Monday 16 February 2009

Chianti Classique

Yesterday night I treated myself to a dinner with Simon May, or Mr Atomic Sushi as I like to call him. I published Simon’s book in 2006: it’s one of the first titles we did at Alma, and it’s now in its third reprint. It’s a haiku-like, anecdotal account of his one-year stay in Japan as the first British Professor of Philosophy at Tokyo University for more than a century. His book tells you of $500-a-head restaurants where rats scurry between the chef’s legs, and of goldfish-shooting vaginas. I’ll say no more.

Simon is a brilliant philosopher, musician and aphorist, and I enjoy his company and razor-sharp wit very much. The only problem is that he is also a food and wine buff, and his palate is very difficult to please. Over the last ten years, he has amassed a formidable collection of fine wines – my guess is that it must now extend into the thousands – all adequately insured and stored in an Armageddon-resistant cellar. When he wine-tastes, he doesn’t only stick his old nose right into the glass but swills the liquid in his mouth with various expressions of ecstasy and delight.

As I will be leaving soon for Japan, I was hoping he could give me some tips, and I haven’t been disappointed. So we headed for Confucius, my favourite Chinese restaurant in town. It’s on Wimbledon’s Broadway, and if you haven’t tried it, I warmly recommend it.

We decided we wouldn’t have any wine with our meal. But then Simon got very excited when he saw that they had a Chianti "Calssico" 2004/05 on the menu at a very reasonable price. “2004 is the dogs’ b***s of Chianti,” he enthused. When the Chinese waitress came up to our table to take the order, Simon asked her where this Chianti was from – meaning from which particular winegrower in Tuscany, on the off-chance he might know him. The girl didn’t blink, and replied: “France”.

In the end, it turned out that they had run out of 2004 or 2005 bottles – they’d given them away as they were getting a bit old – but hey, they had some 2006 bottles. “Can you bring a bottle that is slightly less warm than this?” asked Simon. The girl looked flummoxed and said: “They’re all from the same case near the counter.”

The meal itself was a taste-bud delight. I am a regular there, and knew I would be able to impress even the most determined Epicurean. During the nine-course dinner, we talked about Goethe and Schopenhauer, Beethoven and sexual desire. I reminded Simon of a chapter in his book where he resisted the advances of an ear-biting, overweight woman with halitosis, and he gossiped about an acquaintance “who seemed to have made two or three hundred million but was not materialistic at all”. I also told him all about my two German ex-girlfriends.

What began as a quintessentially rude boys’ night continued at my place in Richmond in the most civilized fashion. We uncorked a sixty-pound bottle of Burgundy – courtesy of Simon’s collection – and recited poems by Dante and Cavalcanti until I looked at my clock and found out that it was one-thirty a.m.

When I woke up this morning at six with an ever so delicate headache, I came to realize that the ancients were right. “La sera leoni, la mattina coglioni.”


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