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Hot food, a dry wine, and an old brandy

“What will you have next?” Gauri’s late husband David politely asked. “I can offer you a good cigar and an old brandy”. “What more could I possibly want?”

Karan Thapar

Johnson once said when a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life. Let me add a corollary: To appreciate London to the full you have to overindulge yourself. Which is why I call it the wicked city.

There’s much to recommend this most civilised of capitals and, odd though it may seem, food is one of them. I love eating out in London and last week I did a lot of it.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, there are two types of eatings out that I enjoy. The first is junk food and London is the trash meal capital of the world. My favourite used to be a place called Tootsies in Holland Park. Here the burgers would come with 32 different toppings and the wine was so rough you could smoothen it with a carpenter’s plane!

I always have my burger well done with a double helping of blue cheese sauce. But the piece de resistance is the thick chocolate cake with hot fudge and what I call shaving foam. Since it comes out of an aerosol and rises in concentric circles a cow would have to contort its udders to produce the same effect.

Now, this is the sort of meal that produces ulcers and stomach aches but that’s only afterwards. At the time it sends pangs of envy through the diners at the next table. You can see them drooling as they stare at your plate.

Odd, isn’t it, but the sine qua non of progress is a fondness for fast food, served in noisy joints, by cheeky waitresses, amid too many diners, none of whom one would particularly care to meet again. Tootsies was just that but it was also great fun. Sadly, the restaurant recently went bankrupt and has disappeared. But if you think my account of the Tootsies experience is akin to spinning a fast one, have a word with your young children. If they could find a Tootsies in Delhi, they’d never walk out of the place.

Of course, London also has fancy restaurants. Some of the best in the world. But for me the other way of eating out is a proper dinner in a decent home. Recently, my friend the Countess of Keeling, was kind enough to host one for me. Perhaps because her title is false, her hospitality is particularly lavish. That’s been true of all the occasions I’ve dined at her London home.

However, the dinner I can never forget was several years ago. On the night in question, I was fed and watered to distinction — or do I mean extinction? Vichyssoise, roast lamb, cranberry jelly, duchesse potatoes, courgettes, broccoli and an old-fashioned creme brulee with a hard and difficult-to-crack top. Such cooking is the best foundation for postprandial banter and this was no exception.

“What will you have next?” Gauri’s late husband David politely asked. “I can offer you a good cigar and an old brandy”.

“What more could I possibly want?”

It was meant to be a rhetorical question but it set us thinking. A man likes his food hot, his brandy old, his cigar moist, and his wine dry. Going by that description, it is heaven. But get the adjectives mixed-up and the result is disastrous.

“Ah,” said David, very much in the same mood as I was. “A drink before and a cigarette after are three of the best things in life. The question is what’s the bit in between?”


(HT Media)


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