Monday, 7 September 2009

A touch of retro...

I don't know if I'm not instinctively retro - even the thought of getting a new phone brings me out in hives (all I want is a radio for dear old Terry (oh god can I bear his passing...?) and soon-to-be-even-dearer Radio 4), but then again, I can bang on about good old SEO till the cows come home - and look at me, I'm a blogger - though not yet a tweeter (the time it takes)... But I do wonder where I stand on food.

Were there really good old days in the food world? Yes, yes the government wants to get us all growing potatoes and putting carrots where they really have no business being - and I'm not saying this is a bad thing, devoted as I am to our vegetable plot - but rations weren't all health-a-go-go and bringing a bunny home for the pot. It was hard, hard work to make food that was nutritious and tasted good - it still is - on practically no money and families to feed or else they starve.

Go back even 30 years and the great stampede of convenience food was rearing its plastically-moulded head and we're still living in its apocalyptic shadow even now. But other things have moved on - thank goodness we've gotten away from nouvelle cuisine, or the hideous nightmarish creations of Fanny Cradock or ... or... oh, we've kept everything else, even Smash. We do love our foodie kitsch, it seems.

Restaurants are a shining example of keeping on top of food trends. There's still a chasm in this country I think. Some restaurants take pride in serving good food at decent prices (a relatively recent invention) and their customers recognise it and everyone's a winner; some prefer to serve utter shit and then any money you pay is too much, but they thrive because they are cheap and who bothers complaining... (another can of worms and one for another day). Some restaurants are slowly looking dated - Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, anyone? A genius of his day and probably still a genius chef, but someone change that menu from 1999 to 2009 - and charge the earth, but you're in the hands of a cooking god, don'tcha know? And some places keep steadily doing what they've been doing for 20 or 30 years and because the food is good and well-cooked and sweetly served, because the atmosphere is welcoming and the owner takes care in saying hello and goodbye, they survive even when a glance at the menu makes you wonder why in this racing age of foams and sherberts and clever ideas on cocktail sticks.

All this is a terribly long-winded way of saying Luigi's in Gipsy Hill (no link - there's no website - look at the post-modern retroism) is a rather fabulous place to spend a Friday night. Just on the junction of Gipsy Hill, opposite The Mansion (one to visit - see 1st category), they're quietly going about serving food that wouldn't have been out of place 35 years ago and yet it's still doing a roaring trade. Bruschetta, for the non-cognoscenti, is still described as roast toast. That alone endears it to me. There's even butter curls.

Squid salad came with prawns and mussels and that curiously-texture squid which implies bottled but might not be with a pungent dressing. Mussels with their winey tomato sauce came heaped with garlic roast toast for dipping. Veal osso bucho (sic) was a mammoth piece of cow shin with the marrow still within the bone (more bread please) and a timbale of risotto. Side dishes included carrot batons, hot and crisp deep-fried courgettes, spinach redolent of garlic and turned and impeccably scraped new potatoes. Duck, curiously with lemon and honey, was cooked to a turn, the legs well done but the meat falling from them.

There's a dessert trolley with tiramisu - ask for cheesecake and you'll get what looked distinctly like a quarter of the whole - MCD tried his best, bless him. Espresso is a shot to the heart after the behemoth portions.

And it's the small touches. The fact our chosen wine wasn't available, but a more expensive one recommended but sold at the cheaper price; the flood of Italian from the owner when he thought I knew more than how to order in a restaurant (my graduation cert has a lot to answer for); the fact he dines there, interrupting his dinner to welcome and wave farewell to all the guests - not customers, but guests. The slightly creaking courtesy, the green tiles reminiscent of a Greek taverna - It all made you want to order a Dubonnet and wish the 70s had never left.

But back then it might not have felt half as clever as it does now.

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