It’s hard not to take a sharp intake of breath. To hold the stomach in for a beat too long – when your boss responds to your dinner plans with…
“You do like your food!”
In this context, I was aware that the comment was more along the lines of the receipts they have seen when signing off my expenses, rather than the rotundness of my appearance. But then they are right. So much so, that I even like to share with you, my reader, what it is I have eaten.
It is in my nature to point out that this is not a food blog. I am even likely to try to find an angle where it is less about the food. More about me trying to find humour or sympathy in the situation.
Though one more attempt to justify my nightly excursions being down to loneliness and a need to embrace company, may well be met with a sharp riposte. That, and a photo of my children displaying their very worst traits attached to my bags. Outside of the door where the locks have been changed.
So let me just be honest. Tonight I went out for dinner because there was a deal on at the restaurant – it’s Restaurant Week – and because the right person told me exactly where to go. Positively, of course.
So this is about the food, the service and the wine. No self-deprecation or attempts at humour this time around.
It all started perfectly. I was offered a lift back in to town from work, earlier than planned. I didn’t want to sit around in a lonely – sorry – comfortable hotel room for a couple of hours. So I made a quick call and brought my reservation at The Patricia forward by an hour. I walked the 30 minutes out of town to Jesmond, with anticipation and a desire for a decent glass of wine in mind.
The set menu was pitch perfect. It sung to me. I hummed along to its tune.
A Negroni and a warm slice of bread with salted butter, lead me perfectly in to the first of four well balanced dishes.
Whilst the set menu offered everything I needed, it didn’t have an Époisses de Bourgogne and preserved cherry sandwich as an opening snack. The other side of the menu did. So did I. Think of the best cheese toasty and then multiply it, whilst serving it with a aperitivo in a perfectly weighted glass. Nope, not even close.
For my starter I had a blood orange, fennel, blue cheese and hazelnut salad. Blood oranges are the only fruit, no matter what a BBC Two programme of the 1980s might have otherwise suggested. It works perfectly with the fennel, cheese and the nuts to bring harmony to the rapidly disappearing dish.
A glass of the ubiquitous Ciello Bianco ‘Catarrato’ felt like the right choice from the ‘by the glass’ menu. Don’t assume ubiquity is a fault. Admittedly I wanted to try something else, something more substantial – but declined the offer to take what would have been the remainder of the unfinished bottle home with me. Mainly because I didn’t believe there would be any left in the bottle before I asked for the bill.
If there is one downside to eating alone, it is the wine choices you have at your disposal. That, or go full lush. Even during the week.
I find it impossible not to order Cotechino when I see it on the menu. Even more so when it is served with the lightest of beans and a salsa verde. I have had Cotechino’s of varying degrees from “no, I don’t want to know what is in it” to “Come on, that’s daylight robbery for a sausage”. This was on the right side of both. Crisp, soft and splitting the salsa verde with just the right amount of fat for a man who likes his food.
I moved on to Judith Beck’s “Ink” to go with the main. For no other reason than to try a wine I haven’t drunk in ages.
I asked for a recommendation for pudding. It’s often the one part of the menu I could quite easily leave, in exchange for another glass or two. Chocolate Mousse, Salted Caramel and more cherries and nuts to book end the meal. It offered the right contrast of textures so as not to simply fade out, as the meal came to an end.
I was tempted by one more glass of wine. A bottle even. Instead I ordered a coffee, paid the bill and slipped back out in to the cold of the night. Too early for my liking – but early enough for it not to hurt in the morning.
So there we go. No angle, no unnecessary humour. The food was faultless – as was the wine. A word also for the service. With a smile and a helping hand, yes – but also paced perfectly. Too often eating alone is a gallop. Dishes appearing and disappearing rapidly – with no conversation to punctuate their arrival. Tonight there was enough time to eat, savour and to catch up on the world around me. In the dining room and beyond.