The twisted grape vine

Thursday night we ate out in Covent Garden and, just as I was ordering the wine, Guido explained to me that I’m not exactly the cheap date I always thought I was.

“You do know that there’s a weird psychology going on when it comes to drawing up a wine list?” said Guido scrutinising the food menu. I could see his finger stop at the line with deep fried calamari on it.

Whenever the two of us sit down in a restaurant something strange happens.  The waiter always hands Guido the food menu and I always get passed the wine list. I like to think these guys have a sixth sense. An other worldly and boozy professionalism only sommeliers can have, where they’re able to suss out which one of us is the foodie and which one of us is – the complete lush.

“What are you talking about?” I said, slipping on my spectacles.

I always slip on my spectacles when I read a wine list. I think this makes me look more intelligent. I go through the silly charade of slowly pondering as if I’m someone who knows what he’s looking at. Sometimes I’ll even throw in sound effects by sucking my finger nail and making an extended hmmm… sort of noise. I think this adds gravitas to the process of weighing up the subtle nuisances between a flinty French sauvignon and a fruity Chilean one. The spectacle thing is a waste of time. I’m actually short sighted rather than long sighted. This means when I’m concentrating hard to read anything for real (particularly the price I might add) it all looks blurred and out of focus and back to front like I’ve just developed dyslexia.

Trust me, white wine is always on the left hand page and red wine is always on the right hand page. If you flip it over, the poor old blush is usually hovering all lonely on the back whilst the expensive fizzy stuff is right down at the bottom. It’s there as a sort of hopeful after thought for customers on a desperate first date or a boring Valentines Day meal when splashing the cash is going to bolster you’re chances of some sex later.

“Establishments don’t really list the cheapest wine from the top down you know,” Guido whispered. He was still mentally debating about the squid I think. “The second wine listed has actually got the highest mark up. That means in reality it’s way, way, more expensive than the cheap house wine at the top,” said Guido.

Now he tells me, I thought. I’ve been playing this wine game for years. I always order the second one listed. This is so I don’t appear to be a complete cheap skate by picking the first one, but apparently the restaurant will already have worked this out using a twisted kind of reverse psychology.

Suddenly the staff wearing aprons, scribbling orders into note pads and juggling plates had all just become mini Einsteins.

“Are you ready to order?” the waiter smiled, his pen poised, ready to analyse.

“We’ll both have the deep fried calamari,” I said, “and bring us the cheapest bottle of plonk you sell. I don’t mind where on the list it is.”

The squid was outstanding, and after the second bottle, so was the wine. Whatever it was.

The next big thing

These days it’s getting ever harder to keep ahead of the curve.

“Did you know it was a pastry chef in Greenwich Village who hit upon the novel idea of deep frying croissant dough without causing it to go lumpy?” asked Guido toying with his spaghetti at dinner last night.

It does make you think that people who roll pastry for a living really do need to get out a bit more.

“He succeeded where so many before him failed,” said Guido in all seriousness. He called this hybrid invention the Cronut. “Apparently queues formed outside his café at dawn when the word got round.”

Which just goes to show what sort of people live in Greenwich Village.

There are very few things in life I’d happily stand in a line for. I tried to think of one reason why I might do that at dawn and quickly reached the conclusion it wouldn’t be for a croissant.

“My initial plan was to cook exactly what I’m doing here at The Spanish Onion and then replicate the menu at the new café in Denmark Hill,” said Guido. He twisted his spaghetti pensively. “But I’m beginning to think I ought to be more ambitious. Maybe I should try to get ahead of the curve like everybody else.”

