Well, I guess they would have been in touch by now. If they’d have really liked it Ms Gill would have popped over for tea or Jeremy Clarkson would be doing doughnuts in a souped up Maserati at the bottom of my road while The Doobie Brothers blasted from his stereo; the knock-kneed, dentists nightmare that he is. But why should they like it? It either wasn’t good enough or everyone else did something better. Which in the context of the whole thing represents precisely the same problem. Time (what little of it has passed) has not been kind on this little ditty and on reflection I could have done better. With a bit of work it could have easily been as good as that holiday review of some camp site in the Loire Valley I wrote. When I was 12. I suppose there’s still a tiny chance I could have won and that by ‘publishing’ this I could jeopardise my chances. But it’s highly unlikely; only really clever people follow this site anyway. Try and enjoy (but don’t feel obliged).
Birmingham, 5 ways.
When I think of city breaks I think of places like Venice: romance and canals, swathed in rich history and clotted with centuries of high art and culture. A photo on every corner. Instead we went to Birmingham, which I suppose at least has the canals. Technically a ‘holiday’, it gave us a chance to indulge a little, regardless (within limits) of cost and damage to body and soul. We included our good friends – let’s call them Lorraine and Pascale – just to share out the highs and the lows. Five un-planned eating experiences that combined may well have edged us a little closer to death, or at least that’s how it felt. Still a week until Easter and I feel fatter, and ill-er, than Christmas.
Skipping breakfast at home on the chance of securing something at Watford Junction Station is a very risky little game. You have to laugh at the cheek of the Upper Crust chain, they who look to Greggs for guidance. My most depressing eating experience ever was watching my mother in law fiddle her way through a fish biriyani in a murky Indian restaurant in Dundee. Her laboured fork movements seemed to be on a loop and that blasted fish appeared to keep on going, ever more scraps bubbling up with each brush of some pretty grubby looking rice. Thanks then, to Upper Crust for matching that. No, correction, it was worse. We both foolishly waded in and ordered a breakfast muffin at £4.49 a pop. Hastily and insufficiently warmed up in a hidden microwave, we were faced with a multi-layered car crash of a meal; though meal may not be the right word. The muffin was still trying to remember the joys of once being stale, the bacon was about as appealing as a lady mandrill’s labia and the poached egg resembled a compressed collection of semen samples. Which part of a dog the sausage was made from was anyone’s guess and the cheese was cheese only in name, not in nature. You know you’ve made a big old booboo when you sit on a train for a full hour with your last meal constantly reminding you it’s still there; a gastronomic version of Alien. Not a great start.
The Gas Street Basin, Birmingham, is really rather charming and a couple of drinks and a bag of Black Country pork scratchings (aim high etc) looking out over a distinctly less busy version of Venice put our guts to rest. We just had to wait for Lorraine and Pascale. They were late. Lunchtime drinking is, of course, as idiotic as it is magnificent. Often the other way round. Given the feely bag of options we eventually settled on Bistrot Pierre, a pretend French restaurant that on a sunny, sharp, early afternoon seemed comforting enough, but adding words like maison and printanier to the menu did not make it any more French than `Allo `Allo! The wine we drank while we waited was thoroughly unremarkable but once the food started coming unremarkable was the best we could hope for. Tummies gurgling with booze and hunger everyone wolfed down their options through necessity, bar me – my honey glazed pork medallions looked and tasted like they had been sourced from Bobby George’s back fat and the frites refused to admit they weren’t really sure what they were. The Bin whatever it was ran out too quickly but by then it was time for a stroll and a nap. So far, so a bit shit.
As Pascale wisely (or worryingly) noted, you can usually tell if an Indian restaurant is good by the customers. We were crammed into a space that other people might call the lobby and I would describe as right next to the yawning doors, with complementary gulps of cold air every time some bugger used them. There was no shortage of buggers. Pushkar, the restaurant, is pretty highly rated. They even give you all your menus in a box, albeit a box from a 1970’s Sikh wedding. It felt a bit slow, a little cheap even, but that ended when the food arrived. Curry has to be terrific to be really good; there’s too much rubbish out there and so the odds have been stretched. You should never, ever go back to a bad curry house; I would walk back to Pushkar on a rainy day, wearing high heels, just for another plate of my grub. I neglected to write the name down but it was a bowl of lamb heaven and it lit up that moment, on that evening, in that restaurant. It was overpriced and too crammed and the chairs were designed for a short ballet dancer, but when food is that good it doesn’t matter too much. If Upper Crust is like eating in prison, then Pushkar is your first meal when you get out. Only don’t forget that you’re paying.
I went to bed with a solid, angry, distended stomach, assuming that in the morning I might swerve the full English at the hotel and opt for a bowl of granola and some summer fruit compote. Fat chance. Fat arteries. Hotel breakfast experiences are grim at best. Nobody should ever have to watch other people eat like that. Every level of stupidity is on display. I find it hard just watching people try to negotiate the toasting conveyor belt gizmo as if it were Chinese algebra to a caveman, and then just stand there and wait while you glower behind them thinking dark, dark things. Like all bad food (as in food that is bad for you) a fry up on top of a night out might feel good while you eat it but you never feel too clever once you’ve finished. It is a micro version of an all-inclusive holiday and when you get out you can’t get out fast enough. Final verdict – it was a cooked breakfast buffet in a 4 star hotel: it was what it was.
Our last hurrah was at New Street Station, or is it now Grand Central? They clearly can’t decide. Having all promised we would eat nothing else, ever, we ended up at a Caffe Concerto to fritter away our last few minutes before parting company. Freshly squeezed orange juice to tell myself I was being healthy was accompanied by a chubby slab of tiramisu which was, frankly, gorgeous. I won’t go out of my way to find another in a hurry but if it ever parked itself in front of me again I also wouldn’t say no. My system was shot and we had eaten, and spent, ourselves silly. Five meals in just over 24 hours, but we were on holiday so who’s counting? It started in failure and ended in something that gently orbited triumph. And all I can say for Upper Crust (other than I’ll never eat there again until I have dementia) is that eating the worst breakfast muffin ever is at least slightly more manageable if you know that someone else you love has to eat one as well. If you need me, I’ll be in the gym.
G B Hewitt. 18.06.2019