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 280: order the sharing platter.
The most miserable building in Britain must be the aircrafthangar-sized battery unit somewhere in Essex where 500,000 caged chickens contemplate the rest of their lives without their legs. Who ate all these chickens’ legs? You did, London, on Saturday night after a drink, in the street and out of a box. And you did it at such great speed that within minutes the only evidence of your late-night snacking was the smear of grease and sauce across your lower face, which you then presented hopefully to your date for the purposes of being kissed.
London is an enigma. Outside the drenched highlands of Equatorial Guinea, our rain-lashed metropolis might well be the wettest place in the world, yet every second person continues to have ‘Superdry’ written on their back. Likewise, the capital has a reputation for its excellent and varied cuisine, based in part on a unique ethnic mix and the adventurous palate of its residents. But give the ordinary Londoner even a thimbleful of Chapel Down and he or she has no time for stir-fried prawns in a sweet chilli reduction or braised ox cheek and horseradish mash. The tipsy Londoner wants fried rubbish, and lots of it.
Of course, it doesn’t start like that. You are drinking happily with, say, a friend you have met in town after work. So happily that you drink straight through teatime, then dinnertime and even suppertime before you find yourselves heading for closing time with nothing but liquid in your stomachs. ‘It’s all right,’ says your friend. ‘I’ll get some food before they shut the bar.’ The word ‘food’ evokes two images in your mind. One, a very large bowl of chips that stands next to a smaller bowl of ketchup, and the other – a slightly less pleasing image, but welcome just the same – a packet of ready salted crisps that has been opened out on the table and had a packet of peanuts added to it, or a ‘Balham buffet’ as it’s known in southern parts of this city.
But when your friend comes back he carries no bowl of chips or packets of crisps and nuts, just more drinks. ‘Don’t worry,’ he reassures you and nods at the wall. ‘I ordered the sharing platter.’ You follow his gaze to a chalkboard where the words ‘Our food offering’ are written. This annoys you a little as it is not a food ‘offering’. An offering is a gift with no charge attached and always has been. When ancient Minoans in Crete left an offering of virgins for the Minotaur, they didn’t wait around for him to produce 20 quid plus a 15 percent service charge. But your hunger is now such that you will forgive almost any verbal trickery on behalf of the management as long as the waiter gets here quickly with your food.
And the waiter does get here quickly. But rather than food he arrives bearing what appears to be a short length of plank on which are presented several plump, purple fingers of reconstituted pork, some bark and seven circular objects that might once have been Hula Hoops before someone rolled them in mud. Alongside these there are two bowls, one full of gloop, and the other slime. ‘What’s this?’ you ask the waiter. ‘This, sir,’ he replies brightly as if you are an idiot that must be humoured, ‘is Cumberland sausage, Southern-style bites and calamari. With…’ ‘Yes?’ ‘…dipping sauces.’ And, looking at this remarkable repast, it becomes apparent that the most miserable building in Britain is not the giant shed where the legless chickens mourn their missing limbs, but the one behind it where the magical purple pigs weep over their lost fingers. And also, you realise as you put a ‘calamari’ in your mouth and begin to chew, their bumholes
Also not recommended…Other London late-night food disasters.
ROCK SALMON: They may sell it with cod and haddock in fish and chip shops but this startling conglomerate of bone, cartilage and grey flesh is like nothing we’ve ever seen swimming in the sea.
WEST END PIZZA: A two-inch thick discus to the top of which a ‘chef’ has glued pieces of Lego previously painted green to give the impression
of chunks of pepper. Mmm.
THE NEWSAGENT’S FRIDGE: At the back of the fridge next to the drip tray, in a puddle of yellowing milk spill, beneath the cans of White Lightning and adjacent to a broken Peperami, lurks last year’s scotch egg. Eat it and weep.
Fantastic, there’s some cream cheese in here. And look, a red pepper! Is that mango chutney? It is, right next to last week’s leftover pasta and the pickled onions. Now, where’s the bread?
Read about more of Michael Hodges’ adventures.