Whenever a work do is being organized, I’ve noticed that there’ll always be pressure for it to be at an Italian restaurant. Not that I don’t like Italian food: I do. But Italian food is practically British food these days: Naomi Campbell spoke more truth than people might at first think. Only that one time, of course. “Italian” food is what I eat much of the time, supplemented with curries, soups and stir-fries. It’s a staple. Pizzas and pasta dishes are cheap, and with the right stuff on your spice rack it’s arguably easier to recreate a typical Italian restaurant’s fayre than that of other nationalities.
It’s such a safe option for a meal out, though, pasta and pizza. The please-everyone option. The Ottawa, everybody’s-second-choice option. Aunty Beth doesn’t like anything too spicy, after all, and, well, you know what Sheryl from the office is like, don’t you? Sheryl can’t cope with those crunchy bamboo bits in Chinese. Says they set her teeth on edge. So let’s settle for twenty different types of tomatoed carbohydrates and cocking dough-balls for the really adventurous.
Even if you’re with one of those dwindling numbers of weak-blooded, weak-charactered people who can’t quite cope with garlic, there’ll be something on the menu they can throw at you. If I were a chef and you didn’t like garlic, I’d certainly be tempted to throw all sorts of stuff at you. But a cuisine where anything that isn’t basil or oregano is considered somewhat avant-garde (davanti dei guardiani?) is bound to have the equivalent of a curry house’s omelette, say one of those folded creamy ersatz pizzas. I dare say if you ask nicely enough you’ll get a Danone on the side.
I used to know a group of people that were keen on their Soondy loonches. You know, those things that, if you don’t like them when you’re growing up, the politics of intrafamilial pressure mean that, statistically, you’re more likely to develop anorexia; yet, ironically, if you don’t like them when you’re an adult, you’re best off avoiding every single eating establishment in Oxford at Soondy loonchtime, unless you already have anorexia. They were that sort of group, though. Very sort of home-counties, C-of-E, meat sandwiches and sausages on sticks. Anyway, whenever we tried to have some sort of meal out that wasn’t meat and a number of vegetables, placed carefully on the plate so they wouldn’t touch, we’d invariably end up going to an Italian. The Soondy loonch types could, just about, stomach tomato paste. Well done, them. Broadened their horizons there. Again.
I’m generally happy to eat Italian, in the sense that I enjoy the food. I like great sandwiches too, but I wouldn’t consider the eating of them to be any sort of special occasion, unless it was one hell of a sandwich. So when there’s a list of eight curry houses, two Chineses, a fantastic Kurdistani meze place, and incidentally a single Italian, why do I always get a sinking feeling about which one the committee will end up picking?