On The Menu: Gourmet toasties - creative food that we can all afford to eat
The days I spent off school with a cold always started the same way when I was a child – with a loud thud. That was the sound of the ancient toastie maker coming to rest on the kitchen surface, after having been removed by my father from its perch on top of the kitchen cupboards.
God know how many years of service this machine had given us. It still retained some sheen on its chrome surface, but its innards were black as pitch and it weighed about three-quarters of a ton.
What make it was escapes me now, but whatever it was it was the buy of the century. It churned out the most wonderful toasties, crushing the white bread against its hot jaws, charring it, and melting the cheese and heating the ham within. It was exactly the sort of thing you needed on a day when you'd brought the duvet down to the sofa, being warming, comforting, and, more importantly, uncomplicated.
What to make of the blooming trend for "gourmet toasties", then? When Cinnamon Soho announced that it currently has a summer toastie menu, I was surprised. It seemed a little, well, silly to be trying to turn the essence of comfort food into something more highfalutin. The descriptions didn't help much, either. There was the Bombay Burner (£7.75) – "dubbed as the world's hottest toastie and featuring a Scotch Bonnet-level of spice; the Kadhai Spiced Crab (£6, pictured above) – crab, tomatoes, and tamarind; and a Keema Gotala (£6), which involved lamb mince and a scrambled egg.
At first, after reading it, I was tempted to cringe. But after looking a little harder, I found that the toastie is having what fashion types call a moment. In Bristol, the Pickle Food truck takes care of all your toastie needs; Manchester has toastie-purveying Volta; and elsewhere in the capital, at Deeney's, you can get a Macbeth Haggis toastie.
As fun as it all sounds, it also raises a question: is this simply a daft metropolitan pretention? "Foodie-ism" taken to absurd lengths? Perhaps you are sitting there thinking, "yes, to all of the above," but, on balance, I find myself disagreeing. Like the "gourmet toast" trend, which garnered much sniggering – and perhaps fair enough with sourdough toast at £6 a go – I think this is actually the sign of a healthy, sensible gastro-culture.
Why? Because by concentrating on the simple and inexpensive, and ladling the same care and creativity on them as we would on the scallops and crispy ducks of this world, we are giving the lie to the notion that true culinary innovation is only found on the starry peaks of the restaurant landscape.
Gourmet toasties may seem a bit daft, but they are something everyone can afford to eat – and that is the sort of culinary recasting no one should complain about.
Now, if you need me, I will be at my parents' house, heaving down that toastie machine.
The French National day on 14 July has always had a special place in my heart – and my stomach – as it happens to be my birthday. This year I intend to celebrate in the best way I can think of: by eating as many of Pierre Herme's fruity new Veloutes macarons as I can. £1.90 a macaron, pierreherme.com
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