Tag Archives: coffee

Flying in the face of good food

We’d all agree that nothing beats getting away from it all. But these days nobody’s holiday can ever truly start until they’ve got through the familiar ordeal of flying Ryanair. Until then, the excitement of the holiday will inevitably be shot through with jagged shards of frustration and resentment. It’s like having to remove the skin and bones from your sea bass before you can really start to enjoy it.

So you found the cheapest possible flight and negotiated the cryptic set of tick boxes engineered to fool you into stumping up for the privilege of: a) standing in the (only marginally shorter) speedy boarding queue, b) sitting with your child, or c) seeing larger items of your luggage actually emerge at the other end.

At home you weighed and measured your hand luggage countless times, damned if you were going to spend even a penny more on extra bags or excess luggage fines.

And you spent the night in the draughty hall of some back-of-beyond airport waiting for the check-in desk to open for your 4am flight because you couldn’t face spending money on a hotel or taxi.

Inexplicably, though, once you’re airborne and the never-ending, spiraling assault on your instant gratification gland by the flight attendants begins – headphones for the film, charity collections, duty-free booze, scratch card sales – the wallets start to come out. Unfathomably, a group of people whose only motivation for flying Ryanair was the price and who’d all been cursing the airline only minutes beforehand are now handing over their hard-earned holiday savings to that very same company.

How do Ryanair do it? Do they pump some sort of magic potion out of the air conditioning ducts that makes you forget that you’ve spent the past few weeks boasting to colleagues about the wonderful food you’re going to eat while on holiday, and drooling over the pictures in the brochure of string bags full of local market produce? That you swished through the airport without a passing glance at the chain restaurants, tutting impatiently about how overpriced they all are? That at no time during your stint in the departure lounge did you profess a desire for a pot of Pringles? That last time you ordered something from the Ryanair on-board menu it was not only criminally underwhelming but also the same size as its picture? And that nothing on the menu has changed since then?

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On the gradual decaffeination of life’s pleasures

One evening this week, at dinner with a friend, the waitress cleared our plates and asked us whether we’d like desserts. Since we hadn’t been too impressed by the food, we decided to go straight to coffee. And for the first time in my life, I ordered a decaf.

There’s something BC/AD about opting for decaf. The first time you do it, you’re mentally bisecting your life, cutting what is to come adrift from your devil-may-care, stimulant-fuelled past. You’re making a statement, and that statement takes many forms, the most anodyne being, ‘I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight’, with more cynical interpretations including, ‘It may be only 10pm, but I’m already thinking about getting home and going to bed’.

For me, the message was, ‘I’ve reached that age where my body now partly dictates my lifestyle’. Which is a daunting admission that elicited a raised eyebrow from our waitress.

It’s part of growing up – and growing old – this gradual shift to moderation. At 18, I’d wake up on Sunday mornings feeling bright and dewy, despite having gone out the night before. Of course, I’d affect a hangover for form’s sake, but in private I naïvely assumed I was someone whose system just didn’t bow to hangovers. Reality set in with each passing year, and now, within reaching distance of 30, I’ll drink only one glass of wine more than usual at dinner and find myself the victim of a stealth attack hangover that leaves me staggering around, miserable and uncomprehending, for two days. As a result, I’ve learnt to eye all alcohol from a respectful distance.

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Joining the Breakfast Club

This week was my turn to cook at The Breakfast Club, a pop-up restaurant run by the oft-mentioned Rachel. It was also the hottest week of the summer so far, with temperatures topping 30 at the weekend.

It was late on Friday evening when I wondered whether I could stand the heat – and if not, whether I should get out of my kitchen. I’d dried the tomatoes for hours in a warm oven. Said oven was now heating up again, this time to welcome my Portuguese custard tarts. I was boiling kettle after kettle of water to turn into iced tea. And everything I touched was starting to melt.

Such was the intensity of the heat that at one point, an apparition came to me. There, at the far end of my kitchen, a mirage appeared, and out of the haze stepped Gregg Wallace, wearing nothing but a white towel and an ugly grin. I’ll never forget what he told me (mainly because he repeats it so often on MasterChef that it’s the next most natural thing to him after breathing). ‘Cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this,’ said he, portentously. ‘Yes it does you ridiculous little man,’ I replied sternly. ‘Now get out of my kitchen before I report you to Hello magazine.’

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Food flirts in St Pancras

Commuting has a bad rep, but it’s not the journey that bothers me; it’s the destination. Once the rush to the train platform is over and I’m snugly and smugly on board, I can just relaaax until we pull into St Pancras. For me, it’s not the obstacle of getting to the capital that makes commuting difficult. It’s making it from train to tube without temptation leading me astray…

Every morning I walk briskly through the light-filled atrium of the main station, shoulders hunched into makeshift blinkers, eyes riveted to the ground, trying to ignore the smells of coffee and croissants emanating from warmly lit faux-rustique bakeries. I don’t even drink coffee! It’s just that smell… Every morning, the voice in my head suggests ‘how about a croissant?’ as if it were a novel idea. The puritanical and rational part of my brain rolls its eyes mockingly as I push on. Then it turns on me: ‘ooh, that place over there does healthy fruit salad…’. I pick up my pace and fix my eyes on the clock above the entrance to the underground station. No time. Must get to work. Under no circumstances must I dither. Normally I stay on track for the tube.

But if, God forbid, nature calls, right there in the station, she inevitably delivers me into the clutches of fate.

To get to the toilets in St Pancras, you almost have to walk back to where you came from. They really are a surprisingly long distance from the main station. It seems they were put there just so that more cafés could be created to pave the way. As you round the corner, the far-off toilet sign at last hazy on the artificial horizon, you are confronted with one of the stations’s biggest challenges. Enfin…Paul.

Café Paul, St Pancras

'Paul? C'est toi?'

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