Iberica with Alexander Hamilton

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!”

 

“Ok.”

 

“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.

 

Iberica Pan Con Tomate
Pan Con Tomate

 

“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-”

 

“What show?”

 

“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.

 

Chorizo Lollipops
Chorizo Lollipops

 

“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.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“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.

 

The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)
The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)

 

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.”

 

Juan Pedro Domenq's Award-Winning Ham
Juan Pedro Domenq’s Award-Winning Ham

 

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.

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Sexy Fish with Karl Marx

karl-marx-at-sexy-fish-e1542023173737.png

Every food writer needs a bad review. People love seeing somebody’s dream torn apart in a whimsical way, their entire life’s purpose reduced to rubble by a cutting quip from somebody who writes about human fuel for a living, their self-worth completely vanquished because they had the audacity to grill their turbot for thirty seconds too long. People absolutely love that. It racks up the page views much quicker than somebody praising a great restaurant. If I want to be a true food writer, I have to find somewhere to hate, and today I think I have just the place.

 

Sexy Fish is a place of incredible opulence, an Instagram-friendly indulgence of gilded surfaces, glass dragons and eye-popping prices. It’s a place to be seen, a celebrity-haven that once hosted the Conservatives’ Christmas Party, which gives you some kind of idea of the typical clientele. I’ve always imagined it as somewhere that people looking to flash their cash come to spend extortionate sums on average food. Today however, it would be host to a different kind of a clientele, as I ventured there with everybody’s favourite writer on the means of production, Karl Marx. Marx famously wrote The Communist Manifesto back in 1848, a critique of the wealthy and their exploitation of the working-class for their own ends, making him the ideal candidate for my spectacular demolition of this bastion of the bourgeois.

 

I meet Marx outside the restaurant, at my suggestion. I can’t wait to see the explosion of fury as he walks in and sees potentially the grandest display of capitalism he’ll ever see. We walk through the door and…

 

“Wow, look at this place!” Says Marx. “This is amazing!”

 

We’re shown to our table and handed our menus. “Oh my god! They’ve got black cod! I love black cod!” Continues Marx.

 

“What is happening?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“This! The decadence, the prices! Don’t you think it’s a bit… bourgeois?”

 

“Oh… I guess so, yeah.”

 

“You guess so? Does it not make you angry?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you’re Karl bloody Marx! Is this not everything you’re against?!”

 

“Oh, well we can’t all be angry all the time, can we? Sometimes you just have to let your hair down and have a good time! Hey, why don’t we get some wagyu?”

 

“We’re not getting wagyu!” I say, as I see it priced at £89 for 150 grams. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, we’re here to write a bad review.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because writing about something you hate is much more popular than writing about something you like. You think The Communist Manifesto would have been as popular if you’d written about how much you enjoy exploiting the poor?” Marx shrugs his shoulders. “Please just try and have a terrible time for me, ok?”

 

“Ok, I’ll try.” Says Marx.

 

Sexy Fish Chicken Wings
Chicken wings.

 

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Says a waiter, interrupting.

 

“Yes, of course, I’ll have the…” I say, as I scan the menu, looking for something of more style than substance that I can criticise. Alas, it’s one of the nicest and most interesting cocktail menus I’ve seen, including one particularly delicious sounding drink that catches my eye. The Rocky Road Old Fashioned is a twist on a regular Old Fashioned, but using buttered whisky, with a toffee twist and a digestive biscuit crumb. It sounds like my dream cocktail, but then really you could sell me anything by adding the word ‘buttered’. I’d probably have been sold on invading Iraq too if you’d told me they had buttered WMDs. I’m basically only ever one well-placed adjective away from an aircraft carrier and a ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.

 

I order the Rocky Road Old Fashioned, the criticism can wait. Marx settles on a Japanese whisky. Sexy Fish professes to have the second largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Who the number one is I have no idea, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say Japan.

 

It’s easy to come to Sexy Fish and rack up the bill like you’re playing a pinball machine, but I’ve planned this well in advance and know exactly what to order to keep it within budget. We go for the chicken wings, beef skewers, the black cod, lamb chops, the Iberico pork ribs, and the duck breast. Factoring in our two cocktails and tip, that keeps us within £200. It’s a pricey meal, but it’s hard to get out of here spending less.

