Any herb with that, madam?
Julie Burchill eats out at the UK’s first cannabisinfused restaurant, and doesn’t leave on a high
As a teeny-bopper dosing myself up on Junior Disprin, I dreamt of being several sorts of drug fiend. But it was a short-lived ambition, as I could never get over how rarely junkies appeared to wash – elegantly wasted is one thing, but is it ever possible to be elegantly smelly? The idea of being a speed-crazed hipster seemed far more appealing – all those black clothes and never getting fat.
It would take me 40 years and a small fortune to discover that what drugs do is give you big fun, then make your teeth fall out. Drugs are an optical illusion, which appear to be making your life bigger while shrinking it – so, considering the depth of my dabbling, I feel extremely lucky to be approaching my 60th birthday with body, soul and finances intact.
However, one intoxicant that never appealed to me was cannabis. My NME punk partner-in-crime, Tony Parsons, and I viewed what we saw as the overgrown-student smugness and slowness of our colleagues as a by-product of dope-smoking. But since then, I’ve become partial to the occasional chocolate space-cake at the Amnesia “coffee-shop” in Amsterdam, one of my favourite cities; my favourite country, Israel, has the highest rate of recreational cannabis use in the world, and no one could accuse them of being slackers. Israel is also one of only three countries where cannabis research is sponsored by the government; THC, the psychoactive chemical component in marijuana, was first isolated by Israeli scientists in 1964, and since the Nineties marijuana has been prescribed as pain relief for everything from Crohn’s disease to cancer.
So I am keen to go to the opening of the Canna Kitchen in Brighton – said to be the UK’s first cannabisinfused vegetarian and vegan restaurant – which has opened its doors to the public this weekend. My dining companion will be my best friend, who has suffered for many years from constant neuropathic pain.
We walk into what appears to be an Insta-influencers convention, full of beautiful young women screeching and taking photographs of water bottles with sprigs of rosemary in. We’re offered prosecco and an “infusion” and I take both just to show willing. “Gosh, it tastes just like urine!’ I exclaim of the latter, and my friend gives me a stern look. Forget the mission statement – “Our mission is to change the way people think about the cannabis plant by creating beautiful vegetarian dishes which are tastefully complimented [sic] with its infusion”. Having saved myself for this all day, I’m keener on just eating. “Cannabis is a highly nutritious, versatile and powerful herb; it is packed full of flavour, fragrance and natural therapeutic benefit. Our food is contemporary and fresh, using locally sourced and organic produce wherever possible.”
I could eat a scabby horse pumped to the brim with ketamine I’m so hungry, but instead we’re offered za’atar roast cauliflower. Hemp heart tabbouleh. Smoked aubergine. Sesame cavolo nero. CBD tahini cream. I find it pleasant – it’s like Israeli food for pacifists – but my vegetarian friend hates vegetables and sits there with a saint-at-the-stake look on her face, waiting for the ACDC cashew cheesecake and CBD cacao truffles. I proffer the CBD-massaged kale and cultured red cabbage, but she waves it away with a pained look; a scream goes up from a gaggle of gorgeous girls, who are i-swooning over a clutch of vegan canapés as though it were a nubile Jim Morrison exposing himself. Unfortunately we have to leave before the dessert trolley trundles by, as my friend has discovered that not only are there no disabled lavatories, but the only comfort station available at all is down a flight of stairs so steep that it is a far more druggy experience going down them than anything you’ll experience elsewhere on the premises. It struck me as what Alanis Morissette might call “ironic” that this was a place, seeking to appeal partly to the demographic of Vegetarians In Pain, where my disabled vegetarian friend could neither stomach the food nor use the lavatory. But I can easily see it being a smash with the bright young things de nos jours whose idea of a good time is tweeting, clean-eating, self-care and swerving sex for as long as humanly possible. Each to his own!
Unimpressed: Julie Burchill at the Canna Kitchen in Brighton. Young things, below