Friday, 16 November 2007

Back from Wrecker's Bedside ...

Ahhh ... that's better!

There's really nothing more depressing than a hospital - and a children's hospital specialising in burns is particularly foul - so, while the trip was actually very far from painful, Fisher and I are both very glad to be back.

Having said that, I'm afraid a large portion of this blog is going to be devoted to the find of the century, where I had something akin to a 'St Paul on the road to Damascus' moment and was both humbled and inspired. But more of that later.

We arrived at Yorkhill Hospital to see Wrecker drowsily lying in his cot, having his toe held by Islander (something he finds soothing), swathed in bandages. However, he was pink of cheek and calm, seemingly undistressed - which was a relief. As our presence was requested ostensibly to take care or Gemmill, I greeted him by standing in front of the TV and giving hurrah. At which the little foulness shouted: "No!" and struck out at me, furious I would obstruct his viewing pleasure. Not to be thwarted, I decided suitable treatment was to pick him up and drag him into the corridor, threatening dire retribution including throwing him down the stairs. This he thought great fun, and order was restored.

We duly took Gemmill off for a day's entertainment, starting with the Kelvingrove Museum, which cunningly manages to imply a massive dinosaur skeleton on display by showing a close-up picture of its head on its pamphlet. Naturally Gemmill was desperate to see it, so when it turned out to be a small dinosaur - not even as big as a veloceraptor - he was most put out. Luckily he was interested enough in all the other stuffed and fossilised things, including a
stagonolepis fossil which I, too, thought very cool.

We managed to pass several hours here, although I think we were pushing it a bit by the end. He was only mildly interested in the armour displays, and instead of looking, told me a convoluted story about Father Christmas and a dragon, which was rather good until the bloody Power Rangers turned up in it. I hate those things. However, he was quite taken with a hollowed out log canoe and some furs, both used by Scotland's earliest people.

After Kelvingrove we headed out in search of a play park, and found one nearby which he spent about half an hour sampling while Fisher and I struggled to think of what to do next. I half heartedly suggested the Botanic Gardens - and miraculously, Gemmill was very keen to see what I could only think to describe as 'a museum of flowers.' So off we tootled.

Unfortunately, the walk proved a hell of a lot longer than I'd anticipated so we recuperated at a café and fed Gemmill a caramel slice and a smoothie, before finishing the trek. The boy is pretty indefatigable! The walk must have been over a mile, but he was still haring around at the end of it.

The Botanic Gardens proved to be a godsend. Gemmill loved the glasshouses, filled with plants, and his prodigious memory stored up all the facts I could muster (which is probably a bad thing, as I know sweet FA about plants and doubtless fed him nothing but misinformation). After at least an hour of exploration we found another play park with a roundabout, which occupied him until darkness fell and it was time to return to Yorkhill. We caught a cab (eventually) and only when we were sitting on its soft seats did Gemmill cheerfully remark that his legs were sore. Considering Fisher's feet were sore too, it's astonishing he wasn't dropping with fatigue - but he still had energy enough to demand a go on the slide outside the hospital when we disembarked.

We delivered Gemmill back to his Mama and Papa, then set about the task of finding ourselves some accommodation. And here, o readers, is where this Glasgow trip changed in nature and became a dichotomy of duty and pleasure.

After trolling up and down Byers and the Great Western Roads, stopping off at the Hilton and waiting 20 minutes to be told there were no rooms (why couldn't they just have a poxy 'no vacancies' sign?), we eventually stopped at a place on the Great Western Road that looked plush and comfy. Fisher went in to make enquiries and came trotting back saying yes, they had rooms, they could 'do' them at a reduced price, and was that ok? Fine by me - so we parked the car, grabbed our skanky hold-alls out the boot and galumphed up the stairs ... where we were were relieved of our bags by a jovial soul in a kilt and invited to have a drink. This we declined, as we actually had to check in, and therefore missed out on the free dram of Glenmorangie each visitor gets on arrival.

We were shown to our reduced rate room, and at the sight of it, something inside me just switched off and all the muscles in my back which, it seems, I'd be holding in a tight little ball of tension, simply relaxed. My soul breathed a great sigh of relief and I gazed in delight at the vast four poster bed, the bathroom with its enormous bath and walk-in shower, and the goodies laid out beside the kettle. Being starving, I immediately wolfed the complimentary 'dunking' biscuit of chocolate chip and a bag of salt and pepper crisps (not complimentary). We changed our clothes, shook off the taint of hospital, and went downstairs to see about supper. The Bistro, the hotel's restaurant, advised booking in order to avoid disppointment, so this we did - getting in at 7.30.

After doing some mundanities like checking email on the free computer access, we made our way to the Bistro. We were supplied with an excellent and generous G&T as we perused the menus. My eye lit on a starter which, at £9, seemed extortionate - considering it was, to all extents and purposes, a soft boiled egg and soldiers. Ok, so it was truffle toast, but even so, I wasn't going to fork out nearly a tenner for a soft boiled bloody egg! I turned away from it, tempted by terrines, veloutés, salads and seafood in equal measure. Fisher decided she wanted the ham hough terrine, so I was foiled in that choice, but my main course was a simple choice. I had to have the hare with turnip 'addressed two ways'. ("Good evening, turnip" and "Hey turnip, what's up?" perhaps? Aha. Ahahahahaha.) Fisher plumped for lobster, obviously, and it only remained for me to choose a starter and we were good to go.