 

As mentioned, Sexy Fish is something of a celebrity haven, you come here expecting to see somebody famous. Even coming in with this knowledge, we’re surprised to see who enters the front door next.

 

“Oh my god, is that-” I say, aghast.

 

“Che Guevara.” Says Che Guevara. “I’m here for the event.”

 

“Of course. Right this way, sir.” Says the Maitre d’. He leads him through the restaurant, missing myself and Marx as he does, and they exit into a back room.

 

“That was strange.” Says Marx. “What’s he doing here?”

 

“I have no idea… It’s fine though, forget about him.”

 

sexy-fish-rocky-road-old-fashioned.jpg
The Rocky Road Old Fashioned.

 

Our first dishes arrive, the chicken wings and the beef skewers. ‘Here we go!’ I think to myself, as the starter’s pistol is fired on the review that’s going to propel me to fame and fortune. Before I know it I’ll be sitting down with Graham Norton, telling a hilarious anecdote about the beef being closer to well-done than medium rare, as Will Smith pats me on the shoulder and tells me I’m the freshest of all princes.

 

I take a bite of the beef skewer and my blood runs cold. To my surprise, the beef is juicy and works very well with the asparagus and smoked chilli sauce it comes with. I fumble for a chicken wing, hoping for something to salvage the criticism, but alas they too are crisp and flavoursome. It’s almost like they don’t want me to write them a poor review.

 

“What do you think?” I ask Marx, as the black cod, the pork ribs and the duck breast arrive at our table too.

 

“I don’t know, maybe he’s here for a job interview or something.”

 

“I mean the food! I told you to forget about him!”

 

“He’s a communist! Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical?” Says Marx, as he tucks into the black cod.

 

“Look at you!” I said, as Marx wipes the black cod from his face and takes another sip of his Japanese whisky.

 

“Oh, well this is different isn’t it?”

 

“How?”

 

“You know… I’m… German.” Says Marx, clutching wildly at straws. I take a bite of the black cod. My heart sinks as I realise it’s unironically tasty. Rich and creamy unlike regular cod, it’s surely only a matter of time until some London restaurant makes a ‘fish finger’ sandwich using black cod, at which point London will have finally completed its journey to becoming the Capitol from The Hunger Games.

 

Sexy Fish Black Cod
Black Cod.

 

“This is actually quite good, isn’t it?” I say with a sigh, as I see my Will Smith friendship dream dying in front of me.

 

“It’s awful.” Says Marx.

 

“Really?” I say, excitedly.

 

“Yes. If he were coming here he should have let me know.”

 

“Oh for goodness sake, this again?”

 

“I’m going to go and say something.” Says Marx, folding his napkin as he gets to his feet.

 

“And what will he say if he sees you here?”

 

“Oh, I guess you’re right.” Says Marx, sitting back down again. “Ok, I need you to go and say something.”

 

“Why the hell would I go and say something?”

 

“Because I’ve taken your family hostage, Andy.”

 

“You’ve what?” I say, stunned.

 

“All it takes is one call, Andy…” Says Marx, as he slowly withdraws a calculator from his pocket and hovers his finger over the ‘CE’ button.

 

“You know that’s a calculator, right?”

 

“The guy told me this was an iPhone!”

 

“What guy?”

 

“He said he was the CEO of Telephones.”

 

“Where did you see him?”

 

“He was by the bins.”

 

“Did you see his ID?”

 

“He said he’d left it in his office.”

 

“Where was his office?”

 

“Los Angeles.”

 

“So he’d popped over from L.A. for the day to just hang around by some bins and sell phones?”

 

“I can see why you’re sceptical, I was too at first-“

 

“You should be bloody sceptical! You’ve been trying to text people on a calculator!”

 

Sexy Fish Iberico Pork Ribs
Iberico Pork Ribs.

 

“Ok, I don’t have your family, but can you please just find him and have a word? Just ask him what he’s doing here?”

