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I read an article in The Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago. I say article, in that it contained words printed on the pages of a newspaper magazine, but perhaps ‘piece’ would be more appropriate. ‘Article’ confines it within the boundaries of simple journalism. It’s restrictive. ‘Piece’ is far more generous. It allows the reader’s mind to wander, to make their own connections and conclusions as to its identity. Piece of writing? Piece of work? Piece of…you get the idea. This ‘piece’, make of that what you will, was written by Rod Liddle, a man whose questionable taste in shirts should tell you he has questionable taste in everything else, and it put forward the notion that Brexit and Trump and all that goes with them are wonderful things, a triumph of the masses over the top five percent, an over-educated ‘liberal elite’ of moneyed whingers who spent so much time deliberating over halloumi in Waitrose they didn’t notice the world around them was changing and regular folk are quite happy with cheddar thank you very much. He dressed it up with big words like ‘febrile’ and ‘depredations’, calling on JG Ballard to prove his literary nous, but what it essentially amounted to was an extended ha-ha-told-you-so dick swing by a man clearly still raging at the people who forced him to apologise for calling Emma Watson a “luvvie sleb” when she had the nerve to raise the issue of gender equality at the UN. (A coincidence, surely, that Watson is Ivy League educated?). Most of it wasn’t even his work, pilfering verbatim from a “How liberal elite are you?” questionnaire by American sociologist Charles Murray (that’s some heavyweight backing right there) to allow him to label said liberal elite as “corrosive and aloof”. It was designed to enrage, but there were at least ten six letter words already, so it stopped at plain old rage.
Tell me Roderick, guv, mate, you working man’s intellectual you…is that corrosive like the man who assaults his pregnant partner, or aloof like the one who claims he lied to the police about doing it so he could get out of jail quicker? In any case it must be nice for you to be able to blame people calling you a racist, xenophobic bigot on ‘deep trauma’ at the fact you voted for Brexit, rather than just being a racist, xenophobic bigot.
Aside from the fundamental flaw in Liddle’s argument – I may be a luvvie, and not even a sleb, but I’m pretty sure final figures for Brexit fell around the 51-49 range, rather than the 95-5 he fantasises about – I do, begrudgingly, admit to finding a morsel of truth in there. A piece, if you will. Not on this insulated top 5% nonsense; I blame Brexit on the elite, just not a liberal one. Besides, I got around 145 in his test even though I play the lottery from time to time (only Euromillions, mind) and have a weak spot for Dinner Date. My wife watches Eastenders, but only when I’m not in the room.
No, where I found his observations to be as astute and pin sharp as Ed Sheeran grunting on about speeding to Tiny Dancer on country lanes (another law bender, another begrudgingly accepted common ground), is in his depiction of a new breed of human who are beholden to no man, woman or thing. He talks bitterly about a ‘growing cluster’ of society, for whom time for them is non-linear and money earns itself. A liberal mindset is genetically embedded, and they float through life on pillows of lavender in blissful ignorance of the shackles that hold the rest of us back. I didn’t pay the idea any mind at first – this is Liddle we’re talking about, after all – but recent events have forced me to reconsider.
I’ve been trying, you see, to get to Padella for months. Ever since it opened. Normally I’m pretty au fait with getting around the queues, and happy to swallow my pride and eat at 5pm to sample whatever I’m supposed to be sampling at that particular month. Pitt Cue, MeatLiquor, Hoppers; I’ve found a way in with the grizzled persistence of a Rock-era Sean Connery, but Padella? Uh-uh. 7, 6, 5, 4, 3pm…it’s impossible. Barely 11:30am and the queues are round the block. Not even Nicolas Cage could help me get in there (not that I’ve tried). The last time I arrived at 8pm only to find myself staring like a loser at a sign telling me the waiting list was already closed. Go home and fuck the prom queen I did not.
I couldn’t understand how this could happen yet again. I know it’s like, so 2011 to complain about no booking restaurants, but Christ it’s infuriating sometimes. Do I have to turn up at dawn? Who are these people who always get there first, hell-bent on denying me pici cacio e pepe? What did I ever do to them?
