It was raining outside, which was how you could tell, at a glance, that it was a British Bank Holiday. The weather is traditional, as are the predictions of the weather, complaining about the weather, and dragging the children off to do whatever you’d planned to do if it turned out nice after all. I have many memories, as a child, of sitting on a grey, wet beach in the drizzle, wondering if the tide would sneak in while it was foggy and cut us off from the land, stranding us to drown slowly in a grey gloom better suited to making foreign films. I could almost have forgiven my parents if that had happened, as at least my death might have been recorded by a passing Italian with a penchant for large-breasted actresses and a depressive streak a mile wide.
“Who are you reviewing today?” The voice shocked me from my reverie and I stopped looking out of the window and looked around the office instead. The office had been empty, a fact I’d been counting on when I’d fled the house and come in earlier in the morning. The Blonde had her mother over, who is also, technically a Blonde (though not one I’ve dated), and the conversation had been threatening to get on the subject of weddings, grandchildren and other things I’d rather not discuss without a decent bottle of whiskey and a non-disclosure agreement signed by all parties.
“There’s a new place,” I muttered, spotting my Editor leaning against the doorway. I can only assume that she was attempting to look louche, but she looked like a constipated actress from a 60s Public Information Film. “For a change they’re not run by a celebrity chef or theming the food to a culture that went extinct two hundred years ago, or localising themselves to an area of Europe so small that it can’t actually sustain agriculture forcing the local cuisine to be large rock-based. They’re describing themselves as ‘Comfort Food’, which makes a nice change.”
“I was hoping you might do Contemporary British next,” said my Editor, lounging a little more artistically. I wondered for a moment if she’d ever done any of those Health & Safety videos about being sexually harassed in the workplace, and then rejected the idea as ridiculous. “I’ve been talking with the Futures committee–“
“The Futures committee, they’re new.” Well, I could have told her that, since I’d never heard of them before. I raised an eyebrow to indicate she should continue. “They’re kind of like a think-tank, they’ve been tasked with looking to the future and predicting what the public will want to read about in two months to a year’s time. I was talking to them, and they think British Contemporary is going to be a real thing.”
“Thing?” I said with heavy emphasis. “Oh well, if it’s going to be a thing….”
“Don’t be snooty,” she said. “You’re always just following trends, going to what’s just opened. Why not broaden your remit a little and go to places that aren’t even open yet?”
“Because I’d go hungry?” I said. “Because my readers want to go to these places, or not go and tell their friends that I’ve derided it to the point that they wouldn’t be seen dead there. They don’t want to not go to places and then tell their friends that it’s the next big thing. Where’s the fun in that?”
“Yes, but you could tr–“
“No I can’t! You’ve reprimanded me and cut my expenses budget for going to places that weren’t open yet!”
“You were claiming to go to places that didn’t exist.”
“They did exist! They were just so execrable that they’d closed down by the time you got the fact-checkers to look over the receipts!”
“Fine,” she sighed, looking a little careworn. I thought that maybe she looked like Marlene Dietrich as Dietrich did yesterday. “Just make sure that it’s on my desk by Wednesday.”
The Turkey Club’s headline item on the menu was a “reconsidered and deconstructed Turkey Club sandwich, served with parsnip and swede fries and a choice of ketchups”. I ordered it, noting that much of the rest of the menu was carb-heavy and probably did constitute comfort food. It was still pouring with rain outside, and the idea of spending the evening inside stuffing myself with dumplings, pasta, sandwiches and red wine was strongly appealing. So much so that I was actually looking forward to the food when it arrived.
“Excuse me?” I asked almost the second the waiter’s hand had let go on the plate. He looked at me, and I swear I saw the glitter of a tear in his eye. “This isn’t a club sandwich.”
There were slices of toasted white bread wrapped around chunks of turkey that had been dipped in some kind of gravy to try and keep them moist; there was lettuce and tomato, and that was it.
“Where’s the middle slice of bread? The bacon? The egg?” I asked, aware that I sounded slightly hectoring, but unable to stop myself. A club sandwich is an easy recipe, it’s just the execution that’s hard. I noted at this point that rather than skewering the quarters that the sandwich was cut into, the chef had opted to staple them together instead.
“The classic club sandwich,” said the waiter in a tone of recital, “does in fact not have a third slice of bread. The owners have gone back to the original recipe.”
“That’s as maybe,” I said. “People expect three slices these days, and it doesn’t say on the menu that you’re skimping on the bread. And where is the bacon? Or the egg?”
“Egg’s not classical either,” said the waiter. There was a hint of apology in his voice, but he seemed to be avoiding the most important question.
“Where’s the bacon?”
“The turkey gravy has been made with rendered bacon fat,” he said, now holding his hands up in front of him as though to ward me off. “The idea of bacon is present all the way through the sandwich!”
I ate it anyway. It was a passably good sandwich as it went, but it wasn’t a club sandwich as anyone would understand it today, and calling it such showed a strong lack of understanding of marketing realities from the chef. I wrote that down when I thought it to make sure it got into the review. The chips were uninteresting, but then I find swede terminally dull even when the Americans try and make it more interesting by calling it rutabaga. All in all I was quite disappointed and had to console myself by ordering six desserts, each with an individual pot of creme anglaise and calling it custard whenever the waiter was in earshot. That almost cheered me up.