The Corbin & King dining and home entertaining box includes dishes from the Delaunay, the Wolseley and Brasserie Zédel ‘delivered to your home and finished by you’.
My husband doubts it, because it comes from London, of which some Brexiters are more suspicious than the whole of France, and because it is not ‘cooked from scratch’. He claims he never heard this phrase before he married me, but he had the sort of rural Wiltshire childhood where he would roam the fields chasing hot air balloons while his mother stood in the kitchen in an apron with a spoon waiting for him.
‘It’s like being a latchkey kid,’ he moans, as I stroke the box with tiny whimpers of joy. Then he says: ‘What’s a latchkey kid?’ ‘It’s a child denied a mother in a kitchen in an apron with a spoon,’ I tell him. You know, a woman with a job. ‘She had a job,’ he says. ‘It was looking after me.’ He scowls: ‘I’m an outsider in my own kitchen.’
Then he leaves to sulk in his study by the Wall of Andrew, which is mostly pictures of Jack Russells. One of them is embroidered. From a distance I think it could be a Velázquez, but it is lockdown part three and I will take anything.
The child, who is a fanatical capitalist, helps me unpack fish pie, steak haché, Wiener schnitzel, goujons, chips, mixed vegetables and chocolate mousse. Even staring at it uncooked — I mean unheated — soothes me, because it reminds of Piccadilly Circus, under which Brasserie Zédel sits like an enchanted cave. Do you remember live jazz? Even the fortunate eat fumes of dreams now.
I put the fish pie in the oven. Then my editor telephones, and I shout for Andrew to stop hiding by the Wall of Andrew and put the rest of the food in the oven. He shouts back that he lacks the skills to put food not ‘cooked from scratch’ in the oven, but I know he doesn’t, because he makes the best beef bourguignon I have ever tasted, and I have been a restaurant critic for ten years. Then he claims the child has concealed the steak haché somewhere he cannot find it. I hear them bickering. The child asks: ‘Are you the heir of Hufflepuff?’ Then, silence.
When I return, the schnitzel and steak are sizzling in pans and everything is in the oven except the chips. He claims they have disappeared. This is my punishment for providing food not ‘cooked from scratch’, though it is melodramatic of him to attempt Götterdämmerung at supper. I point out the chips are by the sink. I throw them in the Aga that hates me, and is gamely trying to melt the containers in the top oven, and stare at the clock, which is not as fine as the Brasserie Zédel clock. I love food not cooked from scratch, but I don’t believe in locking women in kitchens with spoons, from which they cannot escape to the better security of paragraphs, whimsy, and fonts.
To spite him and thrill me, the food is superb: the schnitzel is better than my schnitzel (I doubt they use breadcrumbs from the Co-op), the steak is better than my steak and even he calls the fish pie ‘not bad’. The chocolate mousse, meanwhile, is so evocative, with its grated dark chocolate finish, I would weep if my mouth wasn’t full.
This feels like eating at Brasserie Zédel during a global crisis, which is precisely what it is, and the only impact it has on me presently is that my pudding arrived under a plastic film. I do not know whether to be horrified or consoled by this; borne on the ecstasy of proper chocolate mousse, I choose to be consoled.