How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and my latest dining companion? That was the question I had to ask myself as I stood on the corner of London’s Cardinal Place in Victoria, awaiting Alexander Hamilton, American revolutionary, treasury secretary, and cultural icon due to the huge success of the musical Hamilton, a spectacular, ground-breaking piece of musical theatre famous for breaking convention not just through its use of rap and hip-hop, but for its incredibly diverse cast in an industry typically dominated by white actors. I’m keen to hear the thoughts of the man himself, and tonight we’d be enjoying the tastes of the Mediterranean as we ventured to popular tapas restaurant Iberica. “Here comes the general!” I say, as Hamilton approaches.
“Good to see you.” He says, with a shake of the hand.
“The one that I’ve been waiting for!”
“I am not throwing away my shot!”
“You want to get drinks?” He says, confused.
“Oh, I… yes, I guess so.” I say, taken aback by his lack of response. Perhaps he’s just hungry for chorizo lollipops.
Iberica is one of the recent additions to a complete overhaul of the Victoria station area. Where previously the area was fairly devoid of much in the way of food, drink and shopping save for a Pret A Manger and a McDonalds, the whole area has been built up to now be a bit of a restaurant destination. As well as Iberica, you now have places like Bone Daddies, Crosstown Doughnuts, Shake Shack, the M Steakhouse, and Hai Cenato all having popped up in the last two years. Iberica was one of the first of these arrivals, a new outpost of an existing chain of tapas restaurants spread across London, Manchester and Leeds. It’s a restaurant that’s as fancy as you want to make it. It feels fancier than other tapas chains like La Tasca, but not so fancy that you feel you have to wear your smart shoes or your emerald-studded cloak.
“Ooh, what to have… what to have…” I say, scanning the menu. “Anything you’re in the mood for?”
“The chorizo lollipops sound nice.” Says Hamilton. I knew it! He’s right though, the chorizo lollipops sound delicious, so we order a few of those, alongside some pan con tomate, ham croquettes, the Spanish omelette, the crispy chicken, albóndigas (beef meatballs), Gambas (prawns in garlic sauce) as well as some jamón by none other than Juan Pedro Domecq, a man who neither of us have heard of, but who has apparently been awarded 3 gold stars for his Iberico ham four times, which is four more ham awards than either myself or Hamilton have ever won (although Hamilton’s achievements are so vast that they could have cut a song about him making fancy ham from the show for all I know).
“So, I guess you could say that you’re going to be my Right-Hand Man tonight, eh? Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outpl-“
“Why are you being weird?” Says Hamilton, as our food begins to arrive. I tuck into a beef meatball, laded with Vizcaina sauce, a sweet pepper sauce that has its origins in the Basque region of Spain. It’s very beefy, as you might expect for something made of beef, and the sweet pepper sauce does add a nice extra flavour to the dish (namely, one of sweet pepper).
“Because of the show! Come on, you know the words! Alexander Hamilton, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you w-”
“Oh wow, you really have no idea, do you?”
“No idea about what?”
“We’re going to need to get this to take away.” I say to the waiter.
“Oh my god…” Says Hamilton. We’re standing on the street outside the Victoria Palace Theatre, where Hamilton is playing. “We have to see it.”
“It’s really hard to get tickets.”
“We have to find a way. Wouldn’t you want to see a musical about your own life?”
I consider it for a moment. Truth be told I’m not sure I would. I’m not sure how much entertainment there’d be in a musical about a man whose life was 75% sighing, 25% eating takeaway.
“Ok, fine, let’s see if they have any returns. We can’t take this in though.” I say, gesturing to the bag of croquettes, prawns, crispy chicken and ham.
“It’s fine, give it here.” Says Hamilton, as he takes the bag and begins to stuff the food into his pockets.
“Oh, err… ok.” I say, as Hamilton marches to the front of the queue.
“Hello, we’re here to see my show.” Says Hamilton.
“What’s the name?”
“Alexander Hamilton.” Says Hamilton. The cashier looks him up and down with disdain.
“I don’t have you down here Mr Hamilton…”
“But it’s my show.”
“Ok, fine, I can see we’re going to have to resort to unconventional means here…” Says Hamilton. “Perhaps you could… look again?” He says, as he removes a croquette from his pocket and casually slides it across to the cashier.
“Is that a croquette?” Says the baffled cashier.
“Make that… two croquettes.” Says Hamilton, as he slides another croquette across.
“You know these tickets go for hundreds of pounds.”
“How many croquettes is that?”
The cashier sighs the sigh of somebody who has sighed many sighs. “Look, we have two returns in Row F if you want them, but it’ll be four hundred pounds.”