 

“Fine.” I sigh. I take one final bite of the pork ribs (sadly tremendous), and head for the Coral Reef room, Sexy Fish’s private dining room, so named due to the huge coral reef fish tank along the back wall. Perhaps here, in the scene of maximum opulence I will find something to criticise. I swing the door open and-

 

“Oh my god!” I say, stunned. I see Che Guevara seated at a table, flanked by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They’re all laughing together, pouring champagne and feasting like kings. The whole scene is like something out of The Great Gatsby, were Gatsby to host exclusive parties for autocrats responsible for the deaths of millions of their own people, a film I’m not sure even Leonardo di Caprio could have saved.

 

“I just think the cod could benefit from more miso glaze.” Says Stalin, in a thick Russian accent.

 

“What is this?!” I say, and then I see… her. Valerie Rhombus, author of significantly more popular blog, Meals With Departed Historical Figures. Valerie is an Instagram ‘influencer’, the kind that has pictures of herself staring wistfully into the sea or brushing her hair out of her face alongside some faux-intellectual caption like ‘sometimes to get where you’re going you need to go back to where you started’, a quote which only really works if you’re on a roundabout. She completely stole my idea for my blog and passed it off as her own by changing small details, such as the name, the font, and making her blog interesting rather than a self-indulgent shambles. I despise her.

 

“Andy! Good to see you!” Says Valerie, with a smug smile.

 

“I should have known it was you! What are you doing here?!”

 

“I thought it would be fascinating to have the clash between the world’s foremost socialist thinkers and the extravagance of Sexy Fish. It works particularly well in the Coral Reef Room, don’t you think?”

 

“That was MY idea! You knew I was doing my review here!”

 

“Your review? Which D-lister have you got this time? Joseph Aspdin?”

 

Everybody laughs loudly at me.

 

“Oh shut up, Stalin! I bet you don’t even know who Joseph Aspdin is!”

 

“He invented Portland cement.” Says Stalin. I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth or not. None of us really know who Joseph Aspdin is.

 

Sexy Fish Beef Skewers
The Beef & Asparagus Skewers.

 

“So come on, who did you invite?” Says Valerie.

 

“What the hell is going on here?!” Says Marx, walking through door. All the Communists look stunned and get to their feet immediately.

 

“Urgh! This place makes me sick!” Says Lenin, as he dramatically throws his napkin on the floor and stamps on it.

 

“Yes! I am glad we have come here to… to… experience it first-hand so now we can better understand how to seize the means of production!” Says Trotsky, wiping bone marrow from his moustache. “Bloody… capitalism!” He says, shaking his fist at a passing clown fish.

 

“Oh, knock it off!” Says Marx, angrily. “You’re all hypocrites! You claim to stand for the redistribution of wealth, yet here you all are indulging yourselves with champagne and seabass! What would the proletariat say if they could see you all now? You’ve brought shame upon the Communist movement!”

 

The Communists stand hanging their heads in shame. There is a moment’s silence before Che Guevara pipes up.

 

“Hold on, what are you doing here?” Says Che.

 

“Me? Well I… you know… I was here as a… you know, as an ironic observer, right Andy?”

 

A waiter enters behind us.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but how did you want your wagyu cooked?” Says the waiter to Marx.

 

“Oh for goodness sake, you’re just as bad as them! You should all hate this place! It’s everything you claimed to stand against but look at you, you’re literally champagne socialists! What do you have to say for yourselves?”

 

“Sorry.” Mumble the Communists as one, as they stare at the floor. “We’re very sorry.”

 

“Ok, good, thankyou. And you, don’t you ever steal my ideas again!” I say to Valerie. “Come on Marx, let’s go finish our review.”

 

I go to leave, but Marx remains still. “Marx, come on!” I say.

 

“But… they have a fish tank.” Says Marx. “Can I stay here?”

 

“Of course you can stay here.” Says Valerie, smiling wickedly in my direction. “Do you like sea bass?”

 

“I love sea bass!” Says Marx.

 

“Well we’ve got plenty, get yourself a seat!” Says Valerie, as Marx excitedly runs around to sit next to Fidel Castro.

 

“You bloody bastard! I need him for my review!”

 

“Sorry Andy, at least somebody’s seized the means of production this evening.” Says Valerie, as she closes the door in my face. I’m left alone with the laughter of 6 dead Communists echoing through the corridor. I make my way back to my table and glumly nurse my Old Fashioned (wonderfully buttery), when I’m interrupted by the waiter.

