Home > A Taste of Greek Summer

A Taste of Greek Summer
Author: Mandy Baggot

 

One


Obelisk 1, London, UK


Lydia Broom’s hand was shaking as she put fork prongs to the intricately posed dish on the plate in front of her. What had they called it again? A whisper of salmon? Or was it a ghost? She was going to have to ask, maybe before she took a bite. And a bite was all it was, perhaps not even a whole bite. It was the smallest main dish she had ever been served. She raised her head to see if she could attract the attention of someone working at the upmarket eatery – Obelisk 1 – that they were guests at, for its soft opening.

Nice and pretentious, with the name suggesting both opulence and plans for other premises in the future. Very on trend, but personally she thought it sounded like a Russian submarine. Lydia looked to the open kitchen. She could actually see the head chef from their vantage point on a slightly raised plinth with mood lighting. He was pretending to be busy, but his eyes kept flicking up from the galley to survey the patrons, pristine white outfit somehow looking like it hadn’t been near food, ever. And he seemed way too composed. In Lydia’s experience, most chefs were always on his or her toes, energetic, slightly erratic, eager, a bit frazzled. His sous chef had no doubt done the real work here.

Opposite, Caroline, her colleague, slammed her mobile to the table and dived her fork straight into the salmon carpaccio with lemon aioli and a pork rind crumble. And then it was gone, just like that and Caroline was slugging it down with a great gulp of red wine. There was absolutely no chance she had tasted any of the highly nuanced flavours Lydia was reporting on for food and lifestyle magazine, Luxe Living. Where Lydia’s expertise was culinary excellence, Caroline’s was aspirational living. However, when it came to personal taste, Caroline’s was far more Pukka pie than charcoal focaccia. Ordinarily, Caroline wouldn’t be accompanying Lydia on a reviewing visit, but it had been decided at the magazine that as Obelisk 1 was paying a substantial sum to have its brand new restaurant splashed all over the front cover of the winter edition, all the stops needed to be pulled out. Caroline was all the stops, and she was going to write an article about starting a new business when the high street was dying …

‘Well, if that was a “tissue” of salmon then it was only the bloody one-ply kind!’ Caroline announced very loudly.

A tissue of salmon! That was it. Lydia made a mental note.

‘The wine’s alright though. But I think I might need another.’ Caroline was halfway towards putting her hand in the air to beckon a waiter when Lydia stopped her.

‘You don’t need another one yet.’ She held on to Caroline’s hand with her own, and then the fork dropped out of her other one, right on top of the food, bashing the salmon sliver and making the small stack fall over – plop – into the aioli sauce.

‘Shit,’ Lydia said, dropping her hold on Caroline and picking up her fork. ‘Did we get sent pictures of these dishes?’

‘No idea,’ Caroline said. ‘I did take some lovely pics of their light fittings though. Very on trend with the steampunk and industrial touches. Very regeneration!’

With sandstone and Sanskrit too, it was a melting pot of themes, that was for sure. Well, whether or not they had photos of the feat of engineering that was their minute, layered meal, Lydia did need to taste it. She pushed her light blonde hair back behind her ears and picked up the fork again. Scooping up the intricate shaving of salmon, she then used her knife to lick over the aioli and add a little of the crumb.

‘While you’re farting about playing with your food and I wait for inspiration for my article, I’ll have a quick skim over Insta. I’m becoming obsessed with Greece in all its forms – sea, sky, scantily clad “actors”. Oh and I’ve unfollowed Nigel BTW.’

Nigel was their line manager. Wasn’t it obligatory to follow your boss? Particularly when everything they did at the magazine was about social media and optimum reach?

‘He posted a picture of a car park,’ Caroline continued, eyes already on her phone. ‘A fucking car park. Not only that, he hashtagged it “my favourite car park”. I’m sorry but anyone who has a favourite car park does not deserve a second of my attention on my downtime.’

Except this wasn’t downtime, this was work. Yes, it might be half past seven at night, but that was the nature of reporting on restaurants. Lydia looked at the food on her fork and thought about how this would have been created with blood, sweat and a precision only the most steady-handed of chefs would be capable of. That had been her once. In charge of the food creation, leading the kitchen as head chef. She had been in her element back then, listening to every word her mentor, Mario, imparted – learning, growing, challenging herself every single day … Now she was lucky if she could successfully open a tin of chopped tomatoes. And she wasn’t sure if it was a total loss of skill, an incision into her muscle memory brought on by trauma, or whether everything was still intact and this was a case of the connections being broken through fear. She tried to quieten those thoughts.

Putting the forkful of food into her mouth, she waited for each morsel to invigorate her tastebuds. She tuned out Caroline’s whining about being served advertisements for figure-of-eight exercise classes and focused on the food journey she should have been going on right now. Except nothing was happening. It was less of a journey and more a can’t-even-get-the-car-started kind of feeling. The taste of the delicate salmon was gone before it was even there, the aioli seemed devoid of all trace of garlic, and the pork crumb tasted like a plain biscuit that had been neglected in the bottom of the barrel, possibly for months. This was not the ‘flavour sensation’ the website for this new venture was selling. And it certainly wasn’t worth paying the extortionate price tag. But maybe it was just her. She had felt similarly two days ago at the new Colombian restaurant everyone was raving about being the best thing to come out of the country since Shakira. Maybe she was losing her complex palate the way she had lost her ability to julienne.

‘How was the food for you?’ Lydia asked Caroline.

‘Miniscule,’ Caroline answered without looking up from her phone. ‘But it always is in these places, isn’t it?’

Lydia was going to get nothing of use from her to help describe the tastes and textures. As she wondered what she could do apart from move on to the final course and hope it blew her mind, her eyes went across the sleek, maybe-slightly-too-bright dining room, to David Deacon, the lead writer from rival mag, Note Cuisine. He was tapping on his iPad like he was playing the piano and Lydia could see that he was only on his first course. She had been equally unexcited by that. The ajo blanco sounded fantastic on paper, a chilled almond soup that should have given ‘sweet’, ‘light’ and ‘fragrant’ but, in reality, it had tasted like a cross between milk gone past its use-by date and paint.

‘I’m starving,’ Caroline suddenly announced. ‘What’s for dessert?’

‘It’s a white chocolate mousse and sorbet with dill and cucumber,’ Lydia informed.

‘Ugh, so basically a bloody salad,’ Caroline moaned. ‘When did everyone stop serving chips? I bet they have sweet potato fries on the menu, don’t they?’

‘Celeriac ones actually,’ Lydia answered.

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