THE SILLY SEA­SON

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - FOOD, DRINK and OTHER MAT­TERS with Patrick Skin­ner

This week, I of­fer a small cull from my ar­chives – three items amuse you, dear reader, at this mid-sum­mer time.

I have a mild de­pres­sion, caused largely by a grum­bling hip (sug­gest­ing surgery may be called for shortly) which makes walk­ing un­com­fort­able. Nev­er­the­less, hav­ing well passed my bib­li­cal “three score years and ten” by some dis­tance, I do feel most for­tu­nate. You may feel less so if you read these items when they first ap­peared. (And re­mem­ber them!)

I thought might mildly

This no­tice ap­peared in the Newsagents/Sta­tion­ers shop just down the road from us a cou­ple of years ago.

All my friends in Cyprus will un­der­stand now why Mary and I re­turned to the U.K. For the cul­ture, of course!

A few years back, I was in­vited to lunch by some wine pro­duc­ers at a har­bour-side fish restau­rant. This is a slightly edited ac­count of the meal.

There were three peo­ple out front on the day I had lunch there: a black-clad lady be­hind a high bar counter, al­most ob­scured by an elec­tronic till, and two wait­resses of Eastern Euro­pean ori­gin – very knowl­edge­able, ef­fi­cient and pleas­ant. It was their dress that seemed a lit­tle out of place in a tra­di­tional Cypriot fish restau­rant. The first wait­ress was about twen­tyeight, 5’4” or so in height, with a plump­ish fig­ure bor­der­ing upon the lay­ered rub­ber tyre. Her lower anatomy was cov­ered in some­thing that looked like slightly di­aphanous white bi­cy­cle shorts, which in turn had a mini-ish skirt over of what to my un­tu­tored fash­ion eye could be termed ny­lon cur­tain ma­te­rial. Very vis­i­ble be­neath this ar­ray was a white thong. Her top ar­eas, quite gen­er­ously busted, were en­cased in two lay­ers of translu­cent white ma­te­rial, fairly body-hug­ging.

The other lady was taller, dark haired as op­posed to the light brown of the first, and well past the first flush of youth. She should re­ally have been more cov­ered up. Her bul­bous torso was en­shrouded in a very dé­col­leté white blouse, be­low which she had sev­eral lay­ers of skirt which barely came to her knees, the top layer be­ing a sort of flounced “whore’s draw­ers” kind of ny­lon. This said, she was a good wait­ress and in her way un­ob­tru­sive. The fish, I have to say, was fresh, de­li­ciously cooked and sauced.

On ar­rival, it be­ing a warm day, I had dis­carded my cor­duroy jacket and hung it across the back of the seat. The meal fin­ished, as be­fits an old chap, I got up and walked away with­out it. The younger of the two wait­resses picked it up and brought it across, say­ing, “You for­got this,” and was hand­ing it to me as she said, “You can take it now or you can come back for it later if you like.”

I’m not sure what she meant. I didn’t en­quire, sim­ply thank­ing her and tak­ing my jacket. And I didn’t go back. At my time of life this might have been dis­as­trous in more ways than one. be­ing, “Ev­ery­thing al­right?” “Yes”, we gen­er­ally say, “Won­der­ful”. On other oc­ca­sions, he stops with ‘reg­u­lars’ who tell him what a good fel­low he is. The best chefs talk to ALL the cus­tomers, and lis­ten to any com­ments in­clud­ing bull­shit (or gen­uine) praise, and crit­i­cisms.

All too of­ten cus­tomers are so be­sot­ted at the mere fact that the man who has cooked the meal for which they are pay­ing fifty euros a head has deigned to come out of his den to hold court with them, so all they can mut­ter is how great it was. When they get home, of course, the wife says: “HUH! And you said how tough the steak was and what crap the sauce was!”

Mind you, there’s one restau­rant not far from where I’m writ­ing this where, IF the chef stops by your table he’ll chin-wag for ages – a case of where he talks bet­ter than he cooks.

Re­cently, stay­ing at a tourist ho­tel in Scot­land, we en­joyed our din­ner main course of Braised Beef in Red Wine and when the chef did his rounds we told him so. He then de­scribed the six hours it had taken from trim­ming and cut­ting the meat to bring­ing it slow-cooked out of the oven. The next morn­ing, out­side the ho­tel I en­coun­tered a large van with a fa­mous cater­ing firm’s name on the side. The de­liv­ery man told me his firm pro­vided ALL the food served in the ho­tel, in­clud­ing the braised steak.

I don’t mind ready-cooked meals. And you find them all over the place, es­pe­cially when trav­el­ling.

I re­mem­ber one day when I looked at the dish be­fore me. It was baked mac­a­roni, known to Greeks and Cypri­ots as Mac­a­ro­nia Pas­tic­cio. The sauce was fluffy, the pasta prop­erly cooked and the minced meat – lamb – very tasty. Now, this is a dish I of­ten avoid. At its best it’s won­der­ful. But in the hands of fifty per cent of tav­erna cooks it’s a heavy, dry, in­di­ges­tion­cre­at­ing dis­as­ter.

Where was I? I was 10,000 me­tres up in the air, sky or what­ever. Up there, on a Cyprus Air­ways Air­bus A320 bound for Stansted. By the side of my tray was a lit­tle bot­tle of Is­land Vines red (I had at least two). I was con­tent.

I am not a snob about fly­ing or eat­ing air­line food. About 95% of my air jour­neys have been in econ­omy class (I fig­ure the back of the aero­plane with the peas­ant like me in it, with luck, lands at the same time as the front), and of the other times, up-front with the alcoholics, eat­ing roast New Zealand lamb washed down by Chateau Mar­gaux at mid­night wasn’t worth pay­ing six times the econ­omy class fare.

I have maybe pushed a tray away un­touched three times in sev­eral thou­sand flights (Su­dan Air­ways springs to mind), and the grub at the back has nearly al­ways been OK.

I once flew to Stock­holm from Lon­don in the front row of Econ­omy. I got a cold lunch. The chap in front, back row of Busi­ness Class, got a hot meal. “My word”, I said to Mary, “that smells good”. “Yes”, came a voice from the seat in front, “But it’s not worth a hun­dred and fifty Pounds”.

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