British education has a lot to apologise for. Over the decades, our schools not only blocked their pupils’ access to literacy, numeracy and serious examinations. They perverted their taste in food. This was as true in the public schools as in the state system. Think of the liver we had to eat. Fried until it could have been used to sole a boot, but not enough to remove those evil-looking tubes. Where did that liver come from: mule, blaspheming Jew? By and large, the boys cleaned their plates; schoolboys will eat anything. But in those days girls were equally coarsely fed. Someone ought to write a PhD correlating the incidence of anorexia to the way that British girls’ schools served offal. I know females who still refuse to touch it, except in foie gras: stuff the geese.
Yet offal is delicious — and medicinal. Years ago, after a good dinner, I ran into Norman Stone. We repaired for some whisky, taking care of a couple of bottles. There was only one problem. About five hours later, I was due to give breakfast to Oliver Letwin at the Connaught. I succeeded in setting the alarm clock, but when it woke me, I was still drunk. I arrived at breakfast only a quarter of an hour late, to find that there had been no need to rush. No Oliver. The minutes passed — still no Oliver. He had recently married. For some time afterwards, I teased him about my folly in arranging to have breakfast with a recently married man. Finally, and although still unsure whether I felt like eating it, I ordered my own breakfast. Its centrepiece was a veal kidney, bespoken rare, arriving just so. As I slid my knife into its innards, the blood oozed out: an enticing sight. But as I tucked in, there were protests from my own innards, some of which seemed unhappy about blood from a Stone — or rather, so soon after drink with a Stone. I strove to recall the geography of the Connaught, and the location of the usual offices. In that august dining-room, it would have been unseemly to break into a run.
There was no need for anxiety. The blood and uric acid did their work, abetted by a bucket of coffee and another of orange juice. By ten, I was in my office, refreshed and re-invigorated. If you are ever in a similar situation, I commend a bloody veal kidney (if it does not cure, it may kill).
Drink and offal: we discussed that topic over the weekend. Readers may recall that a chum of mine opened a bottle of 1976 Sassicaia without realising what he was doing. He was undismayed, because he turned out to have three other bottles which — without my intervention — he might have added to a casserole. This time, we started with a melange of venison offal; liver, heart, kidneys, though no testicles. I was reminded of a dinner in a Scottish shooting-lodge, in the late 1990s, at which stags’ liver had featured. A fresh liver from a young stag, again cooked rare so that it seeps with blood — saignant, not bleu — has a fluffy quality, reminiscent of foie gras: that livery taste to the point of sweetness. In Scotland, it polarised opinion. There were some wetties who were put off by the sight. Among their number, I regret to say, was the present Prime Minister. Afterwards, he confessed to a crime which he had not committed since prep school. To hide his failure to eat the liver, he had concealed it under some rabbit-food garnish.
I forget what we drank in Scotland. Something big and sunny might seem called for: cuvée Waltzing Matilda, cuvée Gaucho. But a young stag’s liver has a far subtler flavour than its appearance suggests. I would be fascinated to run one against an Ygrec. With our offal, we drank recent vintages of Ch. La Gravette Lacombe. A proper, un-Parkerised, Medoc cru bourgeois: look out for it. Vaut le detour.
There was also a sublimity, to which I shall return: an ’85 Léoville-Las Cases. Some believe L-L more worthy of first-growth status than Mouton-Rothschild. Alas, I am not in a position to judge the contenders, but that ’85 was up in the high Himalayas.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 10 November 2012