 

“Excuse me, sir. There’s somebody here to see you.”

 

“What? Who?”

 

The waiter moves to reveal a man I’ve never seen before stood looming over the table.

 

“Hello, are you Andy?” Says the man.

 

“Yes… who are you?”

 

“I’m Joseph Aspdin, inventor of Portland cement.”

 

I sigh heavily. My evening of misery is, for want of a better word, cemented. “You know what, fine. Sit yourself down and tell me everything you know about cement.” I say, as I down my Old Fashioned. I came here to criticise the place in the hope it might make us all feel better about ourselves, but overall I have to say…

 

9/10 – Tremendous black cod.

Meat Liquor with Mother Teresa

Meat Liquor

“Hello, I’ve got a reservation for two under the name Patrick Kluivert.” I said to the waiter. I’d recently taken to using an alias when making bookings. If I wanted to be a successful food critic and get a fair trial of an establishment, I needed to refrain from using my real name to avoid tipping them off in advance and receiving special treatment. Unfortunately I had only realised this as I was calling to make a reservation, and in my panic had reached for the first name I could think of, which sadly happened to be that of late 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballing superstar, Patrick Kluivert.

“Yes, here we are. Right this way, Mr Kluivert.” Said the hostess. Thankfully the name hadn’t rung any alarm bells and I should be able to dine in anonymity. She seated me at my table to await my guest, who was evidently running late. Today I would be dining with the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway. The author of classic books such as The Old Man And The Sea, as well its significantly less classic follow-up titles, 2 Old Man 2 The Sea, and The Old Man And The Sea: Tokyo Drift, he lived a notoriously hedonistic lifestyle of excess, and so where better to take him than to rock and roll burger chain Meat Liquor.

Meat Liquor is a very in your face, unapologetic swathe of fat-laced high-end diner food. Hulking great burgers packed with juicy beef patties paired with sides richer than Macauley Culkin in the 1990s, and an alcohol menu that ranges from classic cocktails to hard milkshakes and pickleback shots. It’s a place of indulgence, the kind of place you come to forget you’re trying to diet because your body fat has been steadily creeping up all the time, despite you thinking you’re doing more exercise than ever and eating salads from Tossed for lunch twice a week, somehow the number just continues to creep up and you stop using the machine at the local Nuffield Health because what does it know anyway? It doesn’t know you, and everybody is different, right? It’s probably broken and just can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle. It’s the place you forget that and have a milkshake or five.

Meat Liquor Monkey Fingers
The ‘Monkey Fingers’.

I sit at the table for a good half hour or so, continually checking my phone. Where the hell is Hemingway? He’s probably running late from another hedonistic meeting, and as we only have the table for a couple of hours, I decide to order for him in advance. I order a large portion of monkey fingers (chicken breast coated in batter and slathered in buffalo sauce) to share. To accompany this, I opt for the Dead Hippie Burger, which consists of two beef patties fried in mustard, the usual lettuce, cheese, onions etc, as well as their famous ‘dead hippie sauce’. Quite what this dead hippie sauce is remains a mystery, though the name makes you worry that years from now you’ll be on a Panorama documentary where they reveal that you were a willing accomplice in the Sweeney Todd situation you worried it was. For Hemingway, I choose the Tower Block Burger, a combination of fried chicken, cheese, jalapenos and a hash brown. I also order some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, a deep-fried mac ’n’ cheese to share, a black forest milkshake for me, as well as a chocolate milkshake and a classic martini for Hemingway. Somewhere in the distance, I hear the scream of the Nuffield Health body measurement machine. I continue anyway, to spite it for giving me what is actually probably a very accurate measurement of my BMI and body fat level, and add some hash browns to my order. This should be enough to keep us satisfied.

No sooner had I finished my order than the door swings open, and who is stood there other than…

Mother Teresa?

Meat Liquor Mother Teresa.jpg

“Hello, I’m here with Patrick Kluivert.” Says Mother Teresa. She is ushered to my table. “You must be Patrick Kluivert.” She says, with a smile. Clearly she has little to no knowledge of that era of European football, which should come as no surprise I suppose. She doesn’t look the type to have owned a pair of Adidas Predators.

“Yes, sure.” I say, standing to greet her. “Where’s Hemingway?”

