“Have you decided what you’d like to order?”
“Oh! Just another couple of minutes please, in fact – if you were entrusted with changing my life and I asked you to pick between the sage and butter gnocchi or the sausage rigatoni, which would you tell me I should go for?”
Just one of the scenarios, which I revisit when the light is low, and I’ve blanketed myself up to resemble something of a mille feuille. Made up of words I have not uttered for months, in the aid of soothing me to sleep.
I am of course being dramatic. I can still recall my last meal out, where I read the menu of achievable dreams, from the glowing screen of my phone. Where it was served on proper crockery and clanging cutlery produced from a mass-packed brown paper bag. Hanging perspex screens which once featured in Silence of the Lambs, adding a barrier to the possibility of a second-hand experience from the table adjacent, to help you decide if you’d take it for yourself. It was different to what we were used to, sure – but it was still special.
It’s been a mere 6 weeks since I experienced a frisson from an unknown dessert menu, that they did not include on their website; 6 weeks since I did not know and witness every measure of olive oil which went into the dish, and 6 weeks since debating between a glass or a bottle (a bottle, always a bottle).
I have since self-medicated with regular consumption of burrata and almond croissants acquired from the various deli’s within my 5km radius. The wine shop a mere 50 steps from my front door, keeps me lubricated with wines that have impossibly chic labels, which turn out to pair excellently with cheese on toast. Hardly a change of draconian measures and yet I still sniffle pathetically as I drive my hunk of bread into another slathering of cheese, as I remember paying double the price for half of the same meal. The only difference being the stranger who returns to the table to ask if you’re having a good time, as you gaze at them upwardly with hamster cheeks.
I don’t want to be here. I want to be face down in a platter of tacos. I want to be mentally calculating how to split five duck confit arancini balls between three people. I want to react audibly when someone tells me the chef was ingenious enough to create something called “bacon butter”. I want to be simultaneously nodding along to my friend’s latest tale and knocking back fresh pork scratchings, the coarse flavour a welcomed complement against our glasses of second-cheapest Sauvignon.
I want to feel uncomfortable with myself for being both annoyed at the server’s dulcet tones, which contrast against their apparent grievance for my mere presence and still being desperate for them to like me, so they’ll tell me which wine pairs best with eagerness.
I want to enjoy the jovial moments, with the people behind the magic of the morsels I’m about to eat. I want to be walking from the restaurant exclaiming; “If they asked me to be their friend, I’d totally say yes,” levels of obsession. Where it’s unclear whether the service was just really that good, or my mooning is simply a formed-intoxication from consuming too much complimentary bread. Either way, it’s win-win.
I adore cooking; the process, the chopping, the cutting, the smelling, the poetic measures (so much more tolerable for the brain versus the chemistry of baking). The end satisfaction of a job well done and a full tummy.
But you know what I adore more than cooking? NOT cooking. The bliss of knowing that it’s more than 80% certain that what you’re craving will turn out exactly as you want it. Without an eye-rollingly high pile of pots to clean at the end, because it took you three different saucepans to get the emulsion just right. The glee building in your stomach when you see the plates, your plates leaving the kitchen and coming your way, steered by your new-best friend and their knowing smile.
I can’t wait until we’re back there, together. The prelude to the event, of pinging whatsapps back and forth as we find a date that works; cursing when there’s no reservation spots, and scour Instagram feeds for something as equally appetising, to play the backdrop-but-also—main-feature in our assembly.
Of course, there are other things I’ve missed during lockdown. Both more important and more meaningful; but all of these things I miss would not exist without the person opposite me. Whether it’s my mum who always lets me order for her, my brother who always orders better, my sister, dad, grandad, brother-in-law who will never say no to sharing a smorgasbord.
My friends, who are as animated as I am, that can find deep philosophical meaning in every bite. Where every meal is an event starting days before in the exchange of excited messages; “cant wait to see you x” , “you too! Can we share the Arancini to start?” “No, we’ll get one each xxx”.
For now, memories that I’m lucky enough to have, and hopes for the occasions to come are enough to satisfy my appetite. But in days which I hope are not too far away, to be back there in the present will be utterly delicious.