Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: Why I’d rather whine than dine in a posh restaurant

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

I've never been too comfortable with dining out. Done it plenty. You have to really. But there's something not quite right about the experience. Too much snobbery and fawning, too many rules and fads.

It took me ages to suss you weren't supposed to dine out on your own.

Once, in a Chinese restaurant, I looked up to find all the staff staring at me, and still staring when I scowled back. I've experienced that a few times.

Then there are those couples who can't think of a word to say to each other. So they sit staring at the solitary diner (or at least the female of the species does).

Heartlessly, they try to make someone feel more uncomfortable than they are. So, on the rare occasions I do dine out nowadays, it's always in company.

Some of my friends are offhand with waiters. Some fawn to them. One is convinced they spit in your food if you don't grovel.

I suppose, nowadays, my favourite places are these pizza chains where the food is standardised (spittle 75p extra) and the staff smile perpetually and refer to customers as "you guys", despite our party frequently being made of both genders.

Thinking this gender-blurring was the new mode, I asked some workmen later: "Hey, any of you girls direct me to the station?" It was a full 10 minutes before they let go of my head.

Still, it's all part of a trend towards informality now under way even in the poshermost restaurants, according to Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of the Waitrose Good Food Guide.

Last time I was in a right posh restaurant, my mate insisted the wine was corked ... and the waiter revealed it was a screwtop.

How we laughed. Well, I did. Spat my guacamole all over the complimentary bread.

Ms Carter told the Independent on Sunday that ordinary punters were now welcome in posh places because most chefs were similarly plebeian.

They want their restaurants to be places in which they'd feel comfortable themselves.

Hmm. Knowing human nature, all that'll happen is a new inverted snobbery will take hold, just as today's young toffs tend to look more like rappers than characters from Bridehouse Revisited.

People will titter if you wear a tie. But you'll still have to know something about wine. Don't make my mate's mistake. Ask if they've got any that comes in cans.

Saturday: So, what’s your game, mate?

I've friends who work in the gaming industry. Indeed, they've taken over the headquarters of a newspaper where I used to work. How can something obsessed with violence and crisis replace a newspaper? Beats me.

This week saw the release of Destiny, the world's most eagerly awaited video game. It expects 10 million players and is compared to Lord of the Rings. Eh? The game's about violently blootering aliens. True, Lord of the Rings has quite a lot of battles, but I much prefer the more historically accurate stuff about elves and talking trees.

Why can't they make games about that?

Monday: what makes men exceedingly happy?

Top experts have expressed surprise after a survey showed “sensitive” pleasures sneaking into a list of things that make men happy.

The study of 2,000 adults, commissioned by leading academics Mr Kipling's Cakes, found scenic views and the sound of rainfall had sneaked into men's guilty pleasures.

The controversial development has led top worriers to predict that men are becoming effeminate, leading to the human race dying out. But they're over-reacting. Eating was actually top of the list and having a quiet pint second. Can't argue with that, though I'm not so sure about the second one. I wasn't aware that pints came singly. Is that a new thing?

Women's top little pleasure was fresh bed sheets, which is a bit meh. Hugs came second. God, they're so demanding.

Improbably enough, redecorating came in at 16th, though it doesn't specify if that is in a management or labouring capacity.

Tuesday: Green smoothies can be hard to swallow

Good to see the Love Food Hate Waste campaign in Belfast suggesting green smoothies as a way to use up the fruit and veg in your fridge.

The great news is that, as well as cleaning out your fridge, green smoothies clean out your body.

They fill you full of energy, alkalise your system and, best of all, make you feel virtuous.

You can also lose weight unless, to make them taste less rubbish, you add some chocolate or perhaps way too much honey.

You could even try liquidising a pie if you're desperate.

Only joking, folks. Drink up your veggies now.

Wednesday: cold fact ... we’d all be lost without sat nav

How times change. In 1845, two 0ships set out to probe the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans across the Arctic. They and their crews disappeared.

In 2014, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper announces a search for the ships.

And five minutes later shouts: “Here they are!” Well, one of them at any rate, at least as I write. They're not sure if it's HMS Erebus or HMS Terror.

Of more interest is whether they find any bodies, including that of Captain Francis Crozier, the Banbridge-born explorer who was second in command to Sir John Franklin.

Legend says he was the last man standing, as the crews succumbed to their hostile environment. Poor souls. Imagine exploring without GPS, Facebook or YouTube. Adding insult to death, in another five minutes Google Maps will be out there with one of their wee cars with a camera on the roof.

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