Dear [FRIEND], As I said in Going French, Part 4, each hotel has a different atmosphere and this one was in a category of its own. Here you had to show respect to what you were eating and follow the rules of the dining room.
This hotel was indeed a cut above the others and if there was any doubt about that, you only had to glance at the tariff. This was a place where food and drink were taken very seriously and the menu and the wine list were more like tomes than the usual folders you were used to handling.
You didn’t really order food and drink, you consulted the lists, discussed the items available and after much thought and growing hungrier and hungrier, you told the respectful waiter/waitress patiently standing by, what you wanted. Before your main dishes arrived, you were handed an ‘amuse-bouche’, a delicacy of minute proportions to tickle your palate. It was consumed in a second.
Bread is always placed in a basket on your table in most French restaurants and topped up as you eat. But not here. A tall woman dressed in black looking like someone about to give you bad news, sidles up to you bearing a silver bowl containing different types of roll but you mustn’t help yourself. The good lady gives a name to each different roll and you have to nominate one, which she will place on your side plate with an elegant pair of tongs.
Finally the main dish is placed before you, initially for you to admire rather than eat. Some time has to elapse before you can destroy this work of art with knife and fork. Time passes slowly as the wine glasses are replenished, the dessert comes and goes and for this last item, the owner did what you can only call his ‘cabaret act’.
Dear [FRIEN], if you enjoy Alan’s essays and stories, you should get a copy of Greed Will Kill You, a gripping thriller for learners and teachers of English as a second language.
He would come running up to your table calling out: Temptations, in the hope that your mouth would water at the sheer anticipation of what was on the dessert menu. The two young women in the table next to ours (who I later discovered were from Hong Kong and understood no English) decided that the best policy was to decline the offer just in case he had other thoughts in mind!
Then in preparation for the final stage, the tablecloth is deftly swept free of crumbs with a silver device. There is another pause before the tall lady in black approaches with her dish of rolls and again names them individually.
It is shortly after this that you hear the wheels of a cheese trolley coming your way. This is very complicated as there are so many different types to choose from and each is given a brief description. I tended to choose the last two I had just managed to hear and for my third I would point wildly at one nearest me, again to be told its name.
Eating in of an evening in the hotel was like taking part in a play. You had to know your lines and you had to know when the interval had come and when you can go for the exit after the last act.
[FRIEND], what do you think of this pieces? As usual, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the forum here: Going French, Part 5