School Dinners Rule (Old School) 1.12.14

Yesterday, I had the best school dinner ever. Sunday roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, steaming gravy, slightly leathery roast potato. Also, chopped swede, cauliflower cheese and shredded boiled white cabbage; all on a separate dish so that those who dislike brassicas or swede could rest easy. It was lovely.

Obviously much of this is nostalgia. I’m not quite sure where, outside of private gentlemen’s clubs, you’d go, now, in London, to find a place serving dishes like this; or, even if you did, how often you’d have to duck to avoid the plates and insults being hurled around by outraged food critics. It’s even 15 years since Sue Townsend first published Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, which included the then still-just-about-feasible character of Peter Savage, the drunken aristocratic owner of Hoi Polloi, a ‘Traditional English, No Choice’ Soho restaurant. This restaurant was supposed to have become a smash hit by serving ostensibly repellent menus such as tinned soup with white bread floaters, ‘ox-liver dinner’ & boiled veg, and Co-op jam roly poly with Bird’s custard, with an extra £6 surcharge for the custard skin (£10 at weekends). Savage has always been one of my fave supporting characters, especially when he refuses to accommodate a ‘distraught’ Princess Michael of Kent (she failed to book a table).

But it makes me think, it must be difficult to be a chef sometimes. So much effort goes towards creating masterpieces of flavour and delight; but the best sauces have nothing to do with ingredients or technique (think of all that wasted effort in the kitchen; it’s heartbreaking). Hunger, nostalgia, favourite company, getting the last available table when all seemed lost – a sufficient quantity of any of these can turn even a tin of pilchards into something rare and wonderful. In the case of favourite company, in particular, the food itself becomes merely a sauce, or garnish, to the main event.

Words, food, emotion, intangibles. They’re all far too interrelated to make it a simple matter of Best Food = Best Dining Experience. Yesterday, I was just in the mood for an old-fashioned roast – perhaps not one of Peter Savage’s special menus, but something tending that way. And as soon as I saw the menu, I just knew I’d landed on my feet. You do, sometimes, don’t you? Dear reader, I hope that this week you find something as delicious and toothsome as that leathery roast potato was to me.

Catrin T-P, Editor, The Taster

PS. If you have a moment, fill in our first ever readers’ survey (Click here), and you might win a rather wonderful prize – a £50 Luxury Christmas Chocolate Collection by one of my favourite companies, Divine Chocolate. It’s not just that the chocolate is delicious – it is, of course, especially the dark chocolate raspberry bars – but they’re also one of the larger Fairtrade champions in the world of chocolate. We’re drawing names out of the Choosing Hat on 15 December in order to get the prize to you (or your giftee, if you want to give it away as a gift) in time for Christmas. Good luck.