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Wednesday 21st October 2009

It was my girlfriend's birthday and I took her to a posho restaurant to celebrate. It was on the 24th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the Gherkin (It's called Rhodes 24 if you fancy visiting) and we had to pass through airport-like security to get in. It was another brief glimpse into how the other half live and I wondered if our fellow diners in this swanky-wanky restaurant were there to celebrate a special occasion or whether this was a regular stop for them. It was hard to tell. There were a smattering of couples - one man lucky enough to secure a coveted window seat had made the rookie error of allowing the lady he was with to sit with her back to the view - all the money and effort to get the table and then he is inconsiderate enough to hog the amazing view all to himself. Unless, of course I am being old-fashioned. Maybe the woman was courting the man and had allowed him the spectacle in the hope that he might be so impressed that he would have sex with her that night. But I suspect not. He'd messed the whole thing up. And he'd come out in a jumper. What was this man thinking?
I was in my (admittedly slightly musty) suit and my ridiculous posho shoes and shirt, but had booked late so got a seat at the back of the restaurant with little to no view. I still reckoned I shat all over old window jumper face. How could he have taken the best seat? Why do the other men insist on making it so easy to be an excellent date?
Other tables were occupied by slick young businessmen, who clearly were not too hampered by the credit crunch, jackets off, enjoying the expensive food and wine, presumably knowing that someone else was paying for it. One of the businessmen I saw actually shook the hand of another man at his table and said "You're talking my language," like someone from a sit-com.
I've had a few little luxury breaks this year and I wonder if it would be possible to get used to this level of affluence. Would it pall if you did it every single day? Or would you simply not be able to go back to baked beans in front of the TV or Nando's on your own. I did say to my girlfriend that I'd like to be so rich that I just came here every night, on my own, with my newspaper and just ate and drank like I was in my local cafe. But cool as it would be to be an odd old man in the midst of all these cool young go getters I wouldn't really do it. And I hope I never get used to eating at places like this, or thinking that it is a normal way to behave. Don't get me wrong it was brilliant to be eating delicious food and drinking champagne, but I think for this to be your normal life, as it may have been for some of the other patrons (not the bloke in the jumper I am guessing) then it would lose some of its lustre. I like Nandos more.
But I don't think my girlfriend would have been as impressed with that.
One of the puddings had a caramelly sauce which tasted exactly the same as a pudding my grandma used to make called "Bella's pudding" (because I believe, it was created by her friend Bella) which was a caramel base with a meringuey layer on top. It was one of my favourite things as a kid, but I haven't had it since the 1970s. I love the way that sometimes a sound or smell or taste can whisk us back into the past. Bella's pudding was a brilliant treat and yet here was Gary Rhodes serving up something which tasted identical. If only my Gran had realised that people would be willing to pay £9 (which would probably have been about £100 in the 1970s) for the tiniest bit of Bella's pudding (not even with the meringue on top) then maybe she wouldn't have lived in a tiny terraced house in Middlesbro for all those years.
I don't know if the recipe for Bella's pudding survives. My grandma is still with us in body, though alas her memory is now shot (she doesn't know who I am for example, which would be OK if she was any other 97 year old woman in Britain, but she is my gran), though she does remember lots of things from the past. So maybe the recipe is still in there. I don't know if mum or my sister ever tried to get the recipe or if they were ever able to recreate it. Perhaps Bella's Pudding will remain only as a taste memory for as long as my brain can recall it. Perhaps it is lost forever and will only exist in Middlesbro in the 1970s. Perhaps these celebrity chefs are cleverer than I imagined and use nostalgia like this to suck us in to their worlds. Maybe we all had a version of Bella's pudding back then. It's amazing how much affection one retains for the tastes and sounds and sights of our childhoods.

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