119. Sour Dough

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Part I

Rule 1. It is exclusive.

Hushed rumours of a new restaurant were circulating on the message boards. Apparently, you had to sign up to a mailing list to get an invitation for the website address link.

Rule 2. You do as you’re told.

Everyone at the entire table had to have the full tasting menu. No exceptions. No substitutions. The menu changed slightly every day, and completely each season. Two hours after the first reviews on Food Cube, the website crashed. Bookings from then on were taken three months in advance on a rolling basis. At 10am on the first Monday of every month, fixed slots opened up for three months later. Friday and Saturday evening bookings were often sold out within thirty seconds, and it was rare for there to be a table still available by the afternoon of the day the bookings were released. Food critics and celebrities had to take their chances with the rest of the hoi polloi. No special treatment. 

The website had specific instructions with the requirements for booking a table.

We cannot accommodate food intolerances, allergies, vegetarians or vegans.

It is strongly recommended that patrons do not drive a vehicle or operate heavy machinery for at least 8 hours after dining. We can provide a courtesy car to pick you up and return you to a local hotel. Please indicate when booking your table if you require this complementary service. Driver gratuities are at your discretion.

A non-refundable deposit of £150 per person is required when booking a table.

We cannot cater for parties of over six people.

Persons under 18 are not allowed in the restaurant.

Please allow 3 hours for your meal. 

No party will be seated until all guests are present. Please arrive promptly. It is at the discretion of chef patron whether latecomers can be admitted. 

All guests must provide legal, photographic identification upon arrival. No guest may dine in the restaurant on more than one occasion. Bookings are non-transferrable. Should this occur, then the management reserves the right to cancel the entire reservation.

No recording devices of any kind are permitted in the restaurant, including cameras. Lockers are provided for mobile telephones.

Rule 3. You eat what you’re given.

This is a copy of one of the actual menus.

  • Corpse reviver cocktail (contains absinthe)
  • Vegan mushroom faux gras mousse with sorrel (and a microdose of Psilocybin.)
  • Spherified olive, pickled juniper berries and cucumber.
  • House pumpernickel sourdough bread with virgin lava bread butter. (70 year old starter, smuggled from behind the Iron Curtain)
  • Three-cheese profiteroles, sprinkled with chive dust. (Grown from the oldest variety of chives on earth.)
  • Pea and ham hock shot, with pork crackling infused foam and micro leaves. (Endangered rare breed British Landrace Pig.)
  • Quail egg with asparagus and (million year old) pink himalayan salt. 
  • Langoustine ravioli in a clear broth.
  • 50 year old Crab in an avocado shell, topped with trout roe, dusted with dehydrated miso.
  • Smoked eel, pickled radish, with celery powder.
  • Corn Fed chicken with monkfish liver and onion cream.
  • Tomato consomme. Served poured from a silver teapot into 17th century vintage teacups.
  • Salt marsh lamb with samphire, kale, mashed heritage roots and port reduction.
  • A quad of desserts.
  • Wild strawberries, meringue shards, lime basil, lemon curd, frozen goats cheese.
  • Home-made chocolate hazelnut spread on toast. 
  • A shot of frangelico. 
  • Ricotta, honeycomb and pistachio ice-cream.
  • Coffee or tea (exclusive, single-sourced estate)
  • Customers were also given a little bag of goodies (to take home for later) which contained soft tangy rhubarb and creamy custard sweets. Three jelly gummy bears, (each containing 25mg of CBD oil) and a tiny wrapped walnut brownie. (All of these sweets were clearly marked as not suitable for children due to the cannabis content).

Rule 4. Keep them wanting more.

A fragment of one of the first reviews on the home page of Pumpernickel’s website stated  “this meal heals. I felt soothed, comforted, nourished. There is an enviable depth and complexity of such simple ingredients. It’s elemental. I hugged the maître d’ as I left.” Another simply stated “I sold my soul tonight and it was worth it.”

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Part II

Brian and Laura Jones considered themselves to be innovators whose entire existence relied on being ahead of the curve.  By the time their friends heard about something, they had already done it or were booked to do it next weekend. Front row of the circle concert tickets of the next big thing. Eco-tourism. That new tv show. They’d ticked off the bucket list of things to do before you’re forty, well before that half-decade.

A day or so after dining at Pumpernickel, basking in the smug know-it-all glow, trying not to boast, thinking of the casual remarks they would enjoy dropping, to let those who know, know, that they had already been-there-done-that, their teenage son tragically died while skateboarding in the street. At his funeral, (no flowers please, but donations to a child hunger charity were welcomed) whenever someone asked which university Joel would have attended in a few weeks, the word “Yale” now seemed a hollow victory. Even Mrs Jones’ funeral dress was an advance, bespoke, pre-season exclusive and her Italian sunglasses frames were made from a prototype material.

