As regular readers of this monthly column will know, I’ve been eating out every night for the last 15 years. It’s not easy, but someone has to keep London’s restaurants going, especially recently in these austere times.
And It doesn’t matter whether I order spaghetti or steak ..sole or schnitzel- I always order a tomato and onion salad to go with it. Now you wouldn’t think a simple request like “Please could I have a tomato and onion salad?” would present any chef in the world with a major problem would you?
Trust me on this- It can.
Last night I was in a new restaurant in the West End.
“I’d like a tomato and onion salad with my steak,.but sliced .,not chopped please.”
“Not a problem Sir!” the waiter said. For emphasis I made a sudden downward chopping movement with my right hand. ” sliced not chopped. ” I said.
“Of course sir.”
Five minutes later the waiter came back .”I am very sorry Sir, but the chef says he has no tomatoes.”
“No tomatoes’!?.are you quite sure.? How can you run a restaurant without tomatoes!?”
” Every restaurant in the world has got tomatoes! You can’t even open a restaurant without tomatoes! -it’s probably against the law!”
“The chef says it’s not the season for them!” He said.
“Really?” I said.
” Tomatoes?..the big round red things?… They’re in every greengrocers in the country!
They’ll definitely be in the Tesco Express across the road.”
I reached into my pocket.and handed him a fiver. “Here..be adventurous ..be a warrior- not a worrier. A warrior waiter! Please could you kindly pop across the road and get me a pound of tomatoes; I’d really appreciate it. Be brave.
Thank you very much indeed.” He took the cash.
Five minutes later he came back and handed me a bag of tomatoes. “You are a truly a righteous hero amongst waiters” I said, l am awarding you the TC -the Tomato Cross.”
“Please, It is not necessary.” he said “I was only doing my duty.”
I got up from the table and went into the kitchen. “Good evening Chef?-I’ve got a surprise present for you.” I said handing the bag to him. He looked inside. “Tomatoes!?” He said, “But where did you get them!? ”
. “Tescos” I said, “they must have cornered the market,”
“They are for my tomato and onion salad. -but can I ask you a personal question?”
“Please.. go ahead ” he said.
“Could you slice them and not chop them ” I said.
When the salad finally arrived .. about 15 minutes after my steak, I immediately spotted it was chopped not sliced.
“Is there a problem sir?” the waiter asked.
“You know, I really do hate to be a nuisance ” I said ” but do you by any chance remember my asking you for my tomato and onion salad to be sliced and not chopped?”
“Yes, I do remember that.” he said.
“Well I am really sorry to have to tell you this, but take a close look-does that look sliced to you?.. He bent over and peered at the plate “No, it’s definitely chopped.”. He said.
Exactly! You see I really must have it sliced.. on religious grounds ..I’m Jewish…you know.. we slice things off.”
I can’t even remember exactly why I must have it sliced not chopped- I don’t like to delve too deeply into my childhood in East Acton; but that’s how I like it.
It is one of the important things in life.. like having ice cold milk on my cornflakes
All those other little things ..World peace..a cure for cancer …N Korea’s latest rocket launch .the Arab Spring..drought..civil wars… as soon as I sit down in a restaurant- suddenly pale into insignificance compared to my tomato and onion salad:- sliced not chopped.
Life is just a tomato and onion salad.