Monday, 11 May 2009

When Lucullus dines with Lucullus

Lucullus, a Roman emperor famous for his elaborate dinners, got tired of dining with guests and enemies, and ordered a dinner just for himself. The dishes prepared by his usually reliable chef came out slack and clearly below the expected standard. On questioning the cook admitted to certain laziness due to the number of diners present, to which Lucullus icily retorted ‘it is precisely when I’m alone, that you require to pay special attention to the dinner. At such times you must remember, that Lucullus dines with Lucullus’.

The importance - and incomparable pleasure - of lone dining, I judge, should not be underestimated, be it in gentle temperatures of Rome or polluted streets of London. And I propose that the art of dining alone is indeed an art that pleads for resurrection; particularly at times of lonely tv consumption and pseudo-gregarious McDonald's’s gobbling. A balmy May Saturday evening in Soho seemed a fitting occasion for such a crusade, especially when dressed handsomely and faced with small tasty dishes, served by a compact tasty waiter.

‘Barrafina’ is a lively, modern ‘taparia’ – a way I’d like to call a little boisterous place that serves little, lovely tapas. The eatery came into fame with quality of its ingredients and the length of its waiting list, but for a lonesome diner with restrained demands there was an outside table, next to a guttery and a beer-drinking couple. The raised brows of the charming waiter and his doubtful are you by yourself and more insistent are you eating too meant that good-looking signoras don’t often frequent such places, especially on nights of horny cock-boys and honest hen-girls. I liked my place and the position of its unexpected power: a glass of bone-dry cava and a pen, please - would you like some bread and oil, he returned tentatively and admiringly - I do, and dunk a chunk of sour-dough into the grassy, peppery pool. The collection of little plates that was to follow was perfectly shaped, if overly polite; they were served well too, if overly polite.

The luscious razor clams with copious amounts of butter, garlic and herbs, were plump and satisfying, if slightly overcooked. Thickly sliced fuet de catalonia – cured pork sausage with pokey glorious fat – tasted husky and appropriately porky, above all when eaten with tiny cornishons which tasted as if (could they?) they’d been pickled in masses of sauerkraut. Olive bullets of soft and tart caperberries busted gloriously in my mouth and were a perfect accompaniment to the fatty mains; just as was a concluding shot of espresso – a disappointingly luke-warm but still a satisfying blast. I then ordered the boy to get me a cigarette – the ending that was cheap and rough, and even more delightful after the restrained luxury of my solitary banquet. I drank and looked. I dined with myself.

Middle-age men in tinted cars were passing by, salivating at the spread of meat on the table and at the table…. My waiter, curious but also guarding, seemed expectant or perhaps just slightly tired. I paid the bill, wanting to give a stupid tip, or offer some Russian tea for the boy, and quietly retreated, wanting to savour the taste of the evening, the rare moment of thoughts luxuriously passing through the mind, half-smilingly watching the world go by. I was in piece and aware. I dined with myself. Long live Locullus, and long live the art of solitary dining.


Anonymous said...

not much of or about "much of anything".no noticeable ambience. main contemporary dish seems to be a greek hero sandwhich on burnt iranian toast .where have all the poets gone?

Anonymous said...

Lucullus was never actually emperor. He lived and died during the last decades of the Roman Republic.

Anonymous said...

Lucullus was actually a general who retired to civilian life. He was definitely rich and opulent, but never an emperor.

Anonymous said...

He was a politician apparently. The General your thinking about may be Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix.

Anonymous said...

Lucullus was not Emperor. Consul and general, yes.
Graeme Fife