Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London, No 255 – go out for Sunday Lunch.
‘What do you fancy?’ I shout.
‘I’ll have the roast pork,’ my companion shouts back.
‘And to drink?’ I bellow.
‘I said, “What do you want to drink?”’
‘Did you?’ she screams.
‘Yes,’ I scream in return.
‘Okay. I’ll have a boom xong twerf.’
I’m watching her lips very closely and she is speaking as loudly as she can, but I still can’t quite make out what she is saying. It sounded like ‘boom xong twerf’.
‘What was that?’
‘I said, “I’ll have a boom xong twerf.”’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I said, “What are you talking about?”’
‘Because there’s no such thing as a boom xong twerf.’
‘What’s a boom xong twerf?’ she now shouts.
‘You just asked for one.’
‘No I didn’t.’
‘Yes you did.’
We’re yelling at each other like this because it is the only way of making ourselves heard. It’s not that we are deaf or hard of hearing. Our error is to have mistaken this large building with a painting of a horse’s head outside for a pub, when it is actually an experimental industrial techno club that shares its space with a medium-sized but very busy foundry. There might be food and drink in the establishment, but the manager’s selection of what he believes to be appropriate music has rendered the premises uninhabitable for anyone who has failed to bring protective ear-defenders.
Huge percussive booms come from the walls, travelling through the floorboards and up the legs of our table where they are released as violent waves of kinetic energy, causing the cutlery to spin frantically, and setting the salt, pepper, mustard and ketchup bottles scattering towards the edge of the top, adding metallic and glass crashes to the already thunderous noise. It is so loud that at the next table, a Smurf colouring-in mat and crayons, provided by the pub for junior customers, dances a wild fandango, while the parents must rely on impromptu sign language to encourage their children’s attempt to smear each pane in the adjacent French windows with mashed potatoes and gravy.
At this point it would be easy to give up and go home. To accept that we have been asking too much and aiming too high. That rather than a moment of joyous inspiration, it had been a kind of madness that had caused us to look over the happy children, frolicking dogs and young lovers on the sunlit, breezy common only half an hour ago and say as one, ‘I know, let’s go to a nice pub for Sunday lunch.’ No one here is laughing at us for trying, but despite the large card in the window that says ‘Traditional Sunday Roasts’, this is not a pub that is interested in tickling our taste buds. It wants, instead, to burst our eardrums.
So I reach across to the next table, take the Smurf mat and a blue crayon, and write ‘What do you want to drink?’ by the head of one of the small blue figures, and pass it across the shaking table to my companion. She scrawls ‘gin and tonic’ next to a smaller, more childlike Smurf. I’m not sure if this is entirely appropriate, but decide that as the Smurfs are Belgian it is probably fine, and I show the colouring-in mat to a passing waitress. She stops and frowns, takes it from my hand, shakes her head and then talks to me as if I were a child. ‘They’re not for grown-ups, are they? They were on the other table, weren’t they?’ ‘Yes, they were,’ I admit, and look to the other table, where I see the children. Having smeared the final pane of glass in the French doors with mashed potatoes and gravy, they have returned and are now daubing their father’s beige chinos. ‘Tell you what,’ I say to the waitress.’ Just bring us two boom xong twerfs, will you? Large ones.’
Also not recommended More sub-par pub grub
THE PIE THAT ISN’T: ‘Traditional steak and kidney pie’ turns out to be a raft of cold flaky pastry on a molten sea of microwaved ‘beef’ filling. It’s not quite a pie, not quite a stew… Perhaps ‘spew’?
THE LAST PICKLED EGG: Alone in a jar since ‘Girls on Film’ was Number One, this vinegar-soused snack is a trap for the sloshed and unwary – resist its siren call!
THE £4 BOWL OF NUTS: It’s the paradox that’s troubled Europe’s greatest minds for millennia. Why do very old nuts from a bowl behind the bar cost four times as much as a bag of new ones? It’s nuts!
THE ‘HOMEMADE’ BURGER: Saturday lunchtime at the (worried) Nag’s Head. You’re hungover and ‘could eat a horse’. You’re in luck: just order the ‘succulent patty with relish in a soft bun’ and you can.