It’s been a while.
I came across a reference to Anna’s Place this morning. It was a little Scandinavian restaurant in Newington Green, around in the 1980s. It was not a precursor of the Scandi restaurants around today; more a home-cooking, superior comfort-food sort of place. I used to live round the corner but I didn’t go often because I couldn’t afford it and when I went, it was a real treat.
It wasn’t so many years earlier that I used to wait for my father to buy the latest Good Food Guide and take it to my bedroom, dying to see who had got the best score that year and who was up and who was down in the league table. I used to fantasize about going to some of those restaurants and never thought I would. I wanted to be one of those readers whose names were cited at the end of a review, giving my opinion. I couldn’t quite picture myself living that sort of life or having that sort of confidence.
They seemed like far-off places, those restaurants, glamorous and exciting, for people who lived lives outside the confines of north Manchester, where our restaurant choices included JS Salt Beef Bar and the deadly Fifth Inn, also known as Stanneylands, where you could, at least, get a decent Dover sole.
There was a time when the family to bundle into the Jaguar XJ-S (often 6 of us; it wasn’t pretty) and queue for the dim sum at Yang Sing. It was one of the few Manchester restaurants in the Good Food Guide and I could see why. I still remember the excitement of seeing that trolley with the steaming bamboo baskets.
People sometimes ask me why I stopped reviewing. “I got fat,” I say (which was true); “it became a chore” (also true) but it was also because I had stopped being excited about restaurants. I’d overdone it with my fine-dining equivalent of a pub crawl. What was meant to be the trip of a lifetime became an exercise in gluttony about which I felt a little embarrassed.
Channelling my inner Verruca Salt, I wanted it all. Forgetting my own dictum ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ I did and I did it large. My last Michelin moment was at L’Auberge d’L’ill in Alsace last September . I didn’t write about it because I couldn’t, by that point; it wasn’t only my arteries that were getting blocked.
So I’ve taken half a year away from it and only now am I starting to think that I might put a toe in the water and try something new and if I feel like it, write about it. In the meanwhile, I’ve overhauled my eating habits, learned a little more about nutrition, gone back to eating regularly in restaurants that I actually enjoy rather than chasing every new opening, taken myself out of the foodie loop and rediscovered my pleasure in more simple food.
I now feel that I can eat out without it getting out of control and I want to see if I can do it in a relatively restrained way in terms of the food I actually order. I won’t eat sugar and I’m pretty much off bread; that works for me, but you will be relieved to hear that I’m not intending to be preachy, other than to myself.
I don’t want to get back into the circus and I’m not looking to be the next AA Gill, not that anyone could fill those boots; I just feel that I might again have something to say about food and the pleasures of eating out as well as eating in. Let’s see.
Meanwhile, the next Bodyscan is on 3rd May and I will be reporting on progress when I’ve had it and yes, I’m still doing it, together with high impact intensity training twice a week. My trainer tells me that I swear more than any of his other clients. I pretty much hate every minute of it but I know I need to do it. Fuck it.