Hamilton looks at me. I look at Hamilton. “Ok, fine.” I say, as I hand over my credit card. “We’ll need those croquettes back too.” I say, as I take back the croquettes and we walk into the theatre.
I take a bite of the croquette as we take our seats. It’s covered in hair with a faintly musty flavour, a very disappointing flavour combination, though in fairness I don’t believe that the restaurant had ever intended for it to be served directly out of the pockets of an 18th century ghost (if they had then it was very avant-garde). The lights dim, and the music starts.
“Who’s that?” Whispers Hamilton to me.
“That’s Aaron Burr.” I say.
“Aaron Burr? And who’s that?”
“George Washington.” I whisper, quietly.
“Seriously?!” Says Hamilton, loudly. People seated around us give us filthy looks and try to shh Hamilton. I mouth an apology as Hamilton just glares back at them.
“Just… keep it down a little bit, ok?” I whisper to Hamilton.
“But none of my friends are black!” Says Hamilton loudly as the song comes to a close and the theatre fills with silence. I feel the eyes of the entire crowd (and even the cast) on our seats.
“It’s not how it sounds.” I try to protest, however my voice is drowned out by the next song starting. I slide down in my seat in shame. Hamilton shrugs and pulls a piece of ham out of his pocket. He hands me one and I eat it immediately. Alas, even the fine tastes of Juan Pedro Domecq’s rich and flavoursome gold-starred ham can’t distract from my embarrassment. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring him here. He loudly chomps his way through some ham as we go through two more songs. Finally we get to the song ‘The Story Of Tonight’ a song where Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens and Hercules Mulligan pledge their loyalty to the revolution and sing about how future generations will tell tales about this moment. It’s a great song. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks so.
“No! No, no, no!” Shouts Hamilton, getting to his feet angrily. “Stop! Stop the music!” He shouts. Everything grinds to a halt and the theatre falls silent, except for the boos and aggression directed towards our seats.
“What the hell are you doing? Sit down!” I say to Hamilton, furiously.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Alexander Hamilton, and these people are all frauds!” Says Hamilton, gesturing towards the cast. He begins to shuffle out of our row and walk towards the stage. The boos begin to intensify. Before I know it, he’s stood on stage along with the cast, who all stand in bemusement. “This performance does not accurately reflect my life at all. Please, if you’ll allow me to interject.” Hamilton says, as he stands centre stage. “Andy, will you please join me on stage.” He says, gesturing to me. I look around as if to pretend it is not me he is talking to. “Andy, please come on up here.” Where the hell are the theatre security staff? How have they not stopped this by now? “Andy, I can see you, please get on up here.”
Everybody’s eyes are on me now as I shamefully slink out of the row and apologetically trudge up onto the stage. “Everybody, this is Andy. He writes a food blog, which reminds me…” Hamilton withdraws a couple of prawns from his pocket. “One for you, one for me.” Says Hamilton, handing me a prawn. “Mmm… it has a nice taste of garlic, wouldn’t you agree?” I take a bite of my prawn and nod a subdued nod. It does have a nice taste of garlic, though at this point as we stand onstage in front of hundreds of people having hijacked an award-winning West End show to review prawns, my mind is understandably elsewhere.
“Right, now let me show you how this really happened.”
“Hamilton, no, please.” I protest. “Please don’t do this.”
“It’s singing, how hard can it be? I’ll be me, and Andy, you be Aaron Burr, ok?”
“What? No, wait a mi-”
“Music, please.” Says Hamilton, gesturing to the orchestra. To what will surely be their eternal regret, they for some reason decide to oblige him. “Hello, hello, hello… like, hello…” Sings Hamilton, tunelessly playing for time. “It is me, Hamilton. I have written some documents, would you like to read them?” He gestures to me.
“Yes, I would like to read them.” I try to sing. Me and Hamilton then just stand opposite each other bopping about for what feels like hours. Just two prawn-obsessed maniacs out of their depth in musical theatre, both unsure what to do next. He may have written 51 essays defending the U.S. constitution, but the man can’t freestyle to save his life.
“Ok, cool. They are about government things.” Sings Hamilton. “Government things. Government things…” He then begins to try and dance, flinging crispy chicken and prawns everywhere. It is at this point that the theatre security finally arrives, grab us both and lead us offstage to cheers from the crowd. They toss us out onto the kerb. “Take your wonderfully rich and meaty, nay almost buttery Juan Pedro Domenq gold-starred ham and stay out!” Shouts one of the security guards, as we’re followed shortly afterwards by our crispy chicken, prawns, and Juan Pedro Domenq ham.
“Yeah, well you take your expository dialogue and… and… yeah!” Shouts Hamilton, but it is too late, the door has already slammed behind us. The evening may have ended in disgrace, but overall I have to say…
9/10 – Lovely croquettes.