My guide to the best underrated food haunts
We learnt this week that the Good Food Guide is back in action, revived after its COVID-induced break. There’s the usual promise of reviewing the very best restaurants on offer, but what about the places that most of us eat? Surely we deserve our own guide, written in the same upbeat style.
Mum and Dad’s. This family-owned trattoria is open for breakfast and dinner seven days a week, except for Christmas Day when the whole family goes to Auntie Paula’s. The menu is limited, focused on a “dish of the day”, with no variations allowed. Indeed, the chef, who tends to sit at the table eating alongside diners, will often issue instructions such as: “I want to see you eat all those green beans.” Or: “Don’t think you are going to get dessert, not if you leave your Brussels sprouts”. Or: “If you don’t put that bloody iPad down I’ll throw the bloody thing in the bloody bin.” Younger diners are also required to stack the dishwasher after the meal, which – incidentally – is always delicious.
Ben’s Breakfast Buffet. Ben says he can’t cook, but all that changes if he is asked to prepare Sunday brunch. Ben has never been a fan of minimalism; his slogan is “if you are going to have brunch, have yourself a brunch”. He’s been preparing this spread, once or twice a year, for 20 years. Each time he plans the blow-out, he adds an extra dish. What started with bacon and eggs two decades ago, now involves a table groaning with choice: scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages cooked on the BBQ, tomatoes slowly roasted in the oven, hash browns and haloumi fried on the stove, baked beans lightly heated. In a moment of genius, back in 2013, Ben even added a big plate of tinned kippers – the penetrating aroma of which encourages people to focus on the meal, and, of course, on Ben’s achievement in providing such an eclectic feast.
The Student Share House. The kitchen here is open 24 hours a day, with a focus on “deconstructed” dishes. The cupboard and fridge contain as few as three edible ingredients, and so the diner must try to combine them as best they can. A half-can of tuna, hardening slightly on the top, a left-over triangle of cheese, and some two-minutes noodles? Welcome to Asian-Style Noodle Marinara. A half-container of take-away rice, a bottle of tomato sauce, and a week-old sausage. Voila Snag Pilaf. Just remember: if there are any left-overs, put them in a container in the fridge with a handwritten note: HANDS OFF. THIS IS MINE. I AM WATCHING YOU.
The “New Cookbook” Dinner Party. This is an innovative event that occurred after someone thoughtlessly gave Uncle Terry a copy of the Ottolenghi cookbook Simple. Let’s say it up front: the title is a barefaced lie. It ain’t at all simple – well, not for a chef of Uncle Terry’s incredibly limited ability. The good news: there’ll be plenty of time for drinks and idle chit-chat in the living room, disturbed only by the regular screams of pain from the kitchen as Uncle Terry realises he’s completely stuffed yet another dish. Dinner will be served a la the Spanish tradition, with entrees at midnight.
The Take-Away Lunch Stop. Here pride of place goes to the pie-warmer, from which diners can select from a wide-range of meat pies manufactured in a near-by industrial suburb and then wrapped in crinkly plastic. Patrons may decide to sample the steak and onion, or perhaps the curried lamb if they are equipped with a strong constitution. The maitre d’ will normally enquire about one’s beverage requirements, which might result in the provision of a half-litre of chilled chocolate milk or perhaps a carbonated beverage created by the Coca-Cola company. Either way, you’ll be ready to chunder by the time you get back to work. This may explain their slogan: “An early mark from work in every meal.”
The Freezer Club. This busy weekday haunt is operated by a young couple who don’t get in the door until 7 or 8 pm each night. That’s when the cry goes up: “Let’s get something out of the freezer.” Each weekend, the couple cook industrial quantities of food, which they place in unmarked containers in the bottom of the freezer. What fun, as the microwave does its work, to guess what might be for dinner. Lamb stew? Italian soup? Fish curry? More a lottery service than a restaurant, there’s a culinary surprise every time the microwave goes “ding”.
Grandma’s Sustainable Kitchen. Sustainability may seem like a recent idea, but in Grandma’s kitchen it’s always been the guiding principle. One large piece of bargain steak can be a roast dinner on Monday, the makings for Mongolian “lamb” on Tuesday, and – in a startling indication of the chef’s transformative skills – the basis for a “vegetarian” soup by Wednesday. Don’t worry if you don’t polish off the whole serve. By the time you return next weekend, she’ll have somehow worked the leftover beef into an apricot crumble.
Good luck to the Good Food Guide, it’s good to have you back, but who needs fine dining when there is this much good food so close to home?
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