I'd decided on something - I forget what - when my eye lit once more on the soft boiled egg. How can they charge £9 for a soft boiled egg? I marvelled. And so I ordered it, telling the head waiter that I was doing so simply to discover "how the hell you can get away with charging £9 for a boiled egg!" He smiled benignly, telling me I'd made a wise choice, and left us to enjoy our drinks in amongst the plush furnishings, dim lighting and Simon Pegg.

At our table at last, we were first served with an amuse bouche of artichoke velouté, which was a harbinger of things to come. Light, fluffy, melt in the mouth ... utterly divine, with different types of bread to mop up the scraps in a deeply ungenteel fashion. We'd ordered a glass of wine each. Fisher went for a large glass of Chianti - I forget which - but it was crisp, light and fruity. I went for a Pinot Noir, which was stupidly priced even by the glass, but by God it was worth every penny! I had to steel myself not to guzzle its rich, ripe, black berry goodness down in seconds.

On came the starters ... and oh! "Why the hell do you only charge £9 for that boiled egg?" I asked the head waiter, afterwards.

It arrived, lightly fried in something - I still don't know what. It was like a smooth breadcrumb shell - and when I broke into it, the egg flowed gently out like yellow lava. I took a small forkfull, cut a centimetre of truffle toast and combined the two.

Bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Lightly salty, fragrant from the truffle oil, beautifully warm and moist with egg ...

Without question of a doubt, the finest starter I've ever had the privilege of tasting.

Meanwhile, Fisher was chomping her ham hough terrine with pleasure. We tried each others, and I thought the terrine excellent: flaky meat, shot through with green peppercorns for a slight tartness, and beautifully prepared. My egg won the day, but the terrine was splendid.

Next up was the main course. I'd forgotten to order any side dishes with my hare, and was initially a little vexed at my forgetfulness. The hare came in small cylinders, half brown, half white. The brown half was the hare, soft as butter. The white half was turnip, which had been turned into something rather like panacotta, and provided the subtlest, earthy accompaniment to the hare. The hare itself was perfectly hung for my taste - its gaminess potent but not overpowering, and well balanced by the second turnip, which was fried, or sautéed, and caramelised.

It was to die for. Beside me, Fisher was uttering little moans over her lobster, which I couldn't sample but which she tells me was perfection on a plate - pan fried in butter, with a hot, foamy mayonnaise accompaniment. It literally brought tears to her eyes.

We sat in stunned silence. I kept glazing over. I simply couldn't seem to focus my thoughts on anything but the tastes swirling round my mouth. It was as though I'd stumbled out of Plato's cave and seen the true light. Now I know there are two levels of haut cuisine: that which you find in good restaurants across the globe, and thoroughly enjoy - and that which overwhelms your senses, delighting sight, scent, touch and taste - even sound, if you take into consideration the appreciative noises made by yourself and your dining partner.

The only comparison I have is the first time I read Shakespeare on my own, without being compelled to do so for school. As I sank into the words and found myself absorbed, I suddenly 'got' it. I knew why he was a genius. His characters danced about my mind, his words were like music, and without the ponderous analysis enforced upon him, his plays become what they were always intended to be: pure, engrossing entertainment. You're supposed to be swept up in the story, to give yourself over to it in willing suspension of disbelief, whether it make you laugh, give you hope, or break your heart.

Well, this meal did all those things. I laughed with the sheer pleasure of it, at how blown away we were by it; it broke my heart because I recognised how paltry and amateurish my own efforts at the stove are in comparison; it gave me hope because there's the promise of returning - and of learning to cook in such a fashion myself.

Yes, yes, this is all very overblown and silly, I'm sure - but I really don't care. Life is short, and the pursuit of pleasure is a noble one.

But with the search comes responsibility. If it's in your power, you have to share your good fortune with as many people as possible. Keep it all to yourself and you're nothing more than a fat cat hedonist, indulging in selfish gluttony. If you find something spectacular, it's your duty to let those who'd glean as much pleasure from it as yourself know of its existence, and share in it with you.

But I haven't even finished describing the meal!

Out of a responsibility to the Cheese Board, I ordered cheese for pudding. Fisher went a more traditional route and succumbed to a chocolate platter, which I'll let her describe in her own blog, if she wishes, because I can't really remember it. I was too excited by my cheese!

I go to choose it from a selection, and a French waitress talked me through my choices and advised me to eat them in a certain order. I could go through each and every one, but I won't (I think it would be a bit tedious, even for the most devoted foodie). Suffice it to say, even the cheese was spectacular - and the order they were eaten definitely made a difference.

Christ, I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.

After this feast of delights was done, we retired to the whisky room where over 300 whiskies are on display - including the Edradour Chateau d'Yqueme we have at home courtesy of Arrow. I plumped for port instead, while Fisher had a white sherry, and we slowly digested. Decaf coffee rounded everything off, along with several divine, hand-made petit fours. And once all this was consumed, the vast four poster bed awaited us in all its glory.

Thus ended the finest meal I have ever eaten - and thus ends this part of the blog.


SAM said...

You've been TAGGED - go to: