(Original edit of January CallOver piece)
It’s fair to say that food plays a central role in my life. My working day is planned around food stops, and when I’m not working, I’m either eating or preparing to eat.
In a previous life as a Careers Adviser, a long lunch in Wetherspoon’s would be the order of the day. That avenue of pleasure was emphatically closed off when I joined TfL as a Knowledge Examiner, as pubs were strictly off-limits. Not that I got enough time anyway.
In order to refresh our Knowledge of the suburbs, Examiners were sent out in an official TfL vehicle. Yes, running routes and looking up Points like many of you do now – not easy in the company Routemaster (only joking, it was a Prius). Having some element of choice, my sectors were to include such ethnic food honey pots as Southall, and the Golden Mile of Kebabs on Green Lanes. It was bleeding horrible doing those suburban runs: what do I know about Bush Hill Park? And I thought Gordon Hill played for Manchester United in the 70s? I did discover that the charcoal grills extended right up Green Lanes to Winchmore Hill, so that was a plus. I still don’t know many Points in Harringey, but I do know where to get a blinding yoghurtlu Adana.
Back at Palestra I tried to interest the other Examiners in the delights of Capital Kebabs on The Cut, but they weren’t committed to the cause. Personally I didn’t think they weren’t hard enough, though perhaps their arteries were. One by one, my colleagues fell by the wayside, and switched to Sandwiches, or the food in Palestra’s cafeteria. Personally, I found the food there far too bland and healthy. They didn’t even have a deep fat fryer, I ask you. When I left TfL and went back on the cab full-time I would often only accept radio jobs if they were going somewhere I could get a nice meal. I realised I’d taken it a bit far when I felt homesick for Capital Kebabs and ran empty from Kentish Town to St John’s Wood in order to take a radio job to SE1
Anyway, when you are out on your bike Knowledge-ing do you ever wonder what goes on inside those building you’re noting down? I can’t say I did much at the time. It’s only in recent years that I became curious as to what goes on behind the curtains and tinted glass of London’s more upmarket restaurants, and started to visit a few as a paying customer. I could never bring myself to spend £300 to stay the night at a top hotel, but for the price of a job to Heathrow, I could experience a nice upmarket restaurant or two* Not Michelin-star places as neither the wife or I care for that poncy stuff: just nice, comfortable places, with nice comfortable food.
*Dessert supplement waived for Terminal 5 job.
We like to visit our favourite London restaurant, Rules, every year or two. It’s grand, and traditional; but extremely comfortable and friendly. On special occasions we started to come into London more, and experiment with different places. When I started the Knowledge in 1985 I vowed to have a meal at Langan’s to celebrate getting my badge. In the end I didn’t celebrate at Langan’s, but at a bar in Brixton (not sure how I ended up in Brixton, as I never had a lot to do with South London back then, and I don’t much now). I eventually made it to Langan’s, but twenty-five years after I said I would. I’ve been twice now and love the place. I love the Wolseley too, and the meat- feast of Barbecoa hits the spot too (meat, meat, and more meat: a bit like Capital Kebabs).
The last upmarket restaurant we went to was the Savoy Grill. Just walking into the hotel lobby is intimidating. You know you’re being watched, and you fear that at any moment you’re going to be challenged as not being a fit and proper person. Personally, I’d feel self-conscious walking in with my badge and money bag looking for the loos.
Turn left and you’re into the restaurant. It’s big and serious – the poshest place we’ve been to so far. The fact that I use words like “posh” probably indicates that I was not born into this world of grandness, though it is one I could get used to!
Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with feeling intimidated in a restaurant as it adds to the feeling of occasion. So long as it’s friendly, bring on the formality my man! And it was friendly. Our waiter had a Yorkshire accent, if you please. Before my Sheffield-born missus could enter into a conversation about meat pies, black pudding, and other northern delicacies, our man had produced the menus.
Selecting the food isn’t too difficult, as anything heavy on greenery is rejected immediately. Wine is a bit of a minefield though, as it’s here that you could be exposed as a philistine who doesn’t know the difference between a Claret and a Bordeaux. Our waiter said he’d get the sommelier to talk to us. Never mind the sommelier, mate, fetch me the wine waiter! This sounded serious. Would we be interviewed under caution? Would we be outed as philistines and shown the door; our names circulated in the press and around all the top restaurants of London? What if we wanted a bottle of Blue Nun – would blokes in checked trousers give us a kicking around the back by the bins?
No, it was fine. The French sommelier talked through our options, and we made a good choice with his help. The food was great too, and it was a wonderful experience.
Ideally, I’d like to give up work and concentrate on eating full time. But before that time comes, I’ll be in the cab caffs eating bacon rolls – with just the occasional visit to the Hotel de Posh to look forward to.