Columns: A good idea from ... room service

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ROOM SERVICE is one of the world's greatest inventions. There can be few meals more succulent, or decadent, than those eaten in the privacy of a hotel bedroom. Room service may not be the height of culinary excellence - something has usually gone cold during the journey from kitchen to room, and the corpulent Michelin man would be unlikely to award a star to the average break-fast or dinner tray - but to carp like this is to miss the point. Room service is an ecstatic experience not so much because of the nature of the food, but because of the luxurious way it can be eaten: while lying draped in fine linen sheets beside one's companion (tickling her toes and pouring her a little more chocolat chaud); while flipping through a magazine and planning a day of drift- ing through the city's shops and galleries; or perhaps while soaking in the warm folds of a bubble bath, a plate of grapes balanced precariously on the beloved's knees.

Room service allows us to satisfy our deepest physical needs in one room (or bed). No longer do we have to reserve eating for the puritanical confines of the kitchen or dining-room. Food becomes the natural complement to the night's caresses. The crumbs of the croissants mingle with the sweet smells of the bed linen, and one can move effortlessly from a spoonful of papaya to a playful lick of the beloved's neck.

Once the waiter has gone (along with his knowing, almost sarcastic expression: "Enjoy your meal, Monsieur, Madame"), we are freed from all taboo, left alone with our laden tray - and our imagination. Why not eat the cornflakes naked? Why not grab a lamb cutlet and jump up and down on the bed with joy? To hell with indigestion. We can eat dessert first and the first course last. We can have ketchup with everything and put mayonnaise all over the fries. Why not pour chocolate sauce over each other's stomachs? There's a shower next door and we don't have to worry about the laundry. We can open each of the six miniature pots of jam in turn, we can try a little of the Danish pastry, three bites of a croissant and a slice of pumpernickel bread, a breakfast dilettantism which would be impossible at home. And if it all gets too much, we can slide back into bed, doze off in each others' arms, and wake up in time for another slice of cake.

At its best, room service combines the advantages of a restaurant with the pleasures of our very own bedroom. As in a restaurant, we are spared the unpleasant business of preparing food. At the same time, we are granted the freedom that comes from a private space away from other diners, who might be shocked if we began pouring chocolate sauce over our companion's bare navel.

We should be careful to cherish the menus tucked away under the phone and those rectangular breakfast forms that hang on the door: they are a promise of happiness.