In the same way that we don’t cook anymore but watch over-weening hair wax merchants make saucy ejaculations on TV, we don’t eat either. No, what we do is pontificate about eating. We recommend eateries. We opine about the politics of petits fours. We formulate theories, deconstruct standard fare, and muse over irony-enriched dinner party classics. But eat? Consume? Devour? Slather our chops in salivatory anticipation of a succulent something or other? Fat chance.
Saturday morning was squatting over me like a 600lb silverback gorilla feeling fruity and about to pounce. It was 10 a.m. Bleary-eyed, with a juggernaut chasing a hare round my brain pan, I was up and at ’em. Destination? Ruddy Nora’s Café on the Wimbledon High Street.
The minute I entered, I knew I was in foreign territory. Here was the past without either a hint of pastiche or pistachio, be it in the ice cream or the paint job. The cracks in the crockery were as bona fide as the tea-stains in the mugs: none of your distressed kitchenware here. No, this was gastro-gritty realism. Hostelry as kitchen sink drama. Eating, Joe Orton-style.
I took a pew at a table decked out in vinyl gingham splendour – I was in a 50s time warp, and by the smell of it, this table was wearing vintage cloth. Laudably, I was even allowed to choose my own table. The owner, a burly chap operating both counter and stove-top, with a cigarette nestled behind his left ear, indicated as much to me: “Siwhayawanna!”
The menu was tout simplicité. I started with the exotic sounding Bacon sarnie paired with a mug of tea. Intriguingly, orders are taken by the head chef himself, while the waiter service has been cleverly outsourced to the customer. Once seated, I engaged in a euphonious physical liaison with my order. The sweet immediacy and cud-like consistency of the perilously thin white slices of bread were a revelation when paired with the inch-thick stagnant puddle of industrial margarine, between which nestled an ingeniously over-cooked rasher of bacon. Embellishments were thoughtfully left to the diner – elegant bottles of sauces brun et rouge standing on each table – a gesture which spoke volumes about the levels of trust at work here ‘twixt creator and consumer. Teasing the doughy flaps apart, I tentatively dolloped a squit of brown into the centre, and was soon experiencing the sort of gastronomic epiphany that could reduce Gordon Ramsey to dainty verbiage.
How could such an entrée be topped? With the outrageously daring baked beans on toast, that’s how. A rusty bucket full of oranges, a riot of copper pixie gonads, each one winking suggestively at me, this ‘beans on toast’ was another bolt from the blue.
Mopping up the mushy viscera of toast, I looked about me. Fore and aft, Joe Bloggs. To starboard, Plain Jane. Port side, a chap with a chronic case of psoriasis. Here, then, were the ‘Great British Unwashed’ in all their faded Technicolor glory. Real people eating real food. Does it get any more real than this? I think not.
In a gutshell: Really real food.