"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all." - Harriet Van Horne
Food and drink have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother loved to cook so much she made it her profession, and it was from her I learnt my own love of the culinary arts, the kitchen as both the emotional and practical heart of the home, and the old truism that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But a good feast has always been part of my extended family's ethos. "Eat well, drink much (any excuse will do)" could be printed on my family crest. The family Christmas gathering last year was very nearly irreversibly marred for one of my aunts when she couldn't get her potato salad to taste like Grandma's.
During my post-uni, pre-England period I would cook dinner on the regular, tossing herbs and spices in with reckless abandon before gleefully announcing to my family that we were about to play another gripping round of my new-found favourite game: guess the spice. I read cook books like novels. People who think of food only as fuel are completely alien to me.
All this is to say that food - good, exciting, fresh, flavoursome food - is of absolute import to me.
Which is why the past six odd weeks have left me in an almost desperate state.
Cooking for children is, in my (admittedly limited) experience, either incredible or hellish. On the one hand, I love to cook for fun. Baking for me is one of the best pick-me-ups I know. I do it when I'm stressed, sad, bored or frustrated. I take what I like to think of as a Nigella-esqu approach - all concern for my waistline goes out the window while I devote myself to the joy of cooking. And when The Children get home from school and see a fresh plate of brownies waiting for them on the counter I feel like Mary Poppins ain't got nothing on me.
Dinner, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. I love vegetables. I love spice (see above). I love adding chili, or greek yogurt, or a spoonful of hot english mustard just to see what it will taste like. And while I appreciate that there is a time and a place for blander foods, there are only so many combinations of chicken/potato/peas/sweet corn/broccoli I can stomach (haha). I get it. I really do. I've had the science of developing taste pallets explained to me by a food scientist, for crying out loud. But that doesn't mean it's ok with me.
The thing is, the whole country seems to have the taste buds of a nine year old. British restaurants offer bangers and mash with the same reverence as they would a fresh caught lobster.
I knew when I came over here that the food was not likely to be as good. Australians are amazingly spoilt when it comes to food, particularly fresh produce. But fuuuuuuuck me. I'm jonesing for a proper salad worse than a freaking crack baby (am I allowed to say that? Unlikely).
So. Here's the plan. There are a plethora of restaurants around my area, and doubtless even more in town. I am going to try each and every one of them, one per week, until I find somewhere that can offer me a plate of food that doesn't leave me feeling unsatisfied (in any sense of the word). I do not want to eat something I could have cooked just as well at home; I do not want to be more interested in the overly affectionate couple at the next table than my food. Gastro pubs of London: gird your (pork) loins.
I'll let you know how it goes.