Thursday, 29 October 2009

Stockings and service not included

I got an email from the BSG last week, asking if he could borrow a pair of my tights. Mildly alarmed, and more than a little intrigued, I agreed to the whole sordid-sounding affair. I’ve already said I’ll marry him, so I suppose at this stage anything goes…

As it turns out, the BSG is a gentleman, and a quince-essential one at that…

Alright, I am sorry about the terrible attempt at a quince-based pun, but honestly, it is a rare breed who sees a Tuesday night stretching ahead of them and thinks it’s a night for jelly-making (he’d already spent the previous week making industrial amounts of membrillo – delicious, we had the first slivers with some manchego on Sunday) I got back after supper with some girlfriends to find him craning over a furiously bubbling mass, checking his watch and occasionally stirring. The tights (not my favourites), now consigned to the bin, had taken one for the team and been essential of the drip-sieving process. What’s that thing they say about a watched pot? Not applicable to this one, which as it turned out had boiled way past quince jelly into the realms of Wonka’s factory. We now have two jars of jaw-sticking boiled sweet and no idea what to make of them. Consequently, a jam thermometer is high on the BSG’s Christmas list, along with a mandolin and a food processor. I am not sure he can wait until then before trying again, and for the sake of the surviving nylon population in my drawer, I sincerely hope that he’s off to a hardware shop first.

quince and cheese

We had been in a state of high excitement for the duration of the week as, having read fantastic reviews from esteemed bloggers such as gastrogeek and various newspaper critics, we had bagged ourselves a table at the spanking new restaurant of the moment, HIX, on Brewer Street. Being rather smitten with all things Mark Hix following a memorable feast at his operation in Smithfield earlier this year, and loving his book, we’d jumped at the chance to sample another fun-filled gorging session…

Perhaps our expectations were just too high, maybe it was just bad luck, who knows, but it was not the night we’d imagined.

Flanked by tables of complete bankers and other inebriated money-movers, initially we struggled to make ourselves heard. Not a problem, we raised the volume too, we were in high spirits, we were at HIX, and all was right with the world. Still menu-less and in need of a drink after ten minutes, the BSG, understandably, was starting to lose his temper. A very nice man saw the problem (and the ear-emitted steam) and gave us both a drink on the house – the BSG was delighted with his pewter mug of Indian pale ale (add one pewter mug to aforementioned list). The bread that turned up was warm and delicious, straight from the oven, the expert crackling and crab-apple sauce huge fun, and it lifted our souls back off the shiny, sound-repellent floor.

After much deliberation (decisive is not my middle name), I opted for Heaven and Earth, a extraordinary combination of velvety black pudding, permeated with winter spices, sitting on a bed of mashed potato and apple so perfectly matched that lightning must have struck when they were introduced. This simple dish set my mind a-wandering through lines of a Dylan Thomas poem called ‘Fern Hill’, and linocuts by Sybil Andrews of harvests and horse-drawn ploughs. In fact each mouthful was so good that it made me think minutely about every flavour that crossed my tongue: the tastebud-to-cranium mainline was in overdrive. The BSG waxed lyrical over his clean-tasting bunny offal and celeriac, and in turn we accepted proffered forkfuls of each. We had started off with a leap and a bound hand-in-hand through the British countryside. The food sings celestial hymns to the British Isles, employing simple down-to-earth ingredients, each one lovingly and carefully sourced.

The bar was busy, the place thoughtfully decorated, there was a party atmosphere throughout – it just felt like we weren’t on the list. The rest of the meal was good, but could not compensate for another interminable wait, this time over plates of empty marrowbone and a red gurnard skeleton. Unwittingly, we had entered a service void - like stars around a black hole the waiters orbited our table, unaware of our existence. From our vacuum we watched helplessly as these stars were sucked into the vortex of paunches and suits, tending to their every want as they became increasingly boisterous.

Having already spent most of the meal waiting, we had neither the time nor the inclination to opt for a pudding, regrettably. That it smarted to pay service on the bill is an understatement, and we left disappointed and a bit frustrated. A one-off hopefully, and not a sign that this shiny place will forever be condemned to sponge up the after-effects of corporate brainstorming sessions in the nearby pubs. Nevertheless, we’ll be sticking to the Smithfield branch.

However, with a friend’s dinner at Roussillon on the horizon, we weren’t to be down in the mouth for long.

Next time.

Ps: the BSG’s just walked in with a brand new jam thermometer…


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