As he embarks on a series of restaurant reviews for YorkMix, Ron Godfrey reflects on meals he has known…
How do you react when the manager of the Italian restaurant greets you at the door thus?: “You’re-a very ugly butta jus’ about acceptable. Dunno about-a your fancy lady though.”
And just as you’re about to sock him in the jaw his assistant leaps in and demands of his boss: “Leava them alone! They don’t-a smell as bad as some-a people in here,” and it triggers a guttural chorus of counter castigation from the diners, ranging from pleas to have them castrated to threatening to torch various delicate parts of their anatomy.
Suddenly you twig: Everyone is viciously insulting everyone else – the hilarious protocol of that restaurant in Essex which was aping the famous Roman eating house La Parolaccia (The Swearword)… A case of, when in Southend, do as the cussing Romans do.
It all takes me back to the late 1970s when I was part of a pioneering team of journalists who launched Taste Test for the Evening Echo, Basildon.
The experiment proved such a success in South East Essex that it was nationally rolled out to more than 40 newspapers in the old Westminster Press Group, including what was then the Yorkshire Evening Press.
It was later imitated by other regional publishing groups throughout the land, as well as a Proof Of The Pudding column in the monthly magazine I was later to edit.
An edible education
Now that I have been invited to launch a special restaurant column for YorkMix, I take with me some of the many lessons I learned over more than 20 years of urging people to eat my words. Not that I’m likely to find the same disgusting greeting at any restaurant in York. But it has taught me forbearance.
Another lesson learned: Don’t judge a restaurant by its name. Both The Little Swallow and La Petite Bedon (The Little Belly) actually served massive portions.
And always make sure that your visit really is clandestine. Each of the original Taste Testers had their own caricatures on top of their reviews (see mine, right: too old to give me away now!). Canny restaurateurs cut them out and pasted them on the back of their counters.
One such sly proprietor broke cover after a brawl in his establishment overturned almost every table but mine. “If you’re doing a review I’d like you to know that this fight was a one-off. This is the first time ever,” he pleaded breathlessly “Please be kind.”
But the motivation of that column was clear and I shall apply it to Eat My Words, as we’re calling the series; namely that it will recognise that eating out is an adventure in which the diner should be caught up in the mood of the restaurant’s ambience, hopefully delighting in the prompt and smiling service and at the value for money when the bill arrives.
Eat, drink… be healthy?
My fortnightly reviews, initially within York’s bar walls, will aim vicariously to take you on that adventure.
Yes, of course it is also about the food, but not snobbishly so. Each of us is an expert when it comes to our own eclectic tastes and my tastebuds are no different. But one thing is for sure. You won’t grow too fat on my menu choices.
Since my good old taste testing days of the 1970s and 80s I have become a type 2 diabetic, but that works in everyone’s favour because I must take care that what I eat is good and wholesome and as sugar-free as possible.
(Don’t worry, all you pudding gluttons, the redoubtable. Mrs G, always my restaurant witness and secret note-taker, will be my sweet eyes and ears, so to speak).
And don’t expect restaurants that are beyond your pocket. Like you, I’m on a strict budget and where I can point you to the cheap specials or early bird menus I will.
Nation of guzzle guts
Something else has changed since the 1980s. In spite of the nation’s economic trials, more people are eating out than ever.
The facts are enough to make you gulp. Office For National Statistics figures show that over 12 years as a nation we guzzled £87.5 billion worth of food and drink outside the home.
So when it comes to saving the nation we eat-outers serve a serious purpose: We can stave off economic double dips with our teeth. Our gluttony is pure gold
And perhaps that is why York has been more buoyant financially than most other British cities fighting the financial gloom. Could there be a direct correlation between the relative economic health of our city and the sheer volume of restaurants that festoon the place?
All of which makes my new task – to present this new YorkMix column, Eat My Words – that much more responsible.
So I promise to be fair in my judgements.
Unless, of course, a proprietor actually turns both me and my fancy woman away from the door…
- Ron’s first restaurant review will appear in YorkMix on Saturday, November 2
- Read all our restaurant reviews here