Clement Freud column

Many would probably welcome the sight of a red, white and blue plate bearing fried quail's eggs with pommes allumettes
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I stood on the pavement outside 52 Poland Street in Soho, looking into a bright new restaurant called Yo!. The establishment is Japanese, in which language the word means roughly what it does in English.

Some hundred people can sit at a winding counter and watch a 60-metre conveyor belt come chugging by bearing 300 plates of sushi and sashimi. The colour band on the plate determines the price: from pounds 1 (lime green) for cucumber sushi, to pounds 2.80 (purple) for a sea slug. Salmon, eel, tuna and prawn are differently coloured and cost in between.

Three robotic drink trolleys cruise their selected paths behind the diners, travelling at the speed of a fast tortoise; they bear cold beers and warm rice wine. The restaurant exercises a hollow glass policy: pounds 1 gets you unlimited still or sparkling water from a tap by your side. Soy sauce, sliced marinated ginger and green-tinged Japanese horse-radish - so strong that a milligram makes you catch your breath while your eyes water - are free.

Across the counter on the staff side of the production line, surgically gloved young men and women restock the gaps in the line. A man called Hamish, who does not look Japanese (turns out to come from Framlingham, Suffolk), explains all, and is there should you need further enlightenment or the bill; this is assessed on the number and colour of empty plates in front of you, and ignores the ones you have been able to slip into your jacket pocket.

In a cafe in Ilfracombe I once heard a waiter call into the kitchen: "Double egg, chips and beans chef; it's for the table in the window."

I asked why the position of the table mattered.

"We always serve bigger portions to the table in the window."

Nothing like that at Yo!, where the voyeurs on the pavement see little but the creeping drink trolley and the backs of contented diners - though many confronted by the endless line of barrel-shaped morsels would probably welcome the sight of a red, white and blue plate bearing fried quail's eggs with pommes allumettes. Yo to egg and chips; to hell with all exclamation marks.

David Austick, who died last week, was elected to Parliament on the same day as me. Between us, we caused an overnight 25 per cent increase in Liberal representation in the House, something that has probably not been done before, and is certainly fairly unique. (I have stopped being the only person not to qualify the word "unique".)

Having "got in" on 27 July 1973, we took our seats at the end of the summer recess, three months later; served five weeks; adjourned for the Christmas recess; and came back to learn of the prorogation announcement for the February 1974 election. But, nevertheless, we had our moments.

On the day we took our seats, the Liberal press office, concerned about what are now called "sound bites", decided that it would be safer to opt for a photo-opportunity and hired a bicycle made for two. Being good Liberals, we argued about who was to ride in front, an argument I finally lost by virtue of age, alphabetical precedence and seniority of service (his result had been announced an hour and 10 minutes before mine). However, as neither of us had ridden a tandem, we stood on either side of the bike and posed for photographers, one of whom asked what were our policies. Austick thought site valuation rating was probably the sexiest one on our agenda.

That afternoon in the chamber, our party, renowned for meeting in telephone boxes, achieved double figures. Jeremy Thorpe regarded us proudly, beamed at Austick, turned to his whip and said, "We've got a backbencher at last."

Austick lost his seat at that first general election; I lasted longer. Had I hung on in, I would be asking the Heritage Secretary at question time whether it is the Government, Camelot or the "good causes" who are beneficiaries of interest on delayed and unclaimed winning lottery tickets, and whether she will give an estimate of the sum involved.

Perhaps Mrs Bottomley will read this and write to me.

Unlike Rosemary Foster, who recorded 225mg on the breathalyser (see right), the only time I was asked to blow into the bag was when I had not touched alcohol for a month.

I had reversed my vintage Bentley out of the drive into the hedge on the opposite side of the country road, and the engine cut out. After protracted investigation, I discovered that dirt from the hedge was blocking the car's exhaust.

I opened the tool kit, found a long, silver-plated starting-handle and thrust it up the pipe to clear the impediments. A passing police car took one look at what was going on and two men got out, one of whom said: "Excuse me, sir ..."

Comments