“Oh, he couldn’t make it in the end, so he sent me instead.” She says, as she takes a seat. “What are we having today?”

I look at the menu. How do you explain Meat Liquor, a restaurant with Satanic overtones and where the name is a euphemism, to an elderly Saint? “It’s called Burger Town.” I say. It’s easier this way. “Have you ever been to an American diner before?” She looks at me blankly. “They serve burgers, hot dogs, fries, that kind of thing.” The blank stare intensifies. “Well anyway, you’re going to love it.”

Meat Liquor Dead Hippie Burger.jpg
My Dead Hippie burger.

Teresa nods, and pours herself a glass of tap water. We sit facing each other for a while.

“So…” I say, lost for conversation. I am acutely aware that despite knowing of Mother Teresa, I have absolutely no idea what she did, as I hadn’t been expecting to meet her today. It must be something good, as she’s always held up as some kind of bastion of decency, but what that was I couldn’t say. Did she look after animals? No, wait, didn’t she heal the lepers? No, of course, she was the one who travelled back through time to find love! No, I realise, this was respectively St Francis of Assisi, Jesus of Nazareth, and Domhnall Gleeson in About Time. Alas, I have no idea whatsoever what she did, so I go with the same tried and tested gem of conversation as ever. “Have you seen Stranger Things?”

“I once saw an owl with the face of God.” She says.

“Ok, err… I mean I guess that’s technically a stranger thing. Tell me more.”

Mother Teresa begins to tell me the tale of the time she saw an owl with the face of God. I’m sure it’s a very interesting story, but I’m distracted by what’s going on elsewhere, as people are excitedly chattering and looking around the restaurant. I attempt to eavesdrop on one of the tables.

“No, really! I heard one of the waitresses say it!” Says one.

“I can’t see him anywhere.” Says the other, scanning the restaurant.

“Well they definitely said it. He’s here! Patrick Kluivert is here!” They say, excitedly.

Oh god. They had clocked the name after all, and now somehow they’d let it spill to the rest of the restaurant. I kept my head down. I knew I should have given a different name, like less well-known 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Boudewijn Zenden, or almost completely forgotten 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Wim Jonk. Alternatively, I could have gone with a name not based on the Dutch World Cup squad of France 1998, but for some reason that didn’t seem like an option right now.

“…and then it hooted ‘if you need me, I live in that barn over there. I may be omniscient, but if you could point me in the direction of some mice I’d really appreciate it’.” Continued Mother Teresa.

“What? Oh, sorry, yes, the God owl.” I said, as I snapped back to the table.

The conversation faded out, and we stared at each other in silence again. Several minutes passed. “Any holidays coming up?” I asked.

“No, nothing planned.” Said Mother Teresa. The conversation faded out again.

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Black Forest milkshake.

“Ok, look, I’m going to be honest with you.” I sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you today so I really don’t know much about you. Why don’t you tell me about your life?”

“Of course! I’d be glad to!” Said Mother Teresa. “I was born in Albania back in 1910. I always believed I had a higher purpose, to do God’s work, and so I devoted myself to a religious life from a very young age, leaving my family to pursue missionary work at the age of 18. I gave my life in service to the poor, founding the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to care for all of those who felt unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We started with 13 of us, but by the time of my death we’d grown to over 4,000 members caring for people around the world. We opened orphanages, hospices, leper houses, at one point we even brokered a temporary peace between Israel and Palestine! In 1979 I was recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize, but the real achievement for me was always the sense of helping people and doing good.”

“Oh, wow, ok.”

“How about you?” She asked.

“Oh, you know, nothing special…” I said.

“All work has value in that it contributes to society and grants life a purpose.” Said Teresa, with a smile. “Tell me about what you do.”

“I work in advertising sales at Microsoft.” I sighed. Her face plummeted. “Have you heard of Bing?” She shook her head, which was actually a little bit of a surprise, as an 87 year-old who didn’t know how to change their default browser was typically our demographic.

“Ok, so you help charities to advertise their causes to the world?”

“Err… I guess it depends if you count Amazon as a charity.”

“The rainforest, of course!”

“Yes… the rainforest…” I said, as I gestured to the waitress to bring a shot of whisky or five.

