Desserts are tricky things. Too often I find them relegated to the end of the menu, somewhere to dump them out of sight and out of mind because the chef would far rather be doing something interesting with the starters or exotic with the mains. The dessert comes as an afterthought, and might as well be tipped out of a tin, microwaved until it smokes and then submerged in industrial custard. That said, I do remember one restaurant where the chef was far more interested in doing the wait-staff than the food. That was a long, hungry evening listening to ecstatic screams that only served to let me know that the chef was actually good at things he turned his mind to. But mostly, I avoid the desserts or order them only because the Blonde is on a diet and wants to look longingly at the food before refusing to eat any of it and sulking about it in the cab on the way home.
“There’s a dessert restaurant you’ve not reviewed yet,” said my editor, waving a copy of some free newspaper at me. “They’ve reviewed it in here, and I’m fed up with them scooping us!”
“They only appear to be scooping us because you use their restaurant pages to decide what to send me to review next,” I riposted. “You’ve completely ignored my review of Porkgasm and it’s been three weeks now. You’ve also ignored my review of Arabetty, and there are no other restaurants in London serving Raven on the menu.”
“Who wants to eat raven? People like desserts. You like desserts. Go and review this place.”
“I don’t like desserts,” I said with feeling. So much so that I had to spit in the wastebin to get the memory of the taste of industrial custard out of my mouth.
“Don’t spit in the bins, people copy you and then the cleaners complain that everything’s soggy.”
“Why do the cleaners care?” I asked, puzzled suddenly. “What are they doing with the rubbish that they care if it’s soggy or not?”
“I don’t know,” she said waving the free paper at me. “Desserts!”
“I don’t like them,” I said. “I think I told you that already.”
“Why not? Who doesn’t like something sweet to finish a meal with? Like, Bombe Chocolat with gianduja sauce and Nutella noisettes, for example.”
I thought about that for a moment. “That would make even an Oompa Loompa sick,” I said. “And anyway, most desserts come served with industrial custard.” I spat again.
“Don’t spit,” said my editor reflexively. “What’s industrial custard? Is it like custard powder?”
“No,” I said. “No, custard powder as least would be reconstituted custard, and for all his other faults, Mr. Bird managed to put together pretty much the right ingredients for custard. Industrial custard is vat grown from genetically modified bacteria that basically just float on top of the custard eating slime, sunbathing, and pumping out custard. It’s as cheap as you can get, you just buy a vat and top it up with the right kind of nutrient slime every week. Then you turn a spigot at the bottom and out runs your custard ready for reheating and pouring over your microwaved desserts.”
“That sounds horrible,” said my editor. A sub-editor walked past her and spat in her bin.
“No spitting! See what you’ve done now!” She glared at me.
“Fine, I’ll go review your restaurant,” I said. Leaving the office seemed like a good idea all of a sudden.
The restaurant called itself Just Desserts and I tried very hard to smile at the sign, but unlike the middle-aged matrons waddling in in front of me I couldn’t find such an obvious pun funny. I waited while the maître’d seated them at a round table, politely deflecting their comments about his marital status, their attempts to show him photographs of their offspring, and the occasional sly hand attempting to pinch his bottom; then he approached me.
“Table for one?” he asked, his voice sepulchrally deep. I half-smiled and nodded. I pointed to a two-seater table in the middle back of the room. “That one would be nice,” I said.
“That’s our Valentine’s table,” said the maître’d. “How about I seat you outside?” It was single-digit temperature even sat out of the wind, so I demurred. “Very well,” he sighed. “Try and look romantic while you’re sat there please. If anyone asks, your date went to the toilet half-an-hour ago and you’re still waiting.”
I refrained from comment, just in case he still thought he could make good on seating me outside and sat down to look at the menu and the dining room. The dining room appeared to have been done a new designer who hadn’t yet learned how to tone their urges down a bit. The seats were opulent and deeply cushioned, and I sank at least three inches into my chair. The table was solid mahogany, mostly concealed by the pristine white linen tablecloth, and the napkins were so heavily starched I could have shaved with the creases. The room had a high ceiling, in the corners of which plaster cherubs were floating and molesting grapes. There were only a few other customers, the largest table being that of the matrons who were now being noisy and getting drunk on Eiswein. I looked at the menu.
Rawberry Horecake read the first item, so I stopped and read it again. I read it a third time, and then raised a hand. A waiter appeared as though I’d announced my intention to leave without paying.
“What’s this?” I said, pointing.
“Rawberry Horecake,” said the waiter. “Should I read the rest of the menu to you too, Sir?”
“Thank-you, I can read,” I said. “I just can’t guess what that’s a typo for.”
“It’s not a typo, Sir,” said the waiter. “That’s the name of the dish.”
“Then what on earth is it?” I asked.
“Have you heard of Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm?” asked the waiter, and I nodded, only to regret it when he finished talking ten minutes later.
“I’ll take one to go, thank-you,” I said. I’d leave the dessert on my editor’s desk and hopefully discourage her from any more mad notions of sending to review these places. Suddenly the industrial custard didn’t seem so bad after all. I licked my lips.