It’s that time of the month again, and below is the latest instalment of my food column for the Reading Post. It’s funny – this one is the one that feels most like one of my blog posts, or least like the food columns, or possibly both. A bit of me feels like I’m just about getting the hang of this writing to order lark, around the time that I’m starting to think about knocking it on the head. Anyway, let me know if you like it – I’ll be interested to see what you reckon.
Writing, in case you’re interested, continues to be difficult. Since I last complained about writer’s block I have started and not finished an additional two pieces – one about how life should be more like the movies and one about a week without email.
If you have any tips on dealing with writer’s block, or you have any suggestions for things you think I should write about, or if you just want to abuse me for being a big old disappointment, the comments field is here for you. In the meantime, I hope you like the column and thanks for still reading when I’m still writing.
It’s a Portakabin on the industrial estate where I work and it’s the epitome of the greasy spoon. The car park’s full of white vans. The tea’s out of an urn. The mugs on the counter all have the flag of St George on them. There’s a red top tabloid on every formica table, and I bet if you looked the crossword would be half-completed in all of them. The furniture’s all screwed to the floor and the TV, mounted to the wall, plays music videos just loud enough.
And the food? The food’s magnificent.
When it’s done right, there’s something magical about a greasy spoon breakfast – bacon slightly charred on a grill, yolk soaking into cheap white toast, some nameless brand of brown sauce in a squeezy bottle. The Hot Snack Café has all that in spades (the menu up on the wall also says “try our omelettes”, but I bet nobody takes that seriously).
It saddens me that I haven’t found the perfect breakfast in Reading. Bill’s is okay, but the service puts me right off. Carluccio’s is great –thin, almost-translucent crispy pancetta, soft herby scrambled eggs and delicious wild mushrooms, all on toasted ciabatta– but it’s not a full English, it’s an upmarket reimagining of one. I’ve heard great things about Alto Lounge, but it’s too far across town. The classic greasy spoons – Munchees, The Gorge – have never quite done it for me.
It’s a pity. A good breakfast place is a must because, of all meals, the full English is the one that feels least acceptable to cook at home: too many calories, too many elements to juggle, too much washing up. Until I find one, the Hot Snack Café will have to do.
I was there last week with my friend Wendy; apart from the surly lady behind the counter I think she may be the first woman to ever set foot in the place.
“I love a good breakfast.” I said. “But everything has to be right. I prefer streaky to back.”
“You’re wrong. Back bacon can be great in a breakfast.”
“I couldn’t have sausages like those, that would put me right off.” I said, pointing at hers with my fork, Grange Hill style. They were the kind of cheap sausages where, during cooking, the skin pulls away from the tip in a way best described as all kinds of wrong.
“They’re the nicest bit!”
“No way. Look at them, they’re really smooth on the inside. You just know they’re all eyelids and arseholes.”
“You’re missing out, Evans. Sometimes you need a taste of council estate meat.”
I could think of plenty of ways to reply to that, but decided it might be best not to. Anyway, at that point Wendy started enthusing about the childhood delights of Findus Crispy Pancakes, Vesta Chow Mein and Prince’s Bacon Grill in a tin, and said she was going to look them up on the Tesco website that afternoon. In fact, I began to worry that lunch might turn out to be her most nutritious meal all week. These guilty pleasures have a habit of spiralling out of control, after all.
Besides, I couldn’t judge her – I’m partial to a Fray Bentos myself, against my better judgment.
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