Mother Teresa smiled a polite smile at me. Despite what she’d said, I feel like even she was slightly unsure whether my life had a purpose. Here was a woman who had devoted her life to fighting poverty, who abhorred the gluttonous greed of the wealthy who had so much when the poor had so little. It was this that made it infinitely more awkward when our food arrived.

“Ok, I’ve got some monkey fingers, a dead hippie burger, a Tower Block burger, some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, deep fried mac and cheese, hash browns, a black forest milkshake, and a classic martini?” Says the waitress, as she arrives with a feast that Henry VIII himself would be embarrassed by (I know this as we recently over-ordered at Wahaca and Henry was so mortified he left without playing Greensleeves).

“Is this ours?” Said Mother Teresa.

“Yes, it looks like they’ve made some kind of mistake with the ordering.” I said. “They must have misheard when I said ‘being alive is nourishment enough for me’. Since it’s here though, how about you have the Tower Block burger and we share the rest?”

Teresa nodded, and we began to tuck into our feast. The dead hippie burger is always a winner, juicy enough to require that the tables all be equipped with a kitchen roll, but still having enough flavour to ensure it’s not just juicy for the sake of being juicy. The mac and cheese balls too are superbly cheesy and somehow just work in the form of fried balls. The monkey fingers are good, but as a replacement for buffalo wings they do lack some of the crunch and flavour. I look over at Teresa as I take a sip of my milkshake. Her face is covered in strands of hash brown from her Tower Block burger. “Good?” I say. She nods, emphatically.

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Green chilli cheese fries.

“Goodness, I would never have thought that a ring of onion could work so well in combination with a fried chicken burger, but somehow it does.” She says. “And this chocolate milkshake is such a blessing, so rich and chocolatey.”

“Excellent, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” I said. We continued to crunch our way through our feast until there was nothing left.

“That was great, thankyou.” I said, as the waitress took our plates.

“Can we see the dessert menu?” Said Teresa, at this point making a bold claim to be the patron saint of food disposal.

“We’ll bring it shortly.” Said the waitress with a smile. “Is it your birthday today?”

“Me? No. Not today unfortunately.” Said Teresa.

“No, you.” She says, turning to me. “There’s a group of people over there who said it’s your birthday today.” She says, pointing. I turn to see a group of twenty Dutch football fans, all dressed in the familiar orange shirt. Oh god. “We’ve got to go.” I say to Mother Teresa, panicking as I stand up.

“Go now? But why?”

“Happy Birthday to you!” Sing the staff as they emerge from the kitchen, clutching a cake. “Happy birthday to you!” The whole restaurant begins to join in, their gaze following the staff as they begin to make their way towards the hidden celebrity. “Happy birthday, Patrick Kluivert!” They stop at our table. “Happy birthday to you!” The rest of the restaurant stops singing as everybody stares at a man who is quite clearly not Patrick Kluivert. A deathly hush descends over the restaurant, as I awkwardly blow out the candles on their signature Filth Pie, a concoction of Oreo, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate served with ice cream that I would be very excited about trying were the eyes of the restaurant not judging me for having pretended to be Euro 2000’s joint top-scorer.

“That’s not Patrick Kluivert!” Shouts a Dutch football fan.

“He’s a liar!”

“Boo!”

The entire restaurant begins to boo me, which to be honest I think is unfair, as they haven’t even read my review at this point. Without warning, Teresa stands up on a chair.

“Silence!” She shouts, the restaurant immediately quietening down. “How dare you boo this man! This man who works so hard to support the Amazon rainforest!” Again, I do not correct her. “And after all, who amongst us has not once pretended to be somebody they are not? Who amongst us has not once wished we could be somebody more famous, more confident, more impressive? So let us all forgive him, for ultimately are we not all frauds in the eyes of God?”

The restaurant nods solemnly, ashamed of themselves, and everybody sits back down to their own meals.

“That was amazing, thankyou.” I say to Mother Teresa. “You really are a saint, aren’t you? I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“I knew you weren’t Patrick Kluivert the whole time.”

“Really?”

She stands up and shows me her feet, revealing a pair of Adidas Predators. “Never judge a book by its cover.” She says, with a smile. She pulls a football from a bag and attempts to do some keepie-ups, performing them with all the skill and dexterity you’d expect of an 87 year-old Roman Catholic Saint, immediately losing her balance and crashing through a table. It seems like a fitting place to leave the review. Overall…

9/10 – Great burgers and sides.

