I have been waiting, like a heroine in fiction, for the specialist lasagne restaurant. London has long been heading this way for the benefit of the consumer-simpleton who can only process one piece of information at a time. It is clearly a response to the glut of choice in late capitalism, and so close to Karl Marx’s home in Dean Street that I can almost feel his cackling shadow. Less choice for your aching head, child, but isn’t it really more choice? The choice not to choose? That phenomenon brought us the pop-up Cadbury’s Creme Egg restaurant, which only served food made with Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. Because people are mad, and getting madder, it had queues around the block.
So here it is, in Soho, opposite the wilting massage parlours, a species of restaurant that my Italian companion insists does not exist anywhere beyond the fantasies of its owner: a lasagneria. I am laughing as I type lasangeria, such is the pathos of this yearning for simplicity, and in Soho. It is called Mister Lasagna and it offers 21 kinds of lasagne at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is, therefore, quite close to 24-hour lasagne, which can only mean that London’s restaurant scene has, finally, exploded with whimsy and lunacy.
The owner, in his PR blurb, mentions his grandmother; she was the loving purveyor of lasagne. If this is her epitaph, I am not sure she wanted it to come this far. Opening an Italian restaurant is a respectable thing to do. Opening a lasagneria is a condition.
I used to quite like lasagne before, at the lasagneria, I technically overdosed on it. I first ate it at Spaghetti Junction in Teddington as a child, under a gaudy painting of an immense restaurant, about which I still dream. The best lasagne appears in a solitary dish from the oven, and, if it knows what it is doing, it will burn your tongue as punishment for your greed. A specialist lasagneria cannot perform such a simple trick, because this is fast food. No one in Soho waits for anything. You can lease a woman’s mouth here; why would you wait for anything as simple as lasagne, which does not even talk?
Inside there is a tidy café, with a glut of lasagnes on the counter. Some are well-established, some made-up: bolognese lasagne, pesto lasagne, mushroom lasagne, chicken-and-chorizo lasagne, pumpkin lasagne; smoked-salmon lasagne, truffle lasagne, artichoke lasagne. I yearn, idly, for the Cadbury’s Creme Egg lasagne but I suspect that, if it was considered, it was axed for reasons relating to copyright, because who would pick a fight with Cadbury’s?
What to say about freebasing on lasagne or, as I see it, coasting on the saddest drug? Carbohydrates are the loneliest drug; the one you take when all others have fled. The last drug.
It reminds me of a trip to Georgia in the Caucasus, where the national dish is a kind of cheese bread, plus melons. Ignore the dichotomy that if you eat enough cheese bread you cannot lift a whole melon by yourself and must pay someone else to do it for you. It was delicious on the first day, boring on the second and, by the third day, I hated it.
Perhaps I order too many kinds of lasagne (six). They are tasty but I feel that I am climbing a mountain of tepid lasagne to a lasagne summit. Because Mister Lasagna does not exist on a planet where people only like lasagne, but in Soho, it will be, at best, a restaurant for very drunk people, who will not even realise that they are eating lasagne. Consider the brittle dreams of the man who made Mister Lasagna, and that is a tragedy.