It had all been going so well. I was sitting in one of those restaurants where the food is so expensive that faces dramatically drain of colour when the bill is presented. But never mind – what’s handing over three months wages to eat small puddles of dribble and blobs? With my companion, a gourmand, bon viveur psychologist, film maker and even more greedy than me, we were nibbling our way through a twelve course taster menu at L’Enclume in The Lake District.
L’Enclume nestling in the small village of Cartmel means anvil and refers to the fact that the oldest part of the building is a thirteenth century blacksmith. You can tell it’s a genuine medieval construct because anyone over five foot one spends their time shouting, ‘Ow my head!’ every time they enter the building.
I’d tried taster menus with my companion before and he always frets about not getting enough to eat. He’s actually on a diet but it’s Atkins and amazingly – he’s losing weight. Whenever we go out to lunch ‘to discuss projects' ie for him to remind me that I’m supposed to be writing a script for him, just before we start gossiping, he smugly eschews chips. Instead he orders steaks with great blobs of sauce and creamed spinach. And no – there is no history of heart failure in his family. Although this may change when we are presented with the bill from here.
He reminds me of the taster menu at Sketch, another restaurant of hushed food-is-religion where we hmmd, hawed and oohed our way through small artful piles of canapés and blobs. All wonderful and while I didn’t rise from the table groaning in stuffed shame, I was full. Not enough for him though. ‘Let’s have the twelve course one’ he says slapping the menu down. Because it’s that sort of restaurant, the lovely waitress adjusts the pebbles on our table (pebbles? When did they become fashionable) and laughs as though he’s said something hilarious.
Then we wait. There’s no bread to snarf down while waiting. ‘They probably don’t want us to fill up on it’ I grumble. So we eavesdrop on the next table instead. There’s a truly appalling man who we think is having dinner with his wife, son and the son’s stunningly beautiful girlfriend. All we can hear is the man’s voice going on and on like a particularly loud and obnoxious mosquito. ‘I hear you have a degree in flirting and she has a degree in nagging,’ he says loudly, nodding at his wife. I sneak a peak. He’s wearing a well pressed (by his wife I bet) casual blue shirt and chinos. He also has a bad combover. Exactly the kind of man who would gratuitously insult and then accuse the person of not having a sense of humour. At that moment, the kitchen doors swing open and a young waitress glides towards us with our first course: carrot sacks with juniper fried cake with cress. Yeah I know. But it tastes amazing! Sort of carroty exploding sharpness with lemony stuff and a bit of cake. (AA Gill would probably do this better). It’s far too posh a restaurant to lick the plate so we use our fingers. Meanwhile Combover Man is blah blahing away to the Sommelier about his extensive knowledge of wine. The Sommelier has a fixed smile on his face. I do hope they spit in his food.
Our plates disappear and there’s a wait of about five minutes before the next course comes. It blurs a bit after a while. Tiny little words of art – Kohlrabi, millet pudding, brassica . . . . bread. Bread! We can mop up the plate with it. Just then our latest course arrives. It’s about number seven and I’m beginning to get slight taster fatigue. ‘Vintage potatoes in ash with a touch of wood sorrel,’ says the waitress with a perfectly straight face while we both look nervously down at our plates in surprise. I think I’ve scraped some of this off the walls of the garden shed.
Combover man is on his way out and surprise! – he’s short! He does however look very clean and pressed with polished shoes and manicured fingernails. His wife has a defeated look on her face and her clothes are crumpled. You have a degree in flirting and she has a degree in nagging. ‘She should have divorced him for saying that’ says my companion. He’s right but you leave someone the first time they insult you like that. But this latest insult is probably only one in a long long line of digs, comments and pokes that maybe she hardly hears. Why do you stay with someone like that? ‘Cheer up’ says my companion. ‘Yes he’s a cunt but maybe he’ll have a heart attack and die and leave his wife a fortune.’ It’s nice to be with someone who has a really positive outlook.
We are now at course twelve – pudding, bypassing a trayful of cheese the size of a bed because I’m full. ‘You have some’ I say to my companion who is looking longingly at a lump of stilton the size of a wardrobe. ‘No I’m fine’ he says and twitching, turns back to a beautifully presented nugget of sorbet pink and a glowing white blob of loveliness nestling next to it. ‘Beetroot ice cream and sweet cheese!’
My brain is telling me it’s raspberry sorbet and pannacotta. My mouth is telling me it’s an abomination. Feeling my face settling into an unbecoming sulk I put my spoon down and do a convincing impersonation of Lou in ‘Little Britain’. ‘Don’t like it.’
But despite not being able to eat the final course I realise to my slight surprise that I’m very full. Annoyingly the old maxim about the brain taking a good fifteen minutes to register fullness is true.