May 29, 2005

Bar humbug

As one gets older it becomes increasingly harder to distinguish real life from a satire on the same, and living in London makes it no easier. I remembering thinking this when going to Islington a couple of years ago to watch Arsenal play Manchester United on a telly in a pub, with my brother and his Bosnian mate, both Arsenal supporters. It was the match in which Arsenal clinched the title, and therefore all the pubs were packed, although we did, finally, manage to get into the upstairs room of a Slug and Lettuce, us and something like three hundred other people, all of whom appeared to be younger than I was and none of whom, my brother and his mate apart, gave the impression of having a lower salary.

I can remember little of the game, which didn't interest me all that much in the first place, but I do remember amusing myself, after getting to the bar (some hours after setting off to do so) by asking if they had any pork scratchings. Regrettably, it was not an establishment where such comestibles could be obtained. Crisps, perhaps, I enquired? Alas, no. They were, however, able to offer me the only bar snacks that they had available, which were something called Japanese Rice Crackers. I think. I may not have that completely right. Never having asked for any since, I am somewhat out of practice in remembering the name.

Indeed, it was not until I read the Guardian Guide this weekend that I recalled the episode. For some reason, I found myself reading a section which appears to preview bars. That is what it says, anyway, at the top of the page:

PREVIEW : bars
thus surprising those of us who had never thought that bars needed to be reviewed, let alone previewed, in the first place.
That said, I did once attend a sort of "pub launch", the opening night of a pub in Oxford, or rather the opening night of a refurbished pub, which had been called the Fir Tree for several decades and had now been renamed something like The Olde Oxford Ale House in order to demonstrate that it was new. I mostly went to see what they might have done to it, and sure enough, as soon as I got in, I noticed that among other atrocities, the stupid bastards had stapled a typewriter to the ceiling.

Anyway, the Guide had sent somebody to enthuse over a new bar, the Deep Bar, in a "new development in Chelsea" going by the name of Imperial Wharf. The journalist was tremendously excited by the "bar eats" which were, she enthused, "of a high standard: crispy fried prawns".

Prawns. Actual prawns. No actual crackers, then, which were presumably too reminiscent of actual crisps to be admitted to this particular sanctum sanctorum. Poor Slug and Lettuce. It can never have realised what a faux pas it was committing. But it can never, surely, have aspired to the grandeur of the "eats" that went alongside the tastefully themed - and, hopefully, tasty - prawns.

But there was, mirabile dictu, more to come. They also offered:

tuna and salmon tartare topped with a quail's egg and fragrant pepper.

Not just an egg but a quail's egg. Not just pepper but fragrant pepper. My dear good God Jesus Christ. I was expecting to read that they were offering stuffed giraffes' necks with a nectar dip. Had I done so, I would still have been unsure whether the review was a satire, or whether this was really happening.

I might go down the Castle later on this evening (wooden chairs, cracked upholstery and a pool room round the back). If I do, shall ask for a pint of Guinness and some tuna and salmon tartare topped with a quail's egg and fragrant pepper. And a packet of pork scratchings to wash it down with.


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