebel army arrives and kills absolutely everyone.