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Laurence Inman’s Blog

FEUD FOR THOUGHT

01-05-2008

Eating Out

Hyenas and donkeys on the loose in a Birmingham restaurant? Laurence Inman was there.

I used to like eating in restaurants. Well, I could tolerate them for about as long as it took to eat the meal.

But something has changed, and I’m sure it reflects a wider and deeper shift in our social mores.

On Sunday I went to the Ponte Di Legno in Woodbridge Road Moseley. It had been recommended to me as ‘superb.’ It wasn’t. The food was just passable, the service non-committal and the atmosphere savagely cacophonous.

It was like being fed in a zoo. A zoo where all the animals were on fire.

Behind me was the cage for shrieking hyenas. They seemed to think it great fun to repeat things which someone called Pat had said in the past and then to scream and yelp at these things.

They were not funny things. They were not even mildly diverting. They were just the ordinary, commonplace coin of everyday conversational commerce. ‘I think I’ll have coffee, not tea.’ That sort of thing.

To our left was the donkey enclosure. Enough said.

In any sane group of people a silence would have descended, allowing these morons to hear what fools they were making of themselves. But no.

Everyone else took the line that they’d have to shout even louder than the people already cracking the windows with their bellowing. Just when I thought things couldn’t possible get any worse, a group of obese drunks turned up and started to rehearse bits of Puccini in the corner.

This was at six o’clock on a Sunday evening.

I asked the waiter to try to get some order in the room. He wandered off and ignored me. I asked to be moved to another table. No chance. At paying up time I refused to give a tip and demanded some compensation. In the end they knocked £20 off the bill. I will never go there again.

The ideal restaurant-scenario for me is like the one in The Godfather where Michael goes for his big meeting with the police chief and the rival gangster. (Apart from the shooting at the end.)

Quiet groups, murmured conversation, subdued conviviality.

Not screaming and yelping and guffawing at things which are simply not funny.

My enthusiasm for the whole idea of restaurants is fairly fragile anyway.

What is the point of paying a fortune to eat mediocre ‘food’ in the company of a load of snorting and scoffing strangers? I hardly ever leave these places without feeling bloated, cheated, irritated and disgusted.

I am usually dragged there unwillingly because the idea that eating is somehow a recreational event is so deeply ingrained in our ‘minds’ that there is no escape.

The papers and TV are full of fatsos gorging their faces, while a short flight away children die for want of a bowl of rice. The streets are packed with wobbling guts-on-legs sucking up fried stuff out of paper bags.

Let’s get this straight: eating is a physical necessity, like breathing or taking a dump, and nothing more. Our obsession with it is killing us, literally. The pursuit of food as a pleasure turns us into demanding, spoilt, fat children, to whom the idea that we might have to consider the feelings of others produces a stare of astonishment.

Next week: why all cinema and theatres which sell popcorn and sweets in crinkly wrappers should be summarily demolished. Vote liberal.

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