Eating is a necessity in life. Humans must eat in order to live. However, there are some humans who live in order to eat. I would count myself in that later category. This has always been clear to me, usually thanks to the disappointment I feel when I finish my dinner, but never as obvious as on my birthday last week. Each activity I planned involved eating, either dinner, brunch, tea and cake, or mooching around Borough Market and buying doughnuts. The time in between all this eating was, quite frankly, time wasted.
It all began at Temper, the hottest, meatiest restaurant in London. I’ll set the scene: Calum and I enter from the bitter cold into a small lobby packed with people, and also cranks, pulleys, chains and other hot-blooded machinery. Without even entering the restaurant I am imagining burly male chefs, hauling meat out of a kiln or a carcass slung over their shoulders. We’re led downstairs into the abyss and yes, there’s fire, there’s heat, there’s a roar of flame as the kitchen is in the centre of the restaurant, surrounded by spectators perched on stools watching the carnage, glass of wine in hand. It is a gladiatorial amphitheatre of meat and we have come to eat that meat.
We are delivered to a private and gloomy corner where we order drinks before we begin to decipher the menu – soft tacos topped in meat to start, flat breads topped in meat for the main course. Agreeing to share so we can sample as much as possible we order tacos with aged cheeseburger – extraordinarily juicy morsels of beef patty scattered in finely diced red onion and perched on a blob of bright orange cheese, pungent, salty and whole-heartedly American – and the pil pil prawns (admittedly, not meat but we like variety) served in a tapas dish and swimming in garlic and chilli juices in which we dipped our doughy tacos.
Within minutes of clearing our starter plates, the flat breads arrived bearing with them the pièce de résistance, the hunk of bone supporting a cascade of beef chilli. Alongside it came pulled strips of smoked lamb with green anchovy sauce and charred lemon, the zesty green sauce and fiery chipotle sour cream, and the greasy, mouth-watering beef fat potatoes smothered in soft gooey cheese. We started with dignity. Cutting off slithers of flat bread here, a chunk of meat there, a spoonful of potatoes with a lick of sauce, we carefully added to our plates. Once we started, however, it was difficult to stop. I was soon eating off the serving plates, scraping out globules of bone marrow, feeding Calum across the table, tearing off pieces of flat bread and dunking it in sauce. The carnivorous animal inside me was rearing and our pre-birthday meal at Temper soon became feeding time at the zoo. (I blame the bad lighting and the delicious food as to why there are no photographs.)
And so, with concerns I may not have digested by the next day, on my birthday morning Calum and I headed out into the bright crisp cold for brunch. The Table in Southwark isn’t what you’d call a cosy breakfast cafe – with two glass walls it is bright and stark, and its tall tables are abruptly angular. Even so, the bright flowers give it a pretty charm and, after a bit of confusion due to our lateness (charging back across Blackfriars Bridge after missing your bus stop is not a good start to a relaxed brunch date) we sat down with the brunch menu which immediately dismissed any initial thought of the cold decor. Other than a delicious and satisfying brunch, I love nothing more than an alluring menu. Call me what you will I need a menu to intrigue me, catch me off my guard with some exciting possibilities! The Table’s brunch menu was this exactly, supplying the brunch regulars Eggs Benedict and Eggs Royale with the simple definition of ‘the bacon one’ and ‘the salmon one’ while dragging your eye to ‘The Stack’ described as ‘a towering inferno of deliciousness’ involving chorizo baked beans, poached eggs and hollandaise. Both Calum and I were instantly drawn to the pancakes section (and yes, it was an entire section!), and the pancake served with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and maple syrup in particular.
Ready to continue our meat-feast we ordered. Before long enormous plates bedecked in breakfast arrived; a jumbo-sized pancake topped in meat and eggs and doused in icing sugar. Calum immediately buried his face in his plate, barely coming up for air as he wolfed down the sweet and savoury brunch which is classically served in the USA with eggs ‘sunny-side up’ and maple-drenched bacon. The creamy scrambled eggs here seemed slightly incongruous amidst the pork and sugar, however, it worked beautifully; the syrup and eggs moistening the pancake while complementing the juicy salt of the sausage.
In urgent need of a break from meat, I had another aim in mind over the next two days. No, it wasn’t dieting or something sensible like that, it was the pursuit of cake. There is nothing more determined, or hysterical, than a hungry sweet tooth. That afternoon, Calum and I snacked on chocolate and a doughnut stuffed with salted caramel custard and a delicately crisp shard of honeycomb, the custard oozing over our fingers as we bit into the soft, sugared dough. I eagerly bought the doughnut for £3.50 while in a child-like state of enraptured excitement because 1) it was my birthday and calories don’t count and 2) when else can you justify spending £3.50 on a doughnut?
Resigned to the fact I wouldn’t have a birthday cake this year (which, after all this meat and cake eating, isn’t too sad) the following day my family and I faced the grey chilly drizzle to Osterley Hall and Park, a National Trust property, for the main purpose of tea and cake in the cafe. After a half-hearted traipse around the sodden grounds we ran to the safety of the cafe to share a couple of slices of lemon drizzle and sticky stem ginger cake, served with tea and some ‘Happy Birthday!’ napkins my mum packed specially. Before we left in favour of the warm and dry cinema I caved and bought myself some jam. The National Trust sell excellent preserves, including a particularly delicious caramelised onion chutney, and as jam is my weakness I bought myself a jar of Rhubarb and Ginger jam after standing and indecisively staring for a very long time. My current infatuation with ginger in preservatives is an affliction but it is a marvellous morning wake up, slathered on thickly buttered toast – a zingy addition to the saccharine sweet jelly.
Now, a week later, I am reliving this weekend of treats with a slight stomach ache merely brought on by memories, or maybe from that night-time snack of rhubarb and ginger jam on toast. Even so, there is something special about making memories from food and I’ll always look back at this birthday fondly, reminiscing the sticky fingers and eager tongue, knowing I enjoyed myself enormously.