Comedian and food-fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week Jess is sorely disappointed.
Trapped in central London between gigs, I hoovered some dinner at a Slug and Lettuce. I’d always thought the name was pretty shocking for somewhere to eat. Trust me, odd things do make me peckish. Flowers, pottery, crying. Slugs though? No offense to frogs and hedgehogs, but they’re disgusting. Why call a restaurant ‘Something Slimy and Something Boring’?
That said, I’m not interested in eating Ivy nor anyone called Gregg, and I don’t turn my nose up at those places. I was short on money and I had some writing to finish. I needed free wifi and almost-free food. Then, right there in my face was a Slug and Lettuce, seeming to meet all my needs.
I’ve eaten well in cheap chain pubs in the past, so I wasn’t even dreading it, but nor was I expecting haute cuisine. There were quite a few people in there, but it was one of those awful buildings that’s always desolate even when packed. I sat down to dinner in what felt like the gaping foyer of a haunted town hall.
There was waiter service, which tickled me. My waiter was great. She was refreshingly knowing. I enjoyed the smirk with which she delivered her script of pleasantries: just the right side of sarcastic. We got on well, safe in the knowledge that in an ideal world, neither of us would have been there.
If in turmoil, eat some food that you love and all will be well. Not at Slug and Lettuce it won’t. I love calamari too much; I’m a bit obsessed with it. (If it was a person, I wouldn’t be able to keep myself together if I met it. I’d be all: “Oh hi, sorry. It’s just that I think you’re amazing. I love what you do. Erm. Anyway. Erm. Erm. Please may you get off with me?”) So I ordered that.
It looked incredible, from far away. In its favour, it was massive. But, as it wasn’t very nice, in this instance, less would have been more. I got a mound of dangerously dark brown, chewy old sea-beasts. Overdone, they crunched like they’d been deep-fried for longer than I’d been alive. To hazard a guess at how long it had been since they’d known a life of their own, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a few of them had been wearing scrunchies and using Nokias. It was leather meets crackling. They came with sweet chilli dipping sauce which was all wrong. It tasted of wet, pink sugar. It did nothing to cut through these lardy rocks like a lemony, olivey, mustardy mayonnaise would have done.
I would have sent it back had I not thought there was a chance the waiter would laugh and ask if I knew where I was. I put about half of it away and felt stuffed. The body is so clever, I like to think it was trying to protect me from what was to come: mains.
I had Spicy Pork Pad Thai. I specifically ordered this because of how almost impossible it is to get wrong. Oh, how I underestimated their powers. It promised ‘strips of pork, with peppers and noodles, in oriental spices, topped with edamame beans, coriander and pomegranate.’
It looked horrific. A photograph can never convey how much this meal appeared to be crying and sweating. Let’s start with the positive. It was topped with a healthy handful of fresh coriander and edamame. They were nice. That aside, it was a little mound of hell that smelled of chemicals. The pomegranate was fictional. The strips of pork were Nik Nak shaped lumps of tough, suspicious ‘grey’. The noodles were the sort I had at home as a kid, when they were the only ones available in the supermarket. Those sort of flat, fat, beige ones which taste of damp tendrils of MDF, but soapier. The peppers were there, just, sitting curled down, like sad mouths. Finally, there were some tired old mushrooms lying around the edge of it too, glistening. Like actual slugs.
Most depressing though, was that the ‘spicy’ was imaginary. I’m often ‘ruining’ (improving) things I make at home with heavy splashings of hot sauce. If this Pad Thai had packed a punch, at least, I would have been far more sated. It didn’t. It tasted at best of longevity and nostalgia and at worst of damp and distrust.
I ought to have read this particular book by its cover.
Slug And Lettuce, 32–34 Borough High Street, London. SE1 1XU
Tel: 020 7378 9999; http://www.slugandlettuce.co.uk/slug-boroughhighstreet/
Monday to Friday: 9am to 11pm
Saturday: 10am to 11pm
Sunday: 10am to 10:30pm
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.