Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A burst of eating out

The eating-out season starts this weekend. It’s probably fair to say that, between now and the Monday before Christmas, I’ll eat in more British restaurants than throughout the rest of the year.

‘Why is it starting so early?’ you ask.

Ah well, to start with, I’m being sent to Bristol this weekend for work. Now I have to eat for two days and two nights while there. The daytimes won’t offer a great deal of time for fodder, so I’ll grab something light.

Of course I could eat the cheapest and plainest food available, but I really have little interest in that – and besides, as I illustrated elsewhere, what is often regarded as cheap eating in this country is not.

Saturday evening is taken care of with the staff dinner, to which my somewhat belated invitation only arrived this morning, with an appeal to choose my meal straight away.

We’re going to Piccolino at Cabot Circus – to which all I can say at present is that I hope it won’t be like our last visit there in January 2009, when we had to wait over two hours for the food (cooks had gone missing). To be fair, the staff were deeply embarrassed, very courteous and as helpful as they could be: and we got everything free – including the wine. But it was an odd evening where my interest in the food (when it eventually emerged) was wrecked.

As the organiser of this conference’s staff meal (a thankless task) has pointed out, hopefully, by choosing what we want now, it’ll help avoid such problems on the night. She might have a point, although I can't help feeling that any establishment that has as much space as Piccolino does, and which happily takes large bookings, should be able to deal with the maximum number of covers without insisting that some people select their food in advance. After all, what happens if the place is full of couples or very small parties?

I hate choosing a meal days or weeks before I’m going to eat, but sometimes you’re given no choice.

But my choice for Piccolino this time is marinated nocellara olives to nibble, before a roast red and yellow pepper soup. Then skewered king prawns, scallops and salmon in oregano, chili and lemon, with tender stem broccoli, chili and garlic as a side. Thankfully, we have not had to order a dessert at this stage.

But what is really exciting me right now is Friday’s dining plan. For the first time, I have actually made a reservation to dine alone.

I realised, with some surprise, that the last time I was in Bristol, I lunched at Brasserie Blanc, as in Raymond Blanc.

Now it seems completely awful to admit, but I don’t remember a thing about it. That’s almost certainly because I had little time and raced in and out again, managing just one hurried course and half a bottle of sparkling water.

But of course, such things can be rectified. And now I intend to spend considerably longer there and invest considerably more attention to the experience.

The Other Half looked up from his terminal when I announced this and commented wryly that that’ll be my daily living-away-from-home-for-work allowance gone in one sitting, but the prices are not necessarily particularly high.

Indeed, they do a two-courses-with-wine deal for about £12. So, little more than the cost of a McDonalds meal for two. Which makes for an interesting perspective on something or other, I think.

Now, I admit to already having drooled over the menu – but I’m not choosing yet, simply anticipating. And what pleasure there is to be had in that.

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