The charm of dirty food
Last night I was surprised to see Haddock Monte Carlo looking at me from a Piccadilly menu. I’m told it’s a traditional dish in which haddock is presented with spinach and poached egg and a white wine sauce, but it looks all wrong on the page. Haddock has nothing to do in Monte Carlo. It is a soothing welcoming creature; a cousin, after all, of the humble cod. A cod in the playground of the rich and famous? In a tax haven where yachts are the size of mansions and the train station looks like a pharaoh’s tomb? Haddock in Brighton, of course. Haddock to Hove, I’ll allow it. But Haddock in Monaco? Talk about a fish out of water.
And yet, of course, a haddock in Monte-Carlo could enjoy a wild ride, hitting the gaming tables, playing roulette, strolling along Avenue Princesse Grace, with an independent air, looking at the Japanese gardens. It’s almost a treat for an animated musical. (I bet Grace Kelly has never eaten haddock, although you’ll be happy to know that at Princess Grace Hospital in London there is a consultant by that name.)
Everyone, I guess, deserves a break. I know I do. Besides, is there a dish with a more soothing sound to bring comfort and consolation, the morning after losing your shirt?
Comfort food in London restaurants hit a new high last year. I first heard about it when I overheard my nieces discussing their favorite burger restaurants. I mentioned a small, reputable chain that I had visited. “No, no, no,” they said, “we either love a super gourmet burger OR something really, really dirty. These burgers are neither one thing nor another.
The word “dirty” in restaurants has completely lost its stigma. That alarming little epithet, which once implied serious hygiene violations – cockroaches in ratatouille, laces in noodles – is now a badge of honor. An upscale dirty dinner exhilarates and excites. Ribs, burgers and fried chicken, primed and pimped and smoothed, far beyond the imagination of their local inventors, have been salvaged as the food of the gods. High-quality meat dipped in syrups and farm-fresh fats is where it is. It’s bold, it’s disgusting, it’s mean. But my boy, is it good.
Surely it is no coincidence that in an era when the headlines are screaming about the obesity crisis, London’s hottest new restaurants are serving food that isn’t just unhealthy, it’s actually dangerous. . Dirty food is what the young and the beautiful eat when they paint the city. It’s a food you can expect a hangover from, or at least a migraine from. It is a carefree holiday dish, an antidote to conscience. Each bite ignores the litany of urban angst that tries to bring you down on a regular Tuesday. It’s the culinary equivalent of reaching out two fingers to the world, a wolf’s whistle and a bare bottom lightning bolt on the back of a passing trainer – but all, of course, with a Rolls-Royce veneer, because it is the best worst food you will ever eat. It might be your last supper.
The best, the worst, have always had a certain charm: the naughty, handsome cowboy you might be trying to persuade to move into a farm with you, but it just won’t happen; the hard-headed husband-manager of the country and western singer, who makes her a star and then plays all her money. Yet for every other Saturday night, these dinners, these men, where is the harm?
Dirty food is a bit vain. It is certainly proud. People who eat this dish often dress in deeply ugly clothes because the beam of their natural appeal is so great that it just can’t be obscured – not by orange and brown print synthetic fabrics, not by food. containing 40 percent sugar and 50 percent. hundred fat.
There is, his fans claim, something pure about dirty food. It affects a certain modest and honest charm. It’s simple, pure – by vitamins or minerals anyway. “Let’s enjoy the night as if we were going to die young,” sings artist Ke $ ha. Bless!
A cookbook that I was loaned recently, The White Trash Cookbook, offers a recipe for a “high calorie boost” that involves pouring a bottle of Pepsi over a packet of dry roasted nuts. It is perhaps the most sparkling drink known to man. Will smart bars serve this highly stimulating concoction this spring? Will people add a glass or two of vodka and call it supper? It is not always easy to know where to place your hopes in life.
Compared to all of this, of course, Haddock Monte Carlo seems sane and normal and proper and fair. Go south, young fish!
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