Benito’s Hat with Isambard Kingdom Brunel

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Whose hat? Benito’s Hat.

Burritos were for a time perhaps my favourite food. I always enjoyed the simplicity of wrapping various things I enjoyed individually together in a tiny flour blanket to make something greater than the sum of its parts. A good burrito is a special thing, something not too heavy and stodgy that it sends you to sleep, but something fresh and zingy that makes you think you could probably have another one if you didn’t have a life to get on with. Hoping to find such a burrito, today’s food adventure was to Benito’s Hat.

Benito’s Hat is a burrito chain that started in London’s West End back in 2008, and has since expanded to 7 shops across London and Oxford. It holds a special place in my heart for being one of the first places I ever went for lunch in my first proper job. Back then I was new to restaurants (I lived in a small village in the countryside and Wagamama was probably the fanciest place I had ever been), so in a way this was the beginning of my food adventures. Having expanded my horizons since then, I wanted to go back to Benito’s to see whether it would still capture the magic in the same way it did all those years ago, and who better to try it with than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, fabled engineer and runner-up of the 2002 ‘100 Greatest Britons’ poll.

I had told Isambard to meet me at the restaurant at 6 PM for dinner, and Isambard, being the precise technical architect that he is, arrived precisely at 6. I, on the other hand, found myself running late due to a broken-down tube on the Bakerloo line. When I finally made it to the restaurant at 6:30, I found Isambard had already started working his way through the margarita menu, and was now four deep. “ALAN!” He shouted at me as I walked in.

“It’s Andy, actually.” I said, as I shook his hand. I forgave him the slip, as in his defence it was the first time we had ever met as he had been dead for the last two hundred years, though at the same time I was a little bit taken aback that he hadn’t at least scanned my LinkedIn profile in advance.

“Sorry, Aldy.” He said.

“Andy.”

“Ando.”

“Andy.”

“Hahahaha! Yes!” He said, as he slapped my back. “As in Andi Peters.”

“How do you know Andi Peters?” I asked, confused.

“And Edd the Duck! I love that duck!” He added. I was no clearer about what was happening than before. “Let me get you a drink. It’s two for one!”

“Let’s maybe have some food first shall we? Give this place a fair review before we start drinking.”

“Hahahaha! Andi Peters!” He said. “Ok.”

Benito’s Hat is a very casual dining spot, as burrito joints often are. You design your burrito at the counter, choosing from the usual options of black or pinto beans, salsa heat and designated meat. Benito’s Hat offers a decent selection, with chicken, beef, pork and a vegetarian option of sautéed vegetables too too. I on this occasion had chosen to go for the grilled chicken, my typical go-to for a burrito due to the succulent nature of the filling and its frivolous interplay with the other components within. Isambard meanwhile plumped for a steak burrito. “Steak.” I heard him say. “Pinto beans… Yes… Mild… No. A passion fruit margarita, please.” Before we knew it, we had a chicken and a steak burrito, and Isambard had another two passion fruit margaritas.

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One of Isambard’s many margaritas.

“I thought we were waiting until we started drinking?” I said. Isambard smiled and cheersed himself. “Ok, so mainly what we’re looking for here is the quality of the ingredients. Is the meat cooked well, how do all the ingredients work toget-” I had not finished my sentence before Isambard chomped into his burrito and began to drunkenly chew with his mouth open. “Ok, so the steak, is it tender? Is it quality meat? Would you say it’s more rib eye flavoursome or fillet tender?”

“I got steak.” Said Isambard.

“Yes, I know you got steak, but how is it?”

“Have you ever had pheasant?”

“Yes.”

“It’s good, isn’t it?”

I could see that this review was all going to be on me. I took a large bite of my burrito, careful to make sure I got a bite significant enough to enjoy the combination of all the flavours at once. The smokiness of the chicken was met by the zinginess of the salsa, which in turn played wonderfully with the creaminess of the cheese and the guacamole, rich in both taste and additional cost to the burrito. It conjured up memories of a lunchtime back in 2011, a delicious Mexican interlude in an otherwise sad day in media planning and buying. A summer’s treat to brighten the se-

“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice.

