Samuel Muston: I love the drama of restaurants. After all, the plate's the thing
The first sign that dinner on Wednesday was not to be as other dinners came when a man in a purple velvet suit and tiger mask instructed us all to drink cucumber consommé from the multicoloured shot glasses on the bar opposite the door.
The second was when we entered the dining room, which was low-lit in deepest purple (pictured above) with an electric organ in the middle. Only the bottle of Berrys' Ordinary Claret (yours for £9) was familiar.
The theatrics probably come with the territory, though. I was in a room at the top of the Royal Court Theatre in London, after all, at its new dining-experience-cum-play, Gastronauts. Written by Nessah Muthy and April De Angelis, it is a 95-minute meditation on our dysfunctional relationship with food – and I loved it so much I wanted to take it home in a doggy bag.
Not just because the three-course dinner we were served by the actors as part of the action meant that I didn't have to eat a sandwich before I went in. Nor because it sent up all the bourgeois pretensions people like me propagate (hand-reared, biodynamic carrot, anyone?) or even that at one point, the actors put on cow masks and brought us out a dish of fried locusts to make a point about food unsustainability. No, I loved it because underpinning it all was the acceptance that restaurants are, in essence, a place of theatre.
Of course, some people will argue until they are blue in the gills that this is not the case. Restaurants, they will say, are about savouring the food and supping the wine. A play is about provoking thoughts, entertaining the punters. They are different things. To which I say: you ought to pay more attention to what's going on around you when you're eating your risotto.
I love restaurants because I like eating well-prepared, interesting food with nice people. But I like them even more because they allow me to rubberneck – and do it for hours.
I hate drama in restaurants if I am in some way connected to it, who doesn't? If it is someone in my family having a to-do with the manager over the bill, I want to disappear up my own fundament. But if it is the table in the corner having the ding-dong – well, frankly, I can't get enough of it.
Restaurants are the natural home of the thesp. Each and every one, from local curry house to Michelin-starred dining room, is a sort of stage set. Places where norms of behaviour are bent and reformed; personalities magnified. They are places of artifice and often conceit.
You find all life there. The couple on the first date, the pompous manager, the business-expense luncher, the post-pub lads eating a lamb bhuna. And to watch them is to watch life unfolding; to become a bit actor for a short while in someone else's existence.
Who hasn't, after all, waited for the people at the table next to you to get their coats then lent across the coffee and said: "Who was that?"
Gastronauts is successful because it recognises that inquisitive impulse and kicks it all over the dining room to great effect. And it does so with admirably well-catered food, which, in and of itself, is surely reason enough for a visit.
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