I’ve got this theory about civilisation. It’s about being conquered, and about lunch. And the evidence, or the predicate to this theory is the quality of the nosh in France and Italy. That and the time taken to enjoy one’s nosh – something that happens less and less in the UK.
I’ve eaten very well over the past six months. The excellent Zucca is just down the road and is close to becoming my work canteen. I’ve been to Medlar a couple of times – vastly different in menu but very similar in terms of the outstanding quality of the food and the impeccable service. Last week I was at Chez Bruce – quite possibly my favourite London restaurant – drinking various examples of Pomerol next to a menu designed for that very task. The official write up is here.
I’ve three-starred it in Alba at Piazza Duomo – stunning food, wine and company, dropped in at Ma Cuisine (which I’m still not bored of/with) in Beaune, and one-starred it in Bordeaux at a very odd place – Septieme Peche – where I ate what appeared to be raw pigeon and, astonishingly, managed to keep it down (how can anyone who grew up/lives in/works in/has visited London ever want to eat pigeon?).
Oh – and I also took lunch in the downstairs kitchen at Ch. Margaux which, in terms of bragging, knocks all of the above sideways. With a scaffold pole.
I don’t know how much any of the above came to. This is partly down to my inability to grasp numbers, partly down to the generosity of others. And I do know that I’m lucky. And I also know how much the best meal I’ve had in the past six months came to.
The best food in the world is in Italy. Or maybe it’s the best meals. As my host at Piazza Duomo put it: “you will eat exceptionally well at the worst trattoria in the village”. The quality of the food in Piedmont is reason enough to go there in itself – I’ve never eaten so well, well, anywhere.
And the best meal I’ve had in the past six months came to fifteen euros for two of us. In Barolo, in a little place that, if it had been in France, would have sold cigarettes and taken bets (maybe it does). Two panini (mine salami) and two glasses of Barbera, and two coffees. And in terms of satisfaction, ten out of ten. Bread from down the road, salami from up the road and Barbera from across the road. It’s what England could be, if you sub the wine with beer, but that’s another rant entirely.
And it’s what wine is all about. In the past month a new wine “exchange” has been PR-d, as has a new wine investment fund. At the same time I’ve been trying to write about “self-regulation” of the “wine investment” business – something that not even Jim Budd seems willing to really get his teeth into (I think it’s about lawyers, and I’m busy looking for my balls on this one). I keep on running out of steam because it’s just all bollocks. It’s not wine; it’s not pleasure. It’s money, it’s dirty paper.
And here’s the point: “eat as much Michelin as possible”, as my friend KJJ would say, but I’ll take my salami panini every day. “First growths are looking attractive again” as my friend the wine fund trumpeteer would say, but I’ll take my glass of Barbera, thank you. And the coffee? The Kenco Lady? Who was/ is a pretty good example of money, and the making of, throwing quality, pleasure, the whole point of the product, into a dumpster. This hasn’t happened in Piedmont just yet.
Simplicity is under-rated. Simplicity is beautiful. Have a look at a wheel, or a log fire. Eat an apple.