I’ll have what he’s having

We’ve had snow in London twice now in a single month. That’s almost unheard of around here. The way some people have been behaving you’d think the whole world was teetering dangerously on the brink of some sort of Armageddon. And don’t even get me started about the public transport system.

I was standing in line for the bus last week when a random dude pushed right in front of me.

I’m late for work – with a capital F!” he shouted at me. “Fine,” I yelled back, “with a capital F!

“That’s what I love about this city,” said my friend Marc, “in times of need total strangers still have a complete disregard for their fellow man. I’m surprised he didn’t take your head off.”

Marc had stopped by the cafe for a bowl of something hot and steamy. He chose a cup of Guido’s carrot coriander soup. It’s been flying out of the door all day. I can highly recommend it if you’re having a day with an F in it.

“Yeah, whatever happened to the Blitz spirit that glued us all together?” I said, “All I know is my mother resorted to panic food shopping at Harrods. Apparently she ended up back at her apartment and all she had was a bottle of raspberry flavoured gin, a jar of pickled turnip tops, and a home macaroon making kit.”

I tried to imagine what my mother would do with all of that stuff. She’d call it – Hors D’oeuvre, Entrée and Dessert. Of course if she was hungry enough she’d have ended up over here at the cafe picking something delicious from the specials board.

“Listen, I think if we were denied copious amounts of food for a few days we’d all be in much better shape,” Marc sighed slowing patting his mid-riff.

“Are you kidding me?” I said, “God forbid.”

I tried to imagine a dinner without linguine smothered in garlic oil and trust me it wasn’t pretty.

“As you know I act like a crazy person when I’m hungry.” I said.

I dipped my bread crust vigorously into my Miso broth. It instantly went pleasingly soggy.

“I remember starving myself through my last banana diet. One night I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on the sofa during an episode of Hawaii 5-O. Rather than admit to a perverted craving for rocky road baked cheesecake I told Guido I was moved by the rugged beauty of Steve McGarrett’s chest hair.”

There was a pause for obvious reasons.

”I get it. At times like that baby,” said Marc, “all you want is comfort food.” He licked his spoon when he said that.

I thought about what comfort really meant to me. Naturally I thought about maple syrup. Who wouldn’t? I thought about the endless possibilities of good mayonnaise.Then inexplicably my brain made a connection to Guido’s thighs. Imagine if all that was rationed and in short supply. Life wouldn’t be much worth living.

”We all appreciate the special things in our life,” said Marc. “I guess that’s why I keep eating here.” He took another mouthful of soup.

That was reassuring.

So if the real Armageddon ever does happen, do take the time to stop by. In the unlikely event there’s nothing you fancy on the menu, I’ll get Guido to quickly rustle something up for you.

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He’s got to have it

Last night Guido and I were laying naked in bed. Regular readers will know this is not in any way an unusual occurrence.

Let’s just say there’s a certain order to life which must be followed. The sun goes around the moon. The ocean tide rolls out and then it comes back in again. Spaghetti is boiled in salted water. Then it’s got to be tossed into a seafood sauce and served with garlicky bread. Of course, over here it’s eaten by the two of us in bed. Like I say, it’s the natural order of the universe, so taking all our clothes off is obligatory.

The phone rang. I balanced my spoon momentarily onto Guido’s hairy thigh.

It was Gary. Ted had whisked him off to Paris for the weekend. They were in a suite at The Hotel Sans Regis and wanted room service.

“So what in the hell are you calling me for in Denmark Hill? Press 9,” I said.

“I figured you and Guido eat a lot in bed and then straight after you have sex,” he said, “I consider you experts in your field.”

Familiarity breeds contempt, I thought.

“So, Ted figured you’d know what might stir up some excitement, whilst simultaneously avoiding any effects of long term indigestion,” said Gary.

Worryingly, this discussion was going down the perfect sense route.

“Hmm, well ok,” I said, “and if I happened to be laying between 1000 thread Egyptian cotton sheets right now instead of our old knitted blanket – what are my options if feeling completely insatiable?” I asked.

I picked up my spoon. I played with my prawn. I thought about being in Paris drinking champagne and staring at a neo classically hand painted deluxe room ceiling.

“I was thinking about the parmigiana? It’s roasted in the chefs own tomato sauce, can be easily shared – but just guessing we could possibly stain the pillows,” said Gary.

“Hold on,” I said. I held the receiver to my chest. “Have we ever had sex which involved an aubergine?” I asked Guido.

