Why do they have menus splayed across the wall behind the counter in chip shops? I can’t remember ever hearing of anyone who stepped inside a fish and chip shop, unsure of what they were about to order. The only conversation with the server should surely be, “Large or small?” or, “Salt and vinegar?”. You already know you want cod, or haddock or skate and chips. Similarly in a curry house, when a group of you sit down, the need for a menu is irrelevant. It’s always four pints of Cobra/Kingfisher, eight poppadoms and then each of you will order what you always have when you go for a curry. I always have a chicken madras, and my friends always have their “usual” prawn bhuna, lamb biryani, chicken jalfrezi, four pilau rice and a couple of naan breads please. The bill is always split equally and we all head home to bed, only to wake up a couple of hours later with excruciating heartburn, as the spicy food has only progressed only as far as your ribcage and is now burning an acidic hole in your digestive tract. Other eateries are home to menus that are like telephone directories in the choice they offer. For some reason, this is usually in Chinese or Japanese restaurants, but I wonder if this a ruse to make you just plump for Set Meal A, B or C.
Care to see the wine list? We are now into new territory, where extensive wine lists are provided at the sort of restaurant that wants you to feel ever so humbly grateful they let you set foot in there in the first place. The sort of place where the meal comes in a dozen courses, each serving arriving on huge plates with the portion of food barely covering the size of a teaspoon. The condescending waiter will at each opportunity explain the components, their ingredients, their source and even the inside leg measurement of the farmer who reared the livestock that has now arrived for your culinary delight. The wine list will only compound your misery as you try to decided between white and red, old world and new world, Chablis or Shiraz, Chateauneuf or Chateauvieux, screw top or cork. So you order the house red, avoiding eye contact with the sommelier.
And don’t think you can get away with all this by just eating down at the pub. Gone are the days of a ploughman’s or a cheese and pickle sandwich to have for your lunch. Corn-fed chicken, 28 day aged steaks, Sicilian olives, hand picked Devon crab, carte de musica bread (nope, me noether!)…hell, my local even has Himalayan salt cured beef on the menu. And these kind of pubs will also be offering you a veritable galaxy of craft beers to compound your wine choice misery, because, you see, a frothy hoppy warm ale might be an even better accompaniment to your steak, foot-high burger or steak and kidney pudding-served-in-a-wheel-barrrow, than a full-bodied red. Or you can have both. And would sir like dessert. And maybe a Hungarian dessert wine to go with it? Coffee? A liqueur coffee, maybe? Irish, Bailey’s, Russian, Seville, Calypso, Mendoza, Keoke, Shin Shin, Monk’s coffee…?? AAARRRGGGHHH?!?!?! Enough already, I’m off down the chippy.