Changing my mind about pigeon English
This week’s winner: a bird-themed restaurant in Bruges wins over a sceptical
Huddling in the rain, my finger jerks over the phone’s wet screen. “It has really good reviews online,” my husband protests.
“Yes, but it has pigeons speaking the menu in little speech bubbles,” I reply grimly, “and a children’s menu. A children’s menu.”
These are not the marks of a good restaurant. A children’s menu is the mark of a pretty bad restaurant, in my book. And as for the illustrations showing plump pigeons reciting dishes in Flemish and (here I shudder) English, to my mind it is clearly aimed firmly at the poor taste and limited linguistic skills of the tourist.
The fact that I speak only about 20 words of Flemish, painfully learnt from a free app in the preceding weeks, is not the point. I have come to Bruges to eat authentic Flemish food, and eat it I will, even if I have no idea what I am ordering.
But it is my husband’s birthday, and this is the restaurant he has chosen. So, rather than dismiss out of hand the pigeons, English, and children’s menu, I agree to look again at the website.
As we stand there, bowed hoods dripping on to our soggy toddler, an elegant and charismatic woman sweeps down the steps and sizes us up, immediately guessing the subject of our discussion. “I have a table for you. What nationality? French? English? Go in, go in and see. Our food is very good, delicious. I have a table for you. My staff will look after you.”
She reminds me emphatically of a hotelowning friend of my in-laws; graceful and charming, but with a determined unstoppability that has you bowled over and toeing the line without question. As my feet begin their inevitable walk towards the front door, my mouth pathetically quavers, “Is it all
‘Yes, but it has a children’s menu,’ I grimly reply. ‘A children’s menu’
homemade?” in a last desperate bid for independent thought.
“Yes! Yes!” She exclaims, “Everything homemade. I must go out, but my staff will look after you. Go, go in.” Powerless to resist, we traipse up the steps.
Fortunately, the waiters do look after us, and the food is indeed delicious. We order from the pigeon-illustrated English menu (oh shame) but steer clear of the children’s section. We admire the pigeon placemats with our son, who is much taken with a picture of a pigeon gazing at an aeroplane.
After a meal of meltingly tender pigeon – what else? – the waiter offers to show us the charcoal oven in which the food is cooked. He addresses our son, “And what did you like best?”
“The biscuits,” comes the prompt reply, referring to the savoury crackers brought with our pre-dinner drinks. The waiter laughs.
You can be as big a food snob as you like, but a two-year-old will always bring you right back down to earth. At least he didn’t eat anything he’d dropped on the floor this time.