Shame on me. I forget the specifics, but it's probably around 2011 or so, downtown Chinatown in Singapore, at a restaurant I think was called Hunan Square or something. Where's that damned business card?
No word of a lie; I was passing through Central London one evening last week, clothes shopping. And on the way back, I slowed to take a picture of Ponti's - a restaurant in the back of Oxford Circus. Looking at the awning above the dimly-lit interior, and the clinking of glasses, and the lively atmosphere and the pasta dishes...
Author and publisher Peter Mark May, who I love to bits and don't see often enough, had once said, "You can always tell when CC's written a story, because there are people eating in it."
Damn you, Peter Mark May.
This man has also maligned (in jest, I assure you) my love of pear cider; Kopparberg preferred. Although, deadpan referring to it as 'fruity cider' might be unnecessary, since cider is usually made with fruit, even if it's not apples. Anyhow.
From an author point of view, the better the picture I paint, the easier it is to draw you into the story. Not just the sights, but the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the sensations. 'The feels', if you will. Plus, I'm biased - I'm a foodie. I haven't always been a foodie. Certainly not as a kid. Back then, food was a necessity, rather than a joy - I'd eat to live. The runt of the litter, and kind of scrawny, I could barely use a knife and fork. I didn't have the strength and/or common sense to cut meat with the knife, so I used to hold it down with the fork and try and tear it apart with the knife. Which meant that - once torn apart - the meat would go skidding off my plate and across the table. Hardly a win.
By the time I was that much older and wiser, I had more of an appreciation of food. Not only from the point of view to lift weights - which necessitates good food if you're going to have the energy to do it and grow, but also from the point of dating. Maybe an old-school ideal, but the idea of taking a woman out to dinner is still a classic. And, biased as I am, London has places that hit the spot. Places that have made it into my fiction, so, yeah - guilty as charged. Like Ponti's in the back of Oxford Circus. The brunch/breakfast you'd get in there is top-notch - spinach and egg frittata is something to write home about. Which I wrote into There Goes Pretty.
Balthazar's in Covent Garden - another place that does a decent weekend brunch. No wonder it made it into the Semen novella when Vicki's out with the girls. The date that Samuel is late for in Misery And Other Lines is at the Cinnamon Kitchen, Bishopsgate (Liverpool Street, East Central London). FYI - I've been there for drinks, but never eaten. Poon's is a restaurant I took a liberty with - as per Downwind, Alice, it's in the back of Oxford Circus. I believe there used to be a Poon's restaurant in the West End many moons ago - but the layout (large windows with natural light, et al) is a nod to the Poon's that used to be in the Whiteleys (of Bayswater) Centre way back. The crispy fried noodles and straw mushrooms were always a winner.
Yes, I can use chopsticks.
As much as I'm a foodie, I'm not a snob about it. I'm as happy with fine dining as I am with a large chicken pie and baked beans from a supermarket. Of course, I'd add chicken to it - since they never have enough meat in. Which is one of the reasons why I love Lebanese cuisine - like Mandaloun in Shepherds Bush, West London; they're not known for skimping on the meat. Farrouj Meshwe (baby grilled chicken) or lamb kofta, with rice and salad. Maybe a mango lassi (like a smoothie) on the side. I'll usually get a main and a starter, just to make sure the meat quota's covered between the two of them.
Time abroad on holiday still means time with food. Toronto in the summer means I'm downtown at Richmond & Yonge getting a pancake breakfast at the Sunset Grill. And every summer, the staff recognise me, which is just humbling and cool. Some of the best food I've ever had? I'd cite the now-defunct Grillfish on Collins Ave, near South Beach (Miami):
Grillfish – Permanently Closed — Legendary South Beach Restaurant
...or Smith Street (Food Street) in Singapore. Where I got a bowl of egg fried rice as big as the wok the chicken, ginger and spring onion came in (see the picture at the top of this entry). I forget the exact name of the restaurant, but I'm pretty sure it was Hunan Square, or some such. Although I can't find the damned business card now...
I'm pretty open to trying new cuisines; if nothing else, it another aspect of ...sensory input that goes into a story and helps bring it to life.
So, yeah. Take that ...Peter Mark May.
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