I was once asked if I would ever considered reviewing nightclubs, by someone who would go on to become a very good friend.
“Me? I got a D* in my English GCSE!” I said.
Thankfully, I quickly realised what I was actually being asked. And so began a brief career as the UK’s premier small venue and disgruntled DJ reviewer.
Based on that illustrious past, I have often wondered if could ever become a restaurant reviewer? The answer after last night’s #mealforone in Cook House, Newcastle, is a resounding no.
It’s not that my English might hold me back, more the subjective and highly impressionable nature I possess – in a social setting, at least.
For whilst I rely on data and fact at work, the simple combination of a favourite record, a drink and the warmth of a fellow human, had swayed my view long before the first plate of food hit the table.
Look, it’s not often you could ever imagine listening to Neu! – Hallogallo (see link below) as you sip on a Negroni, but here I was in a restaurant doing just that. Would it matter if the food lived up to the mood?
Well, it did. More so.
In fact, it was the little touches – the hidden moments that sung – beyond the instrumental of the tune.
When I eat out, as I do a lot being away with work – if I get the sense the place is right, I will simply hand myself over to them.
As I was asked if I was ready to order, I responded with an OK – tell me what to have.
“Think of me as someone who may never come back and suggest a menu on that basis.”
The smile said it all. I knew I was in for a fantastic feed.
The first dish up was a snack of salt beef croquettes. Whilst the star of the show should be the beef, the real delight was the béchamel sauce. Whipped to perfection, it was scrapped clean from the plate. It was also a sense of things to come.
The mackerel I had was slightly put in to shade by the sharp delight of the pickled fennel. I would never normally order mackerel – which would have meant missing out on the salad that accompanied it. Sometimes it pays to trust in local knowledge.
Next up was pork belly. Had I chosen my own food I would have rejected the mains for another couple of snacks or small plates. How wrong I would have been.
The pork collapsed – satisfyingly so, as I pushed my fork in to it. A “pig’s tail” spiral of crackling added to the chewy ends of the perfectly cooked bit of pork. A rich, white South African wine may not have been the obvious choice for the meat, but I am not one for needing to cut through fat. A straw and a spoon will do.
Last up was a chocolate and almond cake. Again, it was the addition of candied orange that added a child like smile of joy, as the amped up sweetness cut through the black of the chocolate.
Have I even mentioned the warmth of the staff, the subtlety of the room and its furnishings, and the brilliant all female kitchen that seemed to like sharing a space together. No volume. Just a sense of togetherness.
Nothing about the words above could hold weight when challenged in a disciplined way. Claiming to like a sauce over the main ingredient is nonsensical, but then so is choosing food in a restaurant based on what you like – rather than what the team believes is great.
So as you read this, think not of it as a review – think only of it as the words of someone swayed easily by the magic of small touches.
They really do make a difference.
(* which was quite good considering that I failed to hand in a single piece of coursework. I subsequently re-sat the exam and got my C)