‘Mesdames et messieurs, allow me to introduce you to your meals,’ said the waiter.
Oh lordy, I thought. Here we go. We were in a country pub near my parents’ home that used to be a little local place where you could get a Sunday roast for reasonable money. But it has been taken over by a gastro-preneur, whose party trick is to buy a small venue in a Midlands high street where people were perfectly happy being served normal food for modest prices and gastro-pub-ise it until no one local can afford to go there.
Which is not very nice. But given the decline of the pub industry, one excuse you might make for it is that perhaps world-class food will bring inward investment to the area, an influx of bored young executives from West Bromwich, perhaps.
What’s more, we locals can always save up our pennies and every now and then treat ourselves to some haute cuisine to warm our Brexit cockles as we watch the value being wiped off our homes by HS2 carving up the landscape.
Mum, dad, the builder boyfriend and I had arrived not fully understanding the extent of the gastro-pub-isation that had gone on, however. It now had a Michelin star.
As such, the customers at the other tables were making a right song and dance of it as they chomped and glugged. I think at one point I actually heard a Brummie car dealer shout out that he was ‘considerably richer than yow!’
We sat beneath a vast framed photograph of the staff of Mosimann’s and an old menu of the Dorchester (the chef had worked at both). The waiter placed a series of menus in front of us, none of which contained anything sensible: baby pigeon for £35 and a chateaubriand for the cost of a side extension.
On a small piece of paper, however, was a special of something called rump cap, forming part of a £25-for-two-courses deal. So we all ordered it, along with a beetroot salad to start. Sparkling water, white wine, and the builder b wanted an orange juice. When the drinks came without the orange juice, we asked again. The waitress snapped: ‘Well, you didn’t order it from me!’ ‘All the same,’ I replied, ‘we would like it.’
She swept away and returned with a glass shaped like the leaning tower of Pisa on a tray. Into this, she attempted to pour a Britvic while balancing it, which resulted in it crashing to the floor. We would not have minded. We are not considerably richer than anyone. But she didn’t give us the chance.
‘Jesus Christ!’ she screamed, and stormed off.
Another waiter came and cleared up the mess, while another waiter brought another orange juice.
Shortly after, the starters were set in front of us, and the waiter explained what they were. Naturally one yearns to say, ‘I know, I ordered it,’ but it was obviously best to let him explain that what we were looking at was two slices of beetroot, some walnuts and a tiny bobble of mozzarella. ‘Thank you,’ we all said, and ate it in ten seconds flat.
This at least freed us up to make conversation. Or it would have done if the geezer at the next table hadn’t been deafening us by telling his wife how rich he was. (You would have thought she knew.)
We had to assure the waiter at length that the beetroot was the best we had ever tasted, for if we hadn’t, he would not have taken the plates away and brought the main course, which revealed itself to be three two-inch squares of steak set beside a three-inch square of potato, three two-centimetre slices of carrot and a four-inch streak of puréed carrot.
Which was when the waiter cleared his throat and said: ‘Mesdames et messieurs, allow me to introduce you to your meals.’
Allow me, I wanted to say, to introduce myself and my family to the meal. ‘Beef cap, I’m Melissa, and this is builder boyfriend, mum and dad. We will be eating you today.’
‘…and you have two lovely types of carrot,’ the waiter was saying in reality, which was scarcely less surreal.
The meal was very tasty. We had to put a lot of hard-working pauses into it, mind you. Did we want dessert? ‘No!’ we exclaimed as one. For, thank heavens, we had a trifle in the fridge at home. Just the bill, please.
We were delighted to find it was only £90. Not bad for an afternoon of gastro-titillation. Except, as we walked to the car, the waiter chased after us to explain they had only charged us for half the portions they should have. Considering which, one really couldn’t make any excuse for it at all.