He sucked a clam shell. He frowned.

“Are you talking to your Mother?” asked Guido.

“Ted wants to know,” I said.

He thought for a moment. I can always tell when he’s thinking because it takes all of his powers of concentration and he blinks a lot.

“Well, in that case, yeah we have, but tell Gary to proceed with extreme caution,” he said blinking.

I picked up the phone again.

“Personally Gary, I’d pass,” I said.

I really couldn’t remember an aubergine but I could definitely recall fond memories of a stuffed zucchini.

“How about the house Risotto Parmesan?” asked Gary. He sounded hungry and as if time was of the essence. I was guessing Ted was impatient to get the party started.

“Can be interesting, if a little filling,” I said and that was the Gods own truth.

I poked my calamari.

“They have oysters but it doesn’t say anything about Worcestershire Sauce,” said Gary.

“Well Casanova used to eat them for breakfast and we all know what he was capable of.”

Gary hung up. I picked up my spoon.

“Gary called us experts at eating in bed just before having sex,” I said.

“And justifiably so!” said Guido matter of factly.

That’s the thing about this blog. It’s become a public service.

About twelve inches

Our bed is six feet six inches long, and six feet wide. It’s got to be big. Guido’s a giant at almost seven feet tall in his socks. His ankles stick out over the edge like a diving board. Our bed is where we sleep but it’s also where we happily hang out and hypothesise about the meaning of life, where we have weird sex and where we eat vulgar quantities of pasta. This may sound utterly sordid but I unapologetically report it seems perfectly normal round here.

When we lived in the loft in Bermondsey it felt like our mattress consumed our entire bedroom. I guess it did. To get from one side of the floor to the other you had to pretend you were climbing onto a giant trampoline; you took a leap and then a jump. In a bizarre way, that could be a lot of fun. Especially if Guido was feeling fruity and I just happened to be doing the splits at the time. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because although you know how hard I try to be magnanimous in everything I do – I have a guilty confession to make about bedtime.

I get territorial.

If you lived in London, surrounded by pushing and dodging, you’d know exactly what I was talking about. So in bed I like some personal space. And that means the centre button on our padded headboard marks the non negotiable point where the invisible border is drawn. It’s the line in the sand between my side, and Guido’s. Hey, if I was Donald – I’d build a wall.

Yet Guido has a sneaky ability to creep right over. He’s crafty. Just after lights are switched out I can feel his big toe twitching in eager anticipation. Then a kneecap might nudge me and, if I give him an inch, I can guarantee you a hairy thigh. That’s when he really goes in for the kill and makes his move. He sometimes actually pretends he’s sleeping whilst he’s doing this and thinks I’m fooled by that. He’ll even give a big snort in the darkness and he’ll try to distract my attention by rolling right over. The next thing I know, I’ve been displace to the chilly outer reaches of the sheets. Hanging on for dear life; next stop, the floor. That’s when he’ll settle and I swear he’s laying in the middle of the bed making a star shape with his arms and legs as a sign of victory.

Last night I climbed into bed. I counted the buttons on the headboard. I was exactly where I belonged. And so was he. Right after lights out I felt his toe twitch.

How laughably predictable. I stifled a tut.

There was a nudge. It wasn’t a kneecap so I lay perfectly still. What would President Trump do, I thought? Right on cue Guido snorted so I took my chance and flicked the lamp back on and pulled back the blanket.

”So you thought you’d try to out manoeuvre me, well Ha! Ha! the joke’s on you Guido Vasquez cos I was wide awake and I’ve still got loads of wriggle room.”

There was a short pause as Guido looked up at me naked.

”I see,” he said, “would you like a few more inches?

Zen, and me

Last Wednesday was World Pasta Day. Guido looks for any excuse to get his Ragu out. I’d have written a post about it but there’s only so much cannelloni one person can consume without having to lay down straight after.

“You should try to find your inner Zen,” said Cara. She teaches a yoga and meditation class at The Fish Kettle cafe every Sunday morning. “Food isn’t a substitute for happiness.”

Only a woman the width of a Twiglet but who still bends at right angles like a pipe cleaner could offer you such advice. Personally I’d just love a hobby which meant I didn’t have to lose twenty pounds at the end of it.

Readers will know I’ve been down the weight loss road before. It has pot holes. Need I remind you of – The Banana Diet?