The post-mortem revealed that Joel had cannabis in his system which may have impaired his judgment, and an accidental death verdict given. 

Neither Brian nor Laura ever mentioned that their son had eaten their take-home sweets. They let people believe that he smoked a few joints, as teenagers were prone to do.

The authorities deemed that no further action was taken against the woman driving the car that killed the youth, but she never got over it. She changed her name, then moved house because of the scandal, and vowed to never get behind the wheel ever again. Her depression prevented her returning to work, and she soon lost her job. Her sedentary lifestyle at home and ruminations contributed to insomnia, back pain and an apathetic low mood. To try to lift her spirits, her husband booked a special treat for them both. After months of trying, he had managed to get them a table at Pumpernickel, the restaurant that everyone was talking about.

Photo by shawn henry on Unsplash

85. IV

Morphine suits me. I’m dopey, happy, sleepy. I thought I’d be more grumpy from lack of food, but after eight hours, I’d gone past wanting it. I was definitely not bashful. A dozen strangers saw me naked, bleeding onto clean sheets.

Tea. Toast. Jam. Water. Co-codamol. Ibuprofen. Sofa. Film. Bed. Repeat every six hours for three days. Jet lag. Nausea. Period pains. Hangover.

Room number four. My nurse is called Ivy Rose and she’s my kind Irish mother for the day. I think she knows she has a beautiful name and pretends I’ve never said it before, every time I tell her. I thank everyone in a uniform for looking after me. I’ll be on my own soon. Independent. Just me and Siri. She can remind me to take my meds, ring people for me, and change the channel on the TV, but she can’t loosen bottle tops, or lift a kettle.

58. Not on a School Night.

People, jobs, houses and food in real life are hardly ever like they are on the telly. So why do so many believe that the sex they have will be exactly like it is on screen? The most popular misconception (ha! no pun intended) is that people go out for a massive dinner and loads to drink on a date, and then find they are completely, intimately, perfectly compatible their first time with each other.

All we ever wanted as teenagers was privacy. We had so much free time but no-where to go for an hour of uninterrupted, guaranteed privacy, without annoying little siblings or parents poking their noses round the door without knocking. Couldn’t parents remember how they felt when they were young? This was biology and wasn’t illegal. We were over the age of consent and were a loving, committed couple who genuinely cared for each other. No drama, but respect and adoration. Wasn’t this exactly the kind of first love you hoped for?

Teenagers are going to have sex. You can try to think you can stop them or you can give them a little space now and then.

When we were happy, flirty, relaxed, and the kissing went on for ages, we were sometimes tainted with anxieties or alcohol. Too much pot made me feel lazy, hungry and sick. Safe experimentation. A real Shakespearean tragedy.

The opportunities at college were endless and fun, but does anyone ever really make the most of those few years? After college, not so much. I have no interest in any form of identifying potential partners where choosing someone based on their looks is initially the most important factor (niteclubs, internet dating) I think I’d miss out on too many people I’d find fascinating.

Goalposts move again. We now have as much privacy as we like, but no time.

I haven’t had a shower today.

I’m ovulating in a couple of days, so it will be amazing then. We should wait.

I was supposed to have an early night tonight because I’m really busy tomorrow.

We should have done it before I ate so much food.

It’s timing, luck and being open to trusting someone with your heart. I know people who say they want to meet someone, but appear (to me) to be afraid of making any moves or looking as if they are even interested, because they’ve been hurt and disappointed, so now want to remain in control. The one who is least invested in the relationship holds the power. They make potential partners prove their worthiness, or play passive aggressive emotional games. Isn’t risk a part of love?

Holding out in case someone better comes along is a waste of a chance at building a life with someone you already love. If ‘the one’ did exist, then it is a miraculous coincidence that so many people find their one and only soul mate, who is exactly the same age as them, living in their very own home town, maybe even at the same place of work or school. What are the odds on that?

Sorry, but meet cutes are for teen drama Sunday afternoon rom coms. I’ve never heard of anyone ever meeting their dream partner like this.

“She felt a jolt of electricity as their hands lightly touched when they both reached for the same avocado from the display in Wholefoods. Shy blushing smiles over soya lattes an hour later, they made plans to meet up for brunch and walk their dogs together at the weekend.”

*clicks fingers in the air twice* Hello? Your life is not a Molly Ringwald film.

No-one could ever possibly know us like we do. No two years are ever the same. We make our own rules for ourselves that are no-one else’s business but our own. Why would we ever compare our lives to other people? If we do make comments then it’s usually “thank god we’re nothing like them”.

“No it’s not like any other love.

This one’s different because it’s us.”

‘Hand in Glove’ by The Smiths 

And if we all do end up in ‘San Junipero’, then we can all live out our parallel lives for eternity, with those travelling on other paths that we’ve met in this life.