And then it hit me: Liddle. Well, not Liddle himself. Much as I’d like to blame him for every minor irritation in life I’m actually a reasonable person. No, in one of those moments akin to a grown man in his thirties coming round to Taylor Swift after years of derision, I realised that Liddle was right on the money. Something sinister is going on. We are being taken over. Londoners are being priced out by foreign investment, sure, but that’s only the half of it. Right under our noses, real people with real lives and responsibilities are being replaced by doppelgangers, ravenous organisms intent on consuming all that’s freshly prepared and celebrated in the national press until the kitchens are closed, at which point they simply start queueing again. Family, money, jobs; these concepts are as alien as, well, aliens. The only bit that Liddle got wrong was politics; ideology is as passé as working for these people, because all they do is eat. Consume. It’s They Live, in London, with food. At least that’s the only explanation that I can come up with. How else can these people, if they are indeed people, afford to spend five hours in the middle of the day waiting for a table?
I left Padella in tatters and wandered alone and paranoid through Borough Market, past closed stalls where individual shawarma wraps are apparently so coveted they require separate queues. Each doorway gives way to yet another walk-in place with yet more unattainable tables. I eventually wound up at El Pastor, the new taco venture by Sam and Eddie Hart of Barrafina fame, where by some miracle the wait was only sixty minutes. An hour. They took my number and sent me away, my friend came to rescue me from loneliness and we barely had time for a drink next door before we were summoned to eat. This was more like it.
Now, I love Barrafina. It’s immune to fads and fashions, so authentically Spanish you expect to see the waiters brushing fags ends and nut shells off the counter onto the floor como se hace en Madrid. It doesn’t need to try, because it just is. El Pastor applies the same commitment to authenticity to the Mexican taqueria, and manages to turn a chilly cavern under London Bridge into a summer’s evening fiesta by way of a few hanging lightbulbs and some brightly coloured tables. There’s salsa on the radio and salsa on the table when you sit down. It’s as though one of those hideous ‘outdoor’ streets inside the 02 Arena suddenly developed a soul.
We had a brilliant meal that began with chopped raw tuna and avocado tostadas, followed by stonebass taco which came crunchy fried with a big, loud, pineapple salsa. In fact, everything was loud except the waiters, who would have needed to scream to be heard above the hum of the place. I didn’t catch a word of anything that was explained to me but it hardly needs a manual: apply salsa, eat taco, try not to dribble, repeat. Which is as it should be. The last tacos I ate, at the underwhelming Temper, were so overcomplicated with optional absurdities like sprinkle dust and macho copper menus that someone forgot to keep an eye on the premium meat they offer, which was as dry as an inch-thick piece of biltong. (Thank god for the sauces eh? Oh no, they’re an extra too.) Not so at Pastor, which offers a very similiar menu at the end of the day, but gets the basics right first. If it needs to be raw it is, and if the pork needs to be so tender it evaporates in the mouth then, by Dios, that’s what it does. I’m not sure there’s the same level of volcano granite taco press obsession you get at Breddo’s (I haven’t got there yet), but it’s as thrillingly close a full on Mexican experience as you’ll get without jumping on a plane to the Yucatån. My friend was tired and eager to leave so I didn’t get to try their take on a Bounty Bar, or the Sweetcorn/Avocado soft serve, but they sounded unlike anything I could eat anywhere else today. Isn’t that the reason you go to a restaurant in the first place?
So immersive was the experience at El Pastor that I hadn’t thought about Padella for a full ninety minutes. I walked back to the tube and there it was, rammed to capacity, still turning away hungry folk while the doppelgangers gorged themselves inside. It was late by this point, after 10pm, but the feast showed no signs of slowing. Some diners were just being shown to their table, which must have meant they’d been hanging around getting solidly pissed for at least three hours if they managed to get in the queue before me. On a Wednesday night, no less. It almost seemed a little sad; what if they weren’t robots after all? What if they were humans who waited days for the opportunity, destined to return home later that night with egg on their face and parmesan under their fingernails, only to find the dog’s piddled all over the carpets, the children have been taken by social services, their job’s gone and their prom queen spouse has left them, all because they chose pasta over reality. Perhaps I’m not such a loser after all.
Oh who am I kidding? I’m just jealous. I’ll keep on trying for Padella until they run out of flour. Not that you should care; there are more pressing matters than snagging tables at restaurants. These are problems of privilege, undoubtedly. But it did get me thinking; what if the whole population suddenly decided to gamble away all their life’s work and savings – their future, no less – on something as short lived as a bowl of fettuccine? What would happen when the plates are cleared and the bills are settled, with nothing left to show for it in the morning but a bright red ragu stain on the cuffs of our flowery shirts?
Wouldn’t that be something to complain about, eh Rod?
6-7A Stoney St
London SE1 9AA
Mon – Sat
12 – 5pm
No Reservations (Good luck with that)