Eating Out: Your usual table? Chris Bonington Mountaineer

Who eats where
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The Independent Culture
I RARELY remember what I eat, more the feeling of the meal and the occasion. One very memorable meal was a banquet at Lhasa on the way to a mountain in Tibet last year. The China-Tibet Mountain Climbers Association had really gone to town with the food and drink, serving turtles' blood mixed with Mantei, a powerful Chinese spirit, and a villainous Chinese wine. Every five minutes someone would propose a toast and we all ended up with really bad hangovers. The highlight of the meal was tortoise, served in its shell; a great Chinese delicacy. The man next to me was absolutely focused on it, chopsticks poised to pounce like a bird of prey, but I was relieved I wasn't offered any.

Environmentally the meal was disturbing, but in some respects it was no different from eating factory-farmed animals. They're raised in appalling conditions; I would like to see a complete ban on factory farming.

Climbing at high altitudes, you need to keep food as simple as possible and in the wilds of Tibet you are offered traditional Tibetan meals, free from Chinese influence, by hospitable farmers. These usually consist of dried yak meat with a roast barley flour, to which you add a little tea. You knead it with your fingers into a doughy ball and then pop it in your mouth, but it needs practice, or you make a real mess of it.

Back home, I also favour simple food. The Quince and Medler (13 Castlegate, Cockermouth, Cumbria, 01900 823 579), is a vegetarian restaurant serving delicious, original dishes with delicate flavours. You leave there with a fresh taste in your mouth and you feel comfortable, even if you've eaten a lot.

I also enjoy good pub food, and The Mill Inn (Mungrisedale, near Keswick, Cumbria, 017687 79632) is a great climbers' haunt, serving unpretentious, well-cooked Lakeland food. It's one of those small, traditional places which are so hard to find now. I like smaller, more intimate restaurants with pleasant service - a bad meal always starts off with a bad welcome. I am terribly impatient as well, although I have to be careful about that, as you end up with a wonderful meal.

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