Harriet Walker: Winter food should be snuggly

 

Share
Related Topics

I very nearly ordered a veal's head in Paris last weekend. I couldn't help it – I've been conditioned by so many trendy new London openings into thinking that eating out should be an experience akin to going to a theme park, with the point of ordering like the slow ascent up the initial climb, and the presentation of the dishes that heady, brief pause before you whoosh into the om-nom-nomming of stuffing your face, as if your mouth were bagged open on the descent by G-force.

When I eat in restaurants, I'm often constrained by the guilt factor of choosing something I can't have at home – hence my almost ordering the veal's head. I very rarely let myself have pasta if I'm eating out, which doesn't make sense because I cook so little that even pasta dishes are beyond my ken if I ever do find myself in a kitchen, where the utensils stare at me like surly school kids.

Nevertheless, this is definitely something I will never make at home, I thought. Not just because I can't cook, but because even contemplating the act of toting a head back from the butcher makes me feel a bit funny, and I can't begin to imagine what my flatmate would make of the whole thing. It was at that point I realised that one should never order something that one can't even imagine carrying home. (This sort of logic is no doubt why kebabs, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs are so perennially popular – they all have an easily transportable, edible casing that a calf's head simply doesn't.)

But all these themed restaurants that keep opening – hot dogs; greasy pleb burgers; posh burgers made to look like greasy pleb burgers; menus that feature only samphire, wet polenta or two of the following in very specific combinations: beef and lobster, chicken and beef, lobster and chicken, a chicken dressed up as a lobster – they make you feel like you need to inhabit a certain personality as you eat, rather than just being a dumpy little person who quite likes eating crackers with salt on top and considers them to be a perfectly agreeable meal.

Like being handed a sombrero upon entering a particular type of tequila-slamming Tex-Mex affair, you put on the garb of the person who is supposed to be eating the poultrified crustacean. Or in my case, you imagine you must be a Parisian gourmande, and you end up nearly having to eat a baby cow's face.

I'm a big fan of eating like yourself, if I'm honest. I can't do it all the time because I'd get scurvy within a month. But sometimes – especially when it's a bit cold and a lot dark – it's worth listening to your id when it tells you to have Super Noodles for tea, washed down with a floppy pizza. Winter menus are all about ordering for your id: warm, stodgy and snuggly. The gastronomic equivalent of a double Slanket and cuddling on the sofa. Winter food props up the heartsore, shrouds those who are sad in a glutinous coating of comfort and of clag.

Clag is very important at this time of year, but is often maligned as filler, boringly beige, as not the right kind of food for foodies. Well, sod the foodies: pass me some batter and I'll eat it raw if I have to.

In the veal-head restaurant, I was pleased to see that the menu relied heavily on clag. It was a proper posh establishment, so it allayed any residual fears I had about the fact I eat as if rationing is still in effect. Most things came in pastry, and the pastry came with a side of mashed potato. When the quenelle de brochet – a dumpling filled with pike – came with a side of mashed potato too, the expression on my mother's face took in everything from confusion to ecstasy.

Back in London, I am faced with a foodie dilemma: I'm due to cook a Christmas-ish dinner for my sisters and their husbands next week. Given that my signature dish is either spaghetti-and-sausages-on-toast (from a tin, with a garnish of grated cheese) or a Thai green curry that owes more to Loyd Grossman than it does to my own efforts, I'm a little anxious about poisoning them. Or making them cry at the very least.

Still, I'm determined to make a go of it. I've just ordered a ham from the local butcher. Actually, what I meant was a gammon, as he pointed out. I was feeling pretty good about it all, until someone else, quite reasonably, told me I'd also have to think about starters and side dishes. And then somehow make sure they were all ready at the same time as the ham… sorry, gammon. With this in mind, I thought I'd just serve up mash (although I'll obviously be calling it fondant potato) in a big trough at the end of the table. Clag-tastic, and not a veal's head in sight.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor