Maybe it's just a sign of my age, but food is becoming less and less about simply satisfying hunger. It's a source of recreational pleasure - both the cooking and the scoffing. Meals are now something that seem to structure rather than punctuate our holidays. I'm drawn to ogling recipes online and in print.
And so it was that we and three other couples decided to have a serious gastronomic blow-out in London. Our first choice, Hawksmoor, was fully booked (eight people less than two months in advance - you've got to be joking...) so we opted for a branch of Argentinian restaurant Gaucho. Sadly, it turned out to be an almost wholly underwhelming experience.
Where to start? Well, with the starters: a chorizo sausage on sweet roasted red pepper which was tasty enough but hardly exceptional for the best part of £10. Accompanying cocktails had little discernible hit of alcohol, and when this was raised we were told this was because they were "delicate, feminine" concoctions - something which didn't sit well with the feminists on our table...
My steak was a superb cut (as it should have been at the price) but it was hardly rocket science to cook it to perfection as they did, and while the side dishes (crushed new potatoes with chilli and peas with bacon) were nice enough, the miniscule ramekin of watery peppercorn sauce was very poor. Perhaps they can't stomach the idea of people wanting to smother subtly flavoursome steaks in thick, creamy, piquant sauce - but that's exactly what I wanted to do and was aggrieved at being denied the opportunity. Meanwhile, the blue cheese risotto appeared to be remarkably free of blue cheese. The sampler of desserts featured one hit (a chocolate and ginger tart), one miss (a mini baked alaska) and one somewhere in the middle (a sticky toffee pudding).
On a positive note, the serving staff were generally attentive and informative about the various cuts of meat available, while the wine was good. But, when the bill came, it was £130 per couple - which rendered a slightly above average meal merely very poor value. The homemade Mexican feast we cooked up for ourselves the following day with the aid of Thomasina Miers' cookbooks - tortilla soup, chicken and chorizo fajita filling, sweet potato gratin, refried beans, salsa, guacamole, chocolate expresso cake - blew it out of the water.