Picture a starry night and tiny fragile tables for two hanging over the cobbles of a steep winding street before small cavern-like rooms. Candle light, tablecloths, fresh flowers and the murmur of conversation. It was hard to choose one of these small but beautifully marked establishments, with there set menus priced just so much higher than any others we had encountered. Finally we fell for one with the Trip adviser owl winking subtly from the shadows. It was the way they did things there, seemingly indifferent, but making everything manifest; like displaying the Simple Restaurant of the Year award in the only toilet. It was early evening and there were only two tables available, one teetering on the street and the other cuddling up to the massive wood burning stove on which they give a smokey flavour to things. We chose the street. It was cooler, but meant an often intimate level of engagement with passers by. The set menu consisted of three starters a choice of meats roasted on the stove with jacket potatoes and a choice of desert. At first we thought there was a choice of starters, but no they all came. We chose to have chicken and John ordered a bottle of Sauternes to go with it, largely because it was the cheapest wine on the magnificently overpriced menu of supermarket vintages. Worryingly our waitress asked if we wanted white or red.
The first starter was a white cheese dip with bread soft toasted in the stove. This was quite nice, but introduced a large bowl of dip and a family sized breadbasket to our bijoux table. The waitress solved this rather neatly by plonking the basket of warm bread on the ice bucket cantilevered to my side of the table for the wine, but then she brought said wine. John stashed the basket on the floor beside him, tried the wine and diplomatically said it needed to stay in the chiller for a while. It had been luke warm. They brought us a large bottle of fizzy water, which John secreted by the breadbasket and we sipped on that and munched our toast and dip. Then came the second starter, Parma ham and melon, the ham was flaked over a wooden bat, which our waitress managed to shimmy in alongside John, nudged up to the icy bucket and overhanging his side. There was no sign of the melon, but we found it secreted in flat lumps under the ham. Although they were decidedly skinny with the melon, they did offer us more ham, which we declined given the number of courses to come. Just as well we did, the next course was crudités and oily dips. She brought the two saucers of differing dip first and managed to fit them onto the table before moving the wooden paddle. This gave a paddle-sized space on which to heave the crudités.
Heave is definitely the word. They came in a basket that would have sat happily on the side of a spared Antoinette. I should have taken a picture, but I will try to describe it. It was a pannier made taller by ranks of celery along the flat back, in front of these were arranged a cornucopia of raw vegetables in their natural state. I could just about see John behind it all and he had trouble reaching round to tease out a carrot by its’ fluffy top. In the end I told him what there was, more carrots, bunches of radish, half a cucumber each, two types of tomatoes, an avocado, and passed him whatever he fancied. I had complained about wanting more vegetables and here they were in spades. We dipped and crunched for some time, sipping virtuously on our water. Nestling right at the top of the pile I found two eggs, it was well past John’s egg curfew and I had a worrying suspicion they could be raw and no space to spin one in to find out, so we let them be. All around us other tables were being presented with similar theatrical burdens of produce. The spectacle raised astonished comments from passers by, though none seemed tempted to join the harvest festival. I do feel we gave a good account of ourselves and at some point the waiter topped up our ice bucket and poured the now cooler wine, which elevated proceedings a bit. Our plates littered with carrot and radish tops and in my case avocado skin we called a halt and the girl came and hauled the basket away. I think the bottom was weighted down with tomorrow’s raw jacket potatoes.
They asked if we would like a minute to enjoy the wine, which we did. John relaxed out into his newfound space. Then a passing man did himself a nasty injury on the ice bucket, which thankfully remained gripped to the table, its’ contents intact. He scurried away uphill, at least we had applied ice promptly for him. The interior tables opposite were beginning to fill up with lots of beautiful people, air kissing each other and hugging the staff. A not quite so beautiful couple came to take the table for four opposite us. They had obviously been before and reserved the table to accommodate themselves, their small dog, rammed unceremoniously into a large holdall on the seat next to the woman, and the proffered food courses. The lady with the dog was obviously in charge and did not hesitate to order extra ham and disdainfully wave away the veg. She kept the dog firmly down with an elbow across the bag. The man obviously already knew his place, to one side out of the way.
Wine break over the chicken and jacket potatoes arrived on a blackened plank of wood, placed in the margin of free space next to John, who was warned not to touch the plank. The potatoes had that moist density they acquire when they have been hanging around on bonfire night and I could only manage half of one. The chicken was delicious; moist, crispy skinned, smokey, everything one could with for.
We came to desert. John chose apple pie, I the chocolate mousse. I considered I had been pretty good so far and fancied something dense, small and darkly, intensely of chocolate. What I got was Angel Delight, a whole packet of it to myself in a large bowl. Prior to this I was of the opinion, to misquote Woody Allen, that there was no such thing as bad chocolate. Even cooking chocolate raises its’ game when molten. But this was too much and far too sweet. John’s apple tart looked nice and he said it had been run through the fire to smoke it, but it was obviously shop bought. Now I have done this myself on occasion, bought a lot of nice deli goods and mixed in a few home cooked bits and some salad, but in the context of a restaurant sashaying its’ cool and demanding gourmet prices it was a bit rich. In spite of the award and plaudits this Emperor definitely had no clothes on. We decided not to chance coffee and made our exit into the night.