Monday, March 2, 2009
Apparently the objective of just about all people who write about food on the internet is to get noticed so they can then become restaurant reviewers (and spend their lives reviewing places like El Bulli or Gordon Ramsey's latest sales pitch, no doubt).
There is a restaurant reviewer in New York who goes to restaurants in disguise cos she knows that she will be treated differently if she is recognised (Ruth Reichl - Garlic and Sapphires (who the hell came up with that name?) The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise). She has done tests even. Going to the same restaurant as her public persona and as Ethel from Illinois. That sort of thing. She says the two experiences just dont compare. So what is the point of her reviewing restaurants if they are turning on the charm just for certain individuals? Its gonna happen. Of course it is. But it is shit.
I liked her idea. It must be interesting to go out to eat as someone else and get paid for it. Anyway it got me to thinking of other interesting ways of reviewing restaurants. And this is what I have come up with - I review a restaurant and the reader has to guess which restaurant I am writing about. Genius.
So here goes
Garlic and Sardines - the Secret Life of Restaurants in Disguise.
Review No 1
The streets around Ibiza Town get really quiet at lunch time. Proof that Spain's excellent siesta tradition is still going strong. Thank Christ. The last thing I want to see in Spain are really successful sandwich chains garroting the lunchtime restaurant trade. Next thing you know we'll have people smoking outside their office buildings.
Anyway, the streets are sleepy and there arent many people around cos they are all having lunch. The restaurant I am looking for is a workers' restaurant on the first floor of an apartment building somewhere near the New Market. I heard about it years ago when I first arrived and have only just got round to finding its whereabouts. There is an Estrella Damm blackboard outside advertising its 5 Starters, 14 (yes 14) main courses and 5 desserts. The menu is priced at €9.50 and includes bread and wine. Nowadays that is a very good price but if you convert it into pesetas and then it into pounds it is actually laughable. It has increased by 50% in just 7 years.
You go up its narrow and inevitably marbled staircase to find a restaurant much like the India Club on the Strand, not only in its decor but in its oldworldliness. You seem to really be stepping back in time. The furniture is of course brown varnished wood. There is a waiter that can't weigh any less that 16 stone and can't measure any more that 5 foot three. He is sweaty and out of breath. Not surprising given his proportions. The restaurant is only half full suggesting that 'el Crisis' has hit the Spaniards stomach. A good sign really cos in a battle between a Spaniard's stomach and el Crisis I know who my money is on and it aint gonna take that long to decide it.
I order the garlic soup which is no more than yellow water with bread mush in it. Revolting. The Spanish obsession with yellow food colouring is really quite worrying. And bread has never been their strong point. Especially when it has been sitting in lukewarm yellow liquid for a few hours. Then comes the main course. Bingo. Deep fried sardines with homemade chips. The sardines are little ones no bigger than my middle finger. They are gutted and scaled, floured and deep fried. and there are lots of them. They are fresh and their flesh is sweet. The chips are sparcer but that is probably a good thing anyway as one likes to acheive a balance, doesnt one? One doesnt want to overdo the fried food, what?
The only down side of this course is the stray uncooked chip which seems to always come my way. I love it that restaurants cook their own chips. Frozen chips in a hamburger joint is only right and proper but a restaurant should be closed down for serving them. Especially if they are those fat and flat monstrosities that turned up in refectories and other low eateries a couple of decades ago. WHO ACTUALLY LIKES THOSE THINGS? I defy anyone to actually consider this kind of "chip" and come out in favour of it.
Anyway, dessert. God. Some appalling flan (creme caramel) from a packet. The baked apple looked good and I was an idiot not to choose it given that I knew what the flan would be. The Spanish are not fantastic when it comes to most desserts (tarta de santiago and flao, please remain seated) and it is my experience that they skimp in this area. I worked with a bloke who called himself a chef in San Carlos. He told me his secret for making the perfect flan - add 25% more milk to the concoction than the packet recommended. And he was the head chef in a 120 cover restaurant.
I could have chosen the fresh apple that they bring on a plate with a knife. This is one of the many things I love about Spain. An apple is a perfectly legitimate dessert on a menu del dia. You see these people sit and peel the apple at their leisure and then eat it chunk by chunk. There is something correct, organic about this. I dont know why but I have always loved watching diners do this. To an Englishman it is so OTHER.