As regular readers of this monthly column will know, I’ve been eating out every night for the past 15 years. It’s not easy, but someone has to keep London’s restaurants going, especially 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 with a problem, would you?
Trust me on this. It can.
Earlier this week, I was in a new restaurant in the West End. “I’d like a tomato-and-onion salad with my steak – sliced, not chopped, please.”
“Not a problem, sir!” the waiter said. For emphasis, I made the appropriate chopping movement with my right hand. ” Sliced, not chopped,” I said.
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? 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? 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. Please could you kindly pop across the road and get me a pound of tomatoes. I’d really appreciate it. Be brave.”
He took the cash. Five minutes later, he came back and handed me a bag of tomatoes. “You are a truly a hero among waiters,” I said.
“I was only doing my duty,” he replied.
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?”
“Tesco’s, I said, “they must have cornered the market – they are for my tomato-and-onion salad. But can I ask you, please, to slice them and not chop them?”
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 inquired.
“I hate to be a nuisance,” I said “but do you by any chance remember my asking for my tomato-and-onion salad to be sliced and not chopped?”
“Yes, I do remember that,” he said.
“Well, take a close look. Does that look sliced to you?” He bent over and peered at the plate. “No, it’s definitely chopped,” he confirmed.
“Exactly! I really must have it sliced – on religious grounds. I’m Jewish – we slice things off.
“I can’t even remember exactly why I have to have it sliced not chopped – I don’t like to delve too deeply into my childhood – but I must have it that way.”
Life is just a tomato-and-onion salad.