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Right the way through the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been tapping out menus for a dinner party that never comes.
At the time of writing, I’ve got a long list of notes on my phone, filled with all sorts of ideas, from the sublime to the ridiculous, the complex to the actually achievable, spanning continents and cuisines, from street food to fine dining... it's quite something.
Let’s buy a hibachi grill and stick an extractor fan above the dining table. I bet there’s room for an asador AND a churrascaria out on the balcony. Can I live with a saltwater tank filled with lobsters in lieu of an actual bath?
Despite being deeply sane, rational ideas, none of them are going to happen. I live in a tiny flat in East London and turning it into a commercial kitchen isn’t my landlord’s idea of a good time.
But the nub of it all is that I want to invite my friends around for dinner. All my friends. Every single one of them. At once.
I love going out and grabbing a bite to eat. Putting yourself in someone else’s care for however long while they feed and nourish you is a deeply human experience.
It’s doesn’t matter if it’s standing on a cold pavement being handed something wrapped in love and paper from the side of a food truck, or the comforting feel of linen, glasses and heavy cutlery at a sit-down jobby with waiters and wine lists and whatnot.
It’s social, it’s convivial, and it’s a sort of contact we all need.
If you can bear to sit in your own company (and I very much can), then dining alone is fantastic. But the real soul food is breaking bread with friends, family, loved ones, people you’ve seen a hundred times before (and, God willing, will see a hundred times again) and letting 40 minutes turn into four hours without knowing where the time went.
Every single one of my jumble of menus is a menu designed for friends.
The last time I saw everyone together was eight of us sat around a table for Friend Christmas in December of 2019, which feels like 700 pandemic years ago now.
It was a big menu, with canapés and apéritifs, a choice of starters, and enough options to heartily stuff a gathering of vegans, vegetarians, staunch carnivores and the lactose intolerant.
It took a bit of doing, and we had to commandeer next door's fridge, but it culminated in one for the books: a festive all-timer, filled with the people I love most enjoying each other's company.
Friend Christmas, or even anything that feels like more than just surviving, feels a long time ago now, and I miss it all very much.
Beyond educated guesses, none of us knows when we’ll be able to see each other without the spectre of covid hanging over us, or even if we’ll all be there.
But until I’m told otherwise, it’s a finish line I’ll keep clinging on to, ready for old friends, new friends and friends I haven’t even met yet, on occasions I can’t even imagine, in whatever future lies on the other side of all this.
And like some mad, culinary survivalist, when that day does come, I’ll have a menu ready. But until then, I’ll keep making menus, just to be sure….
- AM, October 2021