It’s your birthday. Looking out on the sparkling city nightscape you bite your lip in indecision, will it be the delicate gluttony of foie gras?, the opulent smoulder of wasabi-kissed sashimi?, or perhaps the soft littoral tang of ceviche? Waiters appear: silent as smoke, attentive as a courtesan, they bustle softly, ready to translate your wishes into the toil of hidden scullions – your pleasure …is paramount, is everything. The restaurant is full but it’s just the two of you, eyes darkly complicit, knowing. The lighting is peach soft and yet exquisite moats of shadow make your pool of light intimate. Murmurs of pleasure trickle through the room like champagne bubbles, this isn’t a meal – this is foreplay.
And we know what that leads to.
Which is why, yesterday, my birthday, walking in to the same restaurant at mid-afternoon with a screaming baby, a harassed wife and a mischievous 3 year old was a rather different restaurant experience………….
“Hello, we’ve not eaten here for a while, do you cater for children?”
“Of course Sir, we have a Michelin starred organic vegetarian a la carte children’s menu or we can provide smaller portions of everything on the main menu, except, of course, the Chateaubriand”
“Do you have crayons?”
“We cannot eat here if you don’t have crayons”
“I can check……..?”
We leave and walk into the next Gastro Pub, it doesn’t have a Michelin star but it does have free crayons and fishfingers – no contest. The restaurant is busy, we are shown to a corner table with a garden view; alongside, a canoodling couple are sharing a dessert, flaunting their young love by feeding each other and y’know – smiling ‘n’ shit. I am fairly sure my wife doesn’t spot their special moment as she moves cutlery aside and starts to change my daughter’s nappy. The waitress is surprised at seeing a pair of tiny al fresco buttocks next to the “specials” and I use her social paralysis to scan the children’s menu. As she gathers herself to leave I stop her with the children’s order, “IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT YOU BRING THEIR FOOD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” I add in a half jokey – half desperately serious way. She pulls my hand from hers and hurries away, either she understands the urgency of the situation or, more likely, she wants to put some distance between her nostrils and the contents of my daughter’s nappy. It must be bad: on the next table the lovers stop eating their dessert and ask for the bill; I look at their abandoned profiteroles and think how cruel fate can be. Without looking up, my wife passes me the full nappy but I am so used to this kind of olfactory Hiroshima that I barely notice anything but the heat, it reminds me of walking back from the fish ‘n’ chip shop as a boy – although “open or wrapped” is not a choice a nappy changer ever has to make. God I’m hungry. I wander past scores of gagging diners and eventually find the toilets and a bin with that all important lid. Whilst washing my hands I notice a vending machine that that sells flavoured condoms – this is, after all, a gastro pub. The only flavours are sweet though, which is a shame because I’m so hungry at £3 a pack they might’ve made a nice starter. I return to our table and find everyone is settled. My wife is cleaning the high chair and my daughter is eating off the menu. By that, I don’t mean “a la carte”, I mean she is happily licking the remains of a satsuma from the menu, which has served as a sort of impromptu plate. We settle in. Our waitress arrives with the food and looks surprised again, the area is barely recognisable: we have already used all the napkins in a four table radius and the table decorations and cutlery have been stacked up out of reach of chubby fingers. Our pre-meal detritus litters the surrounding tables which are now all empty. There is satsuma peel on the window sill. My son has drawn a picture of a “pregnant skeleton robot” on the specials menu with the one crayon that hasn’t been broken and crumbled and is now loudly singing “Hakuna Matata” with his eyes closed. Which, nowadays, is very much our philosophy when dining out.