“What’s the matter?”

“My burrito split!” Said Isambard. I looked down to see that his trousers were covered in a mix of pinto beans and steak. “These are my best engineering trousers!” He said, as he drunkenly licked the palm of his hand and attempted to rub the stains off. “F**king hell! You!” He said, as he got up and marched back to the counter. “Your construction has fallen apart!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Sometimes that happens with burritos.”

“Not on my watch it doesn’t!” Shouted Isambard. “Make it again! Better this time!”

“Black beans or pinto beans?” Asked the burrista.

“Pinto!” Said Isambard. “Pinto, yes, mild, no!”

The burriterer made up the burrito, wrapping it as tightly as they possibly could to compact the filling.

“And a passion fruit margarita, please.” Added Isambard. “They’re still two for one, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Great.” Said Isambard. He somehow paid in shillings and crowns for the second time that evening and returned to the table with another tray of margaritas and a second steak burrito.

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My chicken burrito complete with nachos.

“Ok.” I said. “So the nachos too. Let’s try those.”

Isambard took a bite of the nacho, and crunched ponderously.

“Thoughts?”

“Have you ever had pheasant?” Asked Isambard. Bloody hell. Ok, so the nachos had the perfect level of crunch. I find that with nachos, some restaurants try to overcomplicate something that’s actually at its best when simple, but these had the perfect depth, crunch and flavo-

“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice again. I looked over to see that he was once again covered in beef.

“Isambard, for the love of god can you just keep it together for five minutes while I review this bloody restaurant?”

“Andle.”

“It’s Andy!”

“Ah, Andros! Like the villain from Starfox!”

“Where the hell are you getting these cultural references from?”

“These bastards can’t build a burrito to save their lives!” Said Isambard. He downed another margarita and stormed over to the counter. “You! Look at my trousers!” Said Isambard, gesturing to his once plain but now distinctly savoury trousers. “Great Western Railway? More like Great Western Beef Trousers!” He slurred, nonsensically. “Make it again! Pinto, yes, mild, no!”

“What?” Stammered the burriterer.

“Pinto! Yes! Mild! No! Make it again! Again! AGAIN!” Said Isambard. He flings the remnants of his beef burrito over the counter.

“Isambard, please!” I say, attempting to hold him back. “Come on, let’s just go!”

“The Clifton Suspension Bridge would be in the river if it were up to you!” Said Brunel, downing his margarita. “You’re all bastards!” He said. He spun on his heels to leave, but lost his balance, and fell to the floor.

“Isambard? Are you ok?” I said, rushing over. He did not respond, then came the sound of snoring. “I’m so sorry for all of this.” I say to the staff, as I look down at him lying there. I take a sip of my margarita. It is an absolute delight, the perfect blend of sweet and salty. I contemplate whether I have time to sit here and finish my review whilst Isambard takes a nap on the floor, but the faces of the staff (one of whom is covered in shards of lettuce from Isambard throwing his burrito) says otherwise. I sigh, take a minute to finish the drink, then I pick Isambard up from the floor and walk out of the restaurant.

“Gandalf…” Mumbles Isambard.

“It’s An- Oh, forget it. What?”

“We should build a railway together!”

“I don’t think we should.”

“But first, let’s get drinks.” He slurs. “Two margaritas, please.” He says to a bin.

“I think we should go home. Do you want me to call you an Uber?”

“TWO MARGARITAS, PLEASE.” He shouts, as he climbs into the bin. I now find myself watching one of the world’s greatest engineers fumble through a bin, somehow still believing it may be a bartender. “This is my home now! Let me introduce you to my parents.” He says, picking up an empty can of Sprite and a Kit Kat wrapper. “Well done on that bridge and things, son. We’re real proud of you.” He continues, in a squeaky voice.

“Any more thoughts on the restaurant?” I ask, wearily.

“Have you ever had pheasant?”

I give Isambard a pat on the shoulder and head home. Overall we’ve had a… time, but I think the fun has now come to a close. Would I recommend Benito’s Hat? Yes. Would I recommend going crazy on the happy hour deals before eating your burrito? No. Overall…

9/10. Good burritos with nice flavour.