Time Out’s award winning columnist Michael Hodges has been at it again. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 408: Try a fad diet.
It’s lunchtime and I’m trying to lose weight. ‘So you’d like the steak baguette and fries,’ the woman behind the bar repeats in the her ‘here’s trouble’ tone. This is the tone she usually reserves for the man with ‘Fucking Mad’ tattooed on his forehead and a padlock chained around his neck, who occasionally enters the premises with his Staffy and shouts at people. But I’m not a demented down-and-out with a devil dog, I’m just on a low-carb diet – five years too late. ‘Yes please,’ I reply.
‘But without the baguette or the fries.’ ‘You don’t want the baguette or the fries?’
‘I’ll have to ask the chef.’ I should have expected this, because in London it requires a cordon bleutrained chef to give permission before such a classic dish can be messed about with.
I have been trying to lose weight since last week when, at this same bar, I encountered someone I’d not seen for a year. He took one look at my face and started laughing. He continued to laugh until I asked him what was wrong.
‘You’re podgy,’ he said.
‘Your face has gone all podgy.’
‘No it hasn’t.’
‘Yes it has.’
He then took out his tablet, snapped a close-up picture of my face, hit full-screen and held it up to eye height.
‘My God,’ I gasped. ‘I am podgy.’
So I decided to diet. But which one? There are fasting diets, fat-free diets, soup diets, onlyeating-apples diets, never-eating-apples diets, missing-every-third-meal diets, waking-up-for-extra-meals-in-the-night diets, no-cornflakes-after-6pm diets, nothing-but-cornflakes-after 6pm diets and even, in parts of north London, drinking-your-own-urine diets. Most of them don’t work; others do work but are potentially dangerous.
Take the red wine and peanut diet. Stick to this diet religiously, replacing each regular meal with handfuls of KP, keeping a flagon of something dark and fruity to hand throughout the day and spurning not-quite-right alternatives like cashew nuts and rosé, and after three weeks you will have lost weight — maybe a stone or so — but you will have also lost your marbles. You will taste pretty much like a peanut, which is likely to encourage people to lick your skin. You’ll also be inclined to babble, look disheveled and be easily mistaken – by people unaware of dieting trends – for a drunk.
However, the wine and peanut diet does have one great advantage for a Londoner: it works in a pub or bar, where all the key ingredients are available. Unlike the low-carb diet which, as a glance at the menu reveals, is uniquely ill-suited to this city. The food offering is a litany of starchy processed food: rice with chicken skewers; various pasta dishes, bangers and mash, jacket potatoes with ‘your choice of filling’ (and who else’s choice would you want?), fish finger sandwiches on ‘thick-sliced white crusty bread’. This isn’t a menu, it’s carbageddon.
The barwoman returns. ‘The chef says, why don’t you just order the steak baguette and fries and leave the baguette and fries?’ At this point the man with ‘Fucking Mad’ tattooed on his forehead and a padlock chained around his neck who occasionally enters the premises with a Staffy and shouts at people, enters the premises. I look at his devil dog, his padlock and finally his tattoo. He looks directly at my face and begins to laugh.
‘Tell you what,’ I say to the barwoman. ‘I’ll have three packets of peanuts and a large shiraz.’
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