Everyone knows that you can tell a lot about a person from the newspaper he or she buys. You can also, I would suggest, tell a lot about people from the sections of the newspaper that they choose to read - and if so, my newspaper-reading habits probably show me in a less than favourable light. I read the food pages, the restaurant reviews, the book reviews (and even then I skip much of the non-fiction), the fashion pages that feature real clothes and not the incomprehensible rags that the fashion industry puts forward for its stick insect models, and Barbara Ellen. That is it, basically. I tend to skip the news (this probably makes me a Very Bad Person), finance, sport (unless Wimbledon is on, when I read the tennis pages vaguely obsessively), travel (is it me or do the travel supplements always feature beautiful remote islands that would cost a year's salary to get to, whilst criticising the only holiday destinations I am likely to be able to afford?), and the celebrity gossip. What this says about me is probably as follows: greedy dreamer who prefers to wallow in fiction rather than reality, and who hasn't learnt to aspire. I think that may be true - I really don't care that some people can afford to travel more than me, or wear dresses that cost £1000. What does all that matter?
I do, however, get irritated by the sorts of people who can afford to eat in posh restaurants but don't really like food. We can all remember Hell's Kitchen when Gordon spotted two stick insects asking for undressed lettuce for dinner. What kind of restaurant can cater for a supermodel, or even a wannabe model? I like to think I could be a reasonably discerning eater, but I definitely couldn't be a restaurant critic - they are a species apart from us mere mortals, not least because someone pays for their dinner. Why should I trust the opinion of someone whose dinner came on expenses and who eats that kind of meal once a week? Those bloggers who review restaurants have democratized the art of restaurant reviews and the real, paid-for, brigade are effectively, arguably, redundant - in the sense that we read them, avidly, but we tend to seek opinions via Google before looking through newspaper archives. And Google tends to lead us to what the common people think.
As a foodie commoner, I am incredibly proud to announce that my lovely husband took me to a beautiful restaurant last night: Jesmond Dene House. This is owned and run by Terry Laybourne, who set up what was 21 Queen Street (and is now Cafe 21) in Newcastle, won a Michelin star (a first for Newcastle!) and champions local produce. I bought his book last weekend and have been reading eagerly about our local food heroes; Simon knew that, and booked us a table at Jesmond Dene House. What a star! Before we went, I inevitably googled reviews of the restaurant, which were reassuringly glowing - the risk of the internet is finding out the weaknesses in something you are about to do just before you do it, but in this case it was all good.
I am not a restaurant reviewer; I am definitely one of the common people who pays for her own dinner (ahem, actually Simon paid, but still...), and I lack those tortuous turns of phrase that clog up many a newspaper professional restaurant review. From my point of view, then: I started my dnner with a hot potato waffle with local smoked salmon, avruga caviar and cream. I think this was the nicest dish I have ever eaten: it all seemed to melt into my mouth, like dream-food, almost. Simon had langoustine fritters with shaved fennel salad and lemon mayo, which looked more of this world but were, to his mind, equally mind-blowing. My main was roast monkfish fillet with savoy cabbage 'a la creme', mushrooms, onion, bacon and red wine sauce; again it was delicious, but perhaps less out of this world than Simon's Organic Aberdeen Angus plate with 2 celeries (I think he will continue to rave about the slow-cooked beef shoulder for some time). To finish, I had chocolate fondant with white choc sorbet and Simon had pernod mousse with blackcurrant sorbet; I can't speak for his (he seemed to love it), but mine was to die for. In fact, the whole meal (starting with Kir Royale, for me, and ending with espresso and petits fours) was so far removed from anything that I have eaten before that I am struggling to describe how amazing it was. It's easy for the professionals; they can compare. For me, it felt as though eating had turned into a whole new, dreamier, smoother experience; it was as though my palate was readjusting to a magical new world of tastes.
I hope I will eventually go back there. I love cooking, and I love discovering new recipes, but eating out can be such a fabulous experience, and it can be miserably disappointing. This time it was incredible. I might read the professionals' opinion in the Sunday supplements and see if they agree, but if they don't, tough - they are, presumably, looking for the foodie equivalent of a £6000 holiday in a remote corner of an unheard of Greek island or a 'dress' for the modern stick insect, and as such, their opinions are to be read but not taken as gospel. Food, like everything else, is both hierarchical and democratic, and I am profoundly grateful that I had the chance to experience last night's amazing dinner.