An unsatisfactory meal in County Antrim
Relishing the luxuries of business executive travel
We are sitting in the dining room, picking at our main course, the third of a total of five threatened. The main door, unlocked to admit us, is now relocked ('I think I'll just turn this key. You wouldn't want to be disturbed now.') We are talking furtively: we have discovered that the proprietor tends to appear with the suddeness of an A/V in the first public demo of tested code.
I have ordered the steak and chips, and have been brought a huge piece of indeterminate brown meat, covered in two millimetres of congealed brown fluid. A patch of soggy broccoli has been boil-tortured to the point of cellular collapse. There are no chips.
R has ordered the other option, the roast chicken and ham with chips. This is also served in a generous portion, the processed ham cut or extruded into that uniform texture that makes it so convenient to sandwich makers. He has no chips.
I say, "The clock radio in my room only works if you spit on your fingers and press the end of the wire aerial to the metal bedstead. It receives Radio Foyle."
R says, "The clock radio in my room doesn't work at all, not even hiss. Something large is loose inside. When I picked it up, it rattled like a charity tin with a counterfeit £2 coin in it."
I say, "The kettle in my room, which is permanently wired into the wall, takes 17 minutes to boil 150ml of water. It would have been longer, but I warmed it up first on my laptop."
R says, "The hair dryer in my room, which is also permanently wired to the wall, is attached by a short flex that runs through a hole in back of the drawer where it is kept. This flex is so short that, if you want to dry your hair, you must put your head in the mouth of the drawer."
This competition, which I seem to be losing, is aborted by the entry of the proprietor carrying the missing chips in a large bowl.
He says, "I'm sorry about that, I clean forgot to plug in the fryer. There you go. Will you not have a few more? There you go. I'll leave the bowl on the table for you, in case you change your mind. It's time we got you used to the old Irish generosity. The miracle feeding of the five thousand, that's what I always say."
The chips are cut to the approximate size, shape and colour of Stabilo Boss orange highlighter pens and have a slight smell of sour grease. Heated with the fat (the better to absorb more of it), the potato substance has attained a burn-the-skin-off-the-roof-of-your-mouth temperature, yet – here is the real miracle – remains entirely raw.
"Surely," – as I stare at the huge mound of inedible food on my plate, I discover that my voice, unlike R's radio, works – "surely the point of the feeding of the five thousand was that a large crowd of people were satisfied with a small amount of food?"
The proprietor says, "You got me there. We do love our food here, I admit it. I'm a gourmet myself. That's why I insist on having five courses. We just have to share the enjoyment. And I betcha you will be surprised by my puddings."
A slight, involuntary noise from R's throat I take to be assent to this prediction.