I am embarrassed to admit that I have recently become that guy on the tube who reads the most pretentiously titled book he can find in Waterstones. ‘A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy’ is, however, a pretty good read, and I would recommend it provided your hands are large enough to obscure the front cover while you digest it in public.
One of the topics I now have a sub-rudimentary comprehension of is Relativism. In essence, the doctrine propounds that all things absolutely exist in the context of their environment. For instance, that guy on the tube with his wanky Philosophy text might not be perceived wanky were he situated in the relevant section of the British Library.
Chewing on this concept over a few lonely evenings has led me to coin a relativist theory of my own: the ‘Michelin Placebo Effect.’ Take St John, for example. It is a glorified warehouse, crouching in the brutalist shadows of the Barbican, that is about as inviting as a bath of snakes.
Inside is no different: rickety chairs reclaimed from an asylum; whitewashed walls that may as well be padded; wooden pins above each table for patrons to precariously hang their affairs. Would customers accept the utilitarian environs if the fare was not Michelin starred? Are palettes rendered totally fallible when in proximity to exposed concrete and unfinished timber?
I say this because St John served us cuts of meat and not much else for the ripe sum of £170. We had a fantastic time, but reflecting on the experience I wondered if I had indeed been duped by the MPE; blinded by hype and hoodwinked by trendiness.
What assures me as to the contrary is that I have woken up in a pool of my own dribble every night since, catching myself dreaming of the roasted bone marrow on toast that I had for starter. Epicurus can stick his intellectual pleasures; clearly he had never plucked succulent marrow from its ivory cavity and smeared it over granary bread – saline goodness enough to satiate body and soul.
What’s more, we kicked off our battle against sobriety with a pint of bitter, properly poured.
I shall just repeat that: a pint of bitter, properly poured, in a Michy. MPE thoroughly debunked.
Our swoon crescendoed into the main course, opting for roast Middle White with chard and kid livers with Jerusalem artichokes. The meat, the sauce, and the bits in between might have been served up by mother on a Sunday (providing mother has done 5 years at The Ledbury).
The meat had made pigs of us, as we also invited a door wedge of Welsh rarebit and softly wilted greens to the table. Rarebit and gravy was a surprising revelation – remind me to reach for the Bisto next time I whip up a hungover cheese toasty – but was at its best on its own; charred on the outside but luxurious within, like a Moroccan hotel.
Dessert was completely unnecessary but also completely necessary: a caramelly thing and a sticky toffee thing. I must concede that neither of us can remember exactly what we chose, and the ever-changing menu at St John means we are unable to trace back what we ordered online. Revisiting the pictures of these sweet treats, however, is borderline arousing. Just look at the caramel, suspended in motion, oozing down the sides of the salt-flecked chocolate slice! Adulterous stuff.
The gross priapism of the Barbican’s Lauderdale Tower was nothing compared to the dinner-induced one in my pants as we left St John. It might be like dining in a Berlin nightclub, but the fare deserves to be vaunted.