Dining alone is considered anathema by many – well, it is when in the relatively public space of the more formal class of restaurant. So far as I know, little stigma attaches to the single fella (or lass) dining alone in the comfort (or otherwise) of their own domicile – or, indeed, in a fast food joint of the kind that has so successfully colonised these shores from across the Atlantic.
So traumatic can the mere prospect of dining alone be that the internet (that bastion of sound advice) is brimming with suggestions for the terrified solo diner. I must admit that this particular activity has never held any fears for me, and have partaken of solo meals in restaurants across the globe (well, on at least four continents – which coincidentally, are all the continents that have e’er been graced with my presence).
I embrace solo dining – and as I have probably mentioned before – will always sit over-looking the bar and/or kitchen if at all possible. This provides a free floor show for the diner (thus preserving his novel for a little longer) and an opportunity to converse with – and even distract (and occasionally assist) – the staff and fellow “bar”-flies. I have learned a number of new skills and a whole range of interesting facts and fun anecdotes through my activities.
I have come to suspect that places where the staff are willing to interact with me (rather than running screaming from my sight – and more importantly for them, conversational gambits) have a tendency to become favourites (though I may struggle to prove statistical significance to an appropriate number of sigmas for some readers). I visited two of these favourites as part of my recent excursion to Cambridge – visits which share another thematic link.
When in Cambridge, which thanks to the Interval Study happens exactly every 10 weeks, I try and fit in a visit to Fitzbillies for dinner. This tradition started (more-or-less) by accident as they start serving early enough to allow a subsequent trip to a concert (or other gig) and have always been able to furnish me with a table at the short notice which tends to characterise my “plans” to dine out. Whilst it started by accident, it continues by dint of the excellent food and service. I feel I have written before about just how dapper the Maitre d’ is (or est) – but on this last visit I also discovered that he is very good with small children. He also remembers me, my usual table and preferred red wine (and I’m sure this is not entirely down to the menu-burning incident). On this particular visit, I found myself needing a table on a Friday night – and they could fit me in. Not so surprising perhaps, except that the Friday in question was the 14th – not unlucky, but apparently in February an unusually popular evening to dine out (go figure?!). Also (it would seem), an exceptionally poor choice of day to dine alone – but luckily I am brazen in my solitude (and was the only diner making this particular lifestyle choice). Anyway, my main course was particularly excellent and brings us on to the second theme of this post (yes, I am trying to move all my posts into a formal sonata form).
As often mentioned, I am (mostly) vegetarian and there is one key area where the word “mostly” applies and that is with regard to venison. I am all too aware that my ancestors were complicit in the elimination of all of the natural predators of the deer (and, indeed, introducing whole new species of the browsers to these isles). As a result, Bambi’s relatives can grow in number, unchecked by predation and are becoming a destructive menace. As a result, I feel it is my responsibility to eat them whenever the opportunity presents. I do realise that much the same argument could be applied to anthropophagy, but I have yet to see “long pig” on a restaurant menu. The venison at Fitzbillies was utterly divine and I thought I was never likely to taste its equal – though in this belief, as it transpired, I was quickly proved wrong.
As a result of geography and the nature of the UK rail network, I returned home for Cambridge via London. This allowed my to fit in a trip to the Finborough Theatre to see the powerful and visceral Carthage: no mention of Phoenicia, Dido or Aeneas, but an incredible and at times terrifying play. Theatre going requires a little fuel, and so I managed to sneak in a trip to 10 Greek Street beforehand (not exactly on the way, but close enough). I was doubly glad that I did. Firstly, because it was Yanni’s last shift before he returned to Greece and as the barman (probably not his actual job title) he was the employee of 10GS that I have most often distracted from his real duties. He was also the reason why I have never had to read the wine list, I could always rely on his skill and judgment to pick an appropriate accompaniment to my food. Secondly, I selected the venison pie from the menu and this was, if possible, even more divine than the previous night’s deer-based eating. It was also an amazing feat of construction with the delicate pastry totally enclosing the meat contents of the pie, a little like a smaller and much more elegant pasty. I have absolutely no idea how this could have been achieved – and no amount of dissection revealed its secrets. Still, I suppose it’s good that there remains hidden knowledge yet to be learnt.
My haunting of the bar – like a latter-day Norm Peterson – also yielded an invitation to the opening of 10GS new sibling – also imaginatively named after its address: 10 Hoxton Square. This was good fun and did mean I took my first exploratory steps into the centre of hip-ness that is Hoxton. I found it surprisingly unhip (haw?) – rather more cheap sportswear adorned its denizens than I had been led to believe. Or perhaps I just don’t understand what “hip” is in 2014?