Into this manic food reinvention frenzy I give you Kristen Tomlan, a former interior designer (there’s hope for me yet folks). Kristen has long thought that the best part about making cookies is the dough. I’m only with her up to a point. I don’t make cookies myself but I’ve always found licking out Guido’s bowl rather appealing. A few years ago Kristen bought a tub of raw cookie dough at the supermarket. Whilst passing the sticky goo around between friends she had an epiphany. She worked out a brilliant recipe using pasteurised eggs and heat treated flour which meant it was safe to eat the batter in large quantities. I’m so relieved I never made this discovery myself otherwise I’d probably be the size of a small house. Now she’s selling it on-line and is about to open her first shop.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” I said to Guido. “Nobody fries French toast like you do but I’m not sure the people of South London are ready for the raw version.”

Now I’ve gotten over the initial shock, I’ve started referring to the Denmark Hill café as, The Denmark Hill Project. This should not in any way be confused with The Blair Witch Project although I predict it too may involve a considerable amount of screaming. We went to have a look at the premises on Tuesday. At the moment it looks like exactly what it is, which is an abandoned Turkish kebab shop.

“Don’t worry, we’re all looking for the new and the exciting and the innovative,” I said to Guido later in bed, “so it really doesn’t matter if you’ve not yet thought of the next big culinary thing.”

Guido kissed me and switched out the lamp. I lay there thinking immoral thoughts about what the two of us could get up to with some cookie dough. And whilst I wasn’t exactly sure where that placed us both on the curve of life – I was just happy I was somewhere on it with Guido.

Tell it like it is

Regular readers will know it’s usually me who throws the occasional bomb shell into my relationship. But last night, over a particularly delicious moussaka I might add, it was Guido’s turn to drop one.

I always get very suspicious when he suggests we dine out on Greek food. There’s usually something fishy going on and I’m not referring to grilled sardines. It means he’s been mulling over thoughts. Thinking which words he wants to get off his chest.

And talking of Greeks, Guido and I have history with them. One of our first dates involved meatballs. Years ago we discovered a little faux taverna tucked away in Soho where there’s music and the waiter taught us to dance syrtaki and smash a plate and drink ouzo. Then more recently, of course, Guido proposed on one knee in The Real Greek on Bankside. So when I found myself sitting opposite him last night with a bowl of taramasalata something had to give.

“Pass the olive oil, would you?” he asked. “Oh and by the way I’ve seen a vacant café site for sale in Denmark Hill,” he said casually grinding some black pepper from the mill. “It’s looking a bit dilapidated right now but its a terrific price in a great location so I think we really should give it some serious consideration.” He dunked his pitta bread. “But anyways, how was your day?”

Guido does this. He feels obliged to verbally sandwich life changing ideas neatly between the plain old hum drum in the hope that the distraction means that whatever he’s breaking to me, he hopes I take it better. It’s a bit like tuning into your favourite TV show only to find the episode you’re watching gets substituted midway through a plot line. So when he said pass the olive oil and how as your day, what he really meant was how do you feel about packing up and starting our lives over on the other side of Southwark. Denmark Hill? He might as well have suggested Outer Mongolia. He’s obviously never been stuck in traffic there.

I wiggled my finger in my ear just to make sure that I hadn’t only been hearing the maitre’d playing his off key mandolin.

I stayed cool. I pretended to read the label on the back of the wine bottle. Take a leaf out of Guido’s book I thought. Play him at his own game. Do just what he would do by layering what you really want to say between the unimportant.

“This wine is completely delicious”,” I said, taking the tiniest of sips. I dabbed my mouth with my napkin. I cleared my throat.

 “YOU SERIOUSLY MEAN MOVE BUSINESS AND HOME? AS IN LOCK STOCK AND BARREL AND COULD YOU NOT HAVE BROKEN THIS TO ME A BIT MORE GENTLY WITHOUT THE NEED TO SANDWICH IT BETWEEN A STUPID SUB TEXT AND SOME OILY GREEK CUISINE? ARE YOU INSANE?” I yelled.

As you can tell I remained perfectly calm.

When we got home Guido suggested that I get more practice in sandwiching my words between sub text. Especially the bit where you slip in the important part between the hum drum. I totally got his point.

And I can assure you I told him exactly what I thought of that.