Slice of life: the crunch crunch

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After the credit crunch, Michael Hodges gets to grips with the crunch crunch, and London restaurants increasingly tiny portions

  • Slice of life: the crunch crunch

    © www.quintonwinter.com

  • There are two of us. One of them is me, the other’s a she. It’s nice in here. The restaurant is in a brick railway arch, the table top is pine and there are some candles. But I’m not concentrating on the decor, I’m mainly looking at the she. You know, the light playing in the eyes, the reddish sheen to the hair, the smile, the budding lip, the slight flush of cheek. That sort of stuff.

    So I don’t really pay as much attention to the waitress as I should. I’m not being rude, just taking in the pleasing attributes that are arranged opposite me. This means I’m unprepared for the arrival of a small bowl, at eye height, between me and the object of my interest at the exact moment I contrive to trap her in a gaze.

    ‘What’s that?’ asks the object of my interest who, perhaps, is not quite as taken with the whole gazing business as I am, and may even be looking for a justifiable reason to avoid it.

    ‘This is,’ says the waitress, with some excitement, ‘artichoke.’

    It isn’t, though. An artichoke, even after it has been cooked, is about the size of a billiard ball. This is the size of a toenail, admittedly a large toenail from a man with a very big foot – a foot he doesn’t wash very often – but a toenail nonetheless.

    It has been cooked until it is dry and placed in a small bowl that struggles to escape qualifying as a thimble.

    The artichoke is the centrepiece of what the menu described as a ‘sharing mezze’. Working on the principle that sharing food often encourages physical contact, and on a good night might even lead to an outbreak of cross-table nibbling, I had invested much hope in the ‘sharing mezze’. But how do two people share one piece of artichoke?

    It’s a setback, but on occasion I can be firm. I stop gazing and talk to the waitress.

    ‘Would you ask the chef if we could have another piece?’

    ‘Of artichoke?’

    ‘Yes.’ As I said, firm.

    There is a craze for the minuscule at the moment. The scientists at Cern are looking for very small stuff that might explain very big stuff, such as: what is the universe going to do? Phones get smaller, iPods get smaller, five-pence coins get smaller and here in front of me is the evidence that artichokes are also getting smaller.

    It wouldn’t really be fair to name the restaurant – but it’s on the river, in a nice part of town – when so many other London restaurants are also deliberately doling out smaller portions while maintaining fiercely high prices.

    As a consequence, I predict tips will get smaller. But because this restaurant is probably using tips to bump up the waitress’s wage to the absolute minimum that is legally permissible, a smaller tip will probably hurt her more than the owner of an operation that is, like many London restaurants, designed to extract money from people stupid enough to think they can eat something nice in exchange for a figure less than their monthly salary.

    The waitress returns triumphantly with the requested extra portion and places it between us. So, that’s two bits of artichoke, which two people can share, but not for long. I toy with some houmous, nudge a carrot in the object of my interest’s direction and fan out the olives suggestively. But for all the candlelight, the flushed cheeks and the budding lips, I have to admit, as the artichoke lodges in my throat and then shoots across the room, the magic has gone.

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