“It’s not your body which rules your life, it’s your mind,” said Cara.

She was eating a plate of Guido’s homemade heavy cream scrambled eggs on rye at the time. I’d rather have his muffin.

“Take me, for example,” she put her fork down, “before I discovered transcendental mediation my life was a void. It was a juxtapose. My entire being was an orgy of hidden horrible turbulent depths. I felt like some nightmarish water spout was going to suck me right up and spit me out into a barren wasteland on life’s shore. God, these eggs are terrific. I have no idea how Guido cooks them.”

I sipped my full-fat latte.

“In my opinion it’s the chicken who did all the hard work,” I said.

Listen, she’s not the only one who can hypothesise you know.

Cara slid a book across the table. Even though it was upside down I could still read the title – Meditation For Beginners. My heart sank. I was just hoping it was more comprehensible than the Spanish For Beginners book Guido bought me. He got really cranky when I inexplicably started making up Andalucian words. Anyway, yesterday on the way home from work I took the book out and started reading it on the London Underground.

I peered up over the top of it and could see that there was a Hot Guy In A Hoodie (HGIAH) sitting right opposite.

I stared at the page.

Get into a comfortable position.

I tucked my arms in. I wiggled down into the seat.

I looked back at HGIAH. He had beard.

I stared at the page

Close your eyes.

This made looking at the HGIAH far more difficult. It was also going to make reading the book completely impossible. So, I only shut one eye.

I squinted at the page. At first I thought I read, stop breathing, but realised that was utterly ridiculous as I would drop dead.

Stop thinking about your breathing.

I wondered if HGIAH was thinking about water spouts.

Focus on your inhalation and exhalation.

After a monent I realised I was panting erratically. This pricked HGIAH’s attention. He leaned over next to me rubbing his beard. He looked perplexed. He pointed to my book.

”Personally, man, I think it’s the body that rules your life, not the mind,” he said.

He had aura and he had depth.

If he hadn’t got off at Victoria Station I reckon we could have discussed the life enhancing aspects of a muffin.

Simple pleasures

Yesterday I wandered through the café kitchen on my way out to work thinking, thank God it’s Friday. I can’t say I was looking forward to another day pondering the multi faceted uses for a vintage 1970s shag pile rug. As you can tell there’s never a dull day at the office for a South London interior designer.

“You know,” said Guido staring at the stove flame whilst holding his spoon in the air pensively, “sometimes it’s the simple things in life you derive most pleasure from.”

It wasn’t clear if he was talking to me or the spatula.

“Strip off. Be bold. Get down to the bare bones.”

Then he made a worrying sort of, Mmm… noise.

I looked at my watch. It was nine thirty a.m. and let’s just say I didn’t have the time or the inclination to start taking all of my clothes off. Trust me, Guido’s epiphanies are time consuming.

“Never before have three little words – less is more – seemed so appropriate to me.”

Guido’s eyes started to mist up.

“I see,” I said, seeing nothing at all, “I’ll tell you what Einstein, perhaps we could continue this very interesting conversation when I get home, “but unfortunately,” I said, “I’ve got a client waiting for me in Islington who has a weird but very expensive fetish for Italian polished marble.”

The clock was ticking on that one, trust me. But Guido certainly did get me thinking.

As I dodged other commuters across the concourse at London Bridge Train Station I wondered why on earth I was struggling to balance two satchels and an oversized portfolio when probably only one of them would do. Then down on a Northern Line tube train I sat opposite a guy wearing a Burberry tie and a big man scarf knotted with a flourish and a hat and I thought – aha! That’s actually all I can remember thinking at the time, but it definitely was fashion overkill. Whilst extremely cute, I resisted the temptation to lean over and point out to him that in my opinion the combination of a beard and only a cocked hat really was totally acceptable.

Later last night at home I got real quick to where Guido had been coming from.

Roman food with only 3 ingredients.

I’m telling you, pasta really does taste best almost naked. Oh and, it’s on the specials board tonight. We still have tables if you want to stop by. If you can’t then here’s the recipe. But just one thing, remember, strip off.

Cacio e Pepe

Bring a deep pan of water to a boil and season with salt; add spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes before it’s tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, melt 2 chopped tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of cracked pepper and cook, until toasted. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and one table spoon of chopped butter. Reduce heat to low and add 3/4 cup of Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add 1/3 cup of Pecorino, stirring and tossing until the cheese melts, and coats the pasta. Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry. Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.

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.