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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Home-cooking for the masses

“I’m going crazy, couldn’t you tell…
“I threw stones at the stars but the whole sky fell.”
– ‘The Stable Song’ by Gregory Alan Isakov

Who wants to come eat at my house? Nobody laugh, right, but I’m seriously thinking about doing a pop-up restaurant at the gaff, if and when we eventually emerge from this Covid complicated calamity.

You up for it? I’m serious. Well, as serious as I’m able to be considering the mild hysteria which has settled in my guts at the notion of inviting people into the house and asking them to pay for what I’m serving up.

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I’m thinking of doing a small sitting to begin, maybe eight to ten people per night, just to see how I get on and if I can cope with the complaints and/or constructive criticism.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE FISH IS OVERDONE?!?

I’m thinking too it would be a set menu, say four courses which might include nibbles upon arrival and of course, it would be a case of bring your own.

I’d have to take the bookings ahead of time too though, which would necessitate a certain level of organisation and then there would be the seating, extra cutlery, supplementary wine glasses and most importantly, the menu. But what to cook?

This would be half the fun, I suppose, considering what best ingredients would go well and in what dishes. Would I do a soup? Steaks? Risotto? Individual fish pies? Would I have a Mexican theme? Irish? Italian? Or would I stand at the island all night firing out nibble after nibble until the guests raised the white flag in surrender.

Seriously people, I really am considering this as a mission for the summer months, when the evenings are long and hazy and I’m in the form for long conversations about the merits of rosemary over anchovies (or both) in a lamb stew.

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I had a quick look online and based on the information I’ve gleaned from others who’ve had the same idea (the www is awash with blogs and articles on the same), this concept isn’t beyond the boundaries of possibility. But is it beyond me?

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Lamb shanks in red wine? Venison burgers? Vanilla ice-cream and warm shortbread?

Caramelised balsamic onion and gruyere tart? What music would I play? Could I persuade a friend to come play a few tunes live? Questions, questions…

And the most important question would be: Why would people want to come eat at mine when restrictions are lifted and there are professional chefs working in actual established restaurants all over the place? Well… ‘cause it’s better craic at my house?

“The craic wouldn’t cut it pal if the grub is substandard.”

OK, so maybe I’d have to do something in terms of a menu which isn’t the local norm and which you are unlikely to find in those already established restaurants. Like those excellent Japanese savoury pancakes, okonomyaki or Corsican wild boar sausages or cassoulet or Spanish tortilla. The difficulty for me is that I don’t really go in for foams or soils or intricately manicured vegetable garnishes. But on second thoughts, maybe that could be the selling point: My food would unadulterated, homely and most of all satisfying.

OK, for argument’s sake let’s do a sample menu based on what it MIGHT look like if this madcap scheme ever comes to pass.

To keep things simple for opening night, we’ll kick proceedings off with smoked mackerel pâté crostini and classic arancini. These the diners can nibble on with their aperitifs ahead of the starter of smoked cod and prawn chowder with home-made wheaten bread. The main will be braised ox cheeks in red wine with buttered baby leeks and a mustard mash (plain buttery mash will be available for those who don’t like mustard) and then for afters, individual salted caramel and apple puddings and home-made vanilla ice-cream. I could even do doggy bags for those who packed away too many of the arancini and crostini and who aren’t fit for dessert.

Whatdayareckon?

I reckon I could knock that menu out with a day’s prep no sweat. It would most likely, as my father used to say, put years on me but hey, fortune favours the brave. It couldn’t be any more taxing than Christmas dinner, in fairness.

Nor would I have to take any orders as everyone’s eating the same and I’m thinking I could do the bulk of the cooking ahead of time. No doubt somebody would want chips of course, but I’m an accommodating enough sort of fellow and so I’m sure I could rustle up a basket or two for the middle of the table and at no extra charge.

If that night worked out and everyone enjoyed the food and I didn’t poison anyone and I didn’t freak out from stress and I was pleased with all the dishes, maybe, just maybe, it could become a monthly or even weekly venture.

In the summer time I could do barbecues (weather permitting) and I could even purloin my brother’s smoker to do ribs and brisket, the latter pulled apart when tender and piled into brioche rolls with slaw and my special barbecue sauce. We could have sweetcorn charred in the smoker and Boston baked beans and maybe even some smoked sausage, sliced thinly and devoured as hors d’oeuvres with ice-cold beers.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…

Before I get ahead of myself I’d better check to make sure I have any potential diners.

So who’s up for it? Who wants to come eat at my house?

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