Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Pieless in Lewes

Every now and again it's good to get out and do something. So on Saturday Mrs H and I decided to go for a wander round Lewes, the county town, and have lunch in one of the many eateries that are dotted along the high street.

I like Lewes, but there's something about the place that I can't quite put my finger on. The late Keith Waterhouse said that Brighton 'looks like a town that is helping the police with its enquiries.' But Lewes, on the other hand, looks like a town that is best mates with the Chief Constable, and tells you that you'd do well to remember it, as you both try to nab the last parking space behind Waitrose. Most of its inhabitants look quite well heeled and have that air of self-assurance that I've never been able to carry off. Even the down and outs are posh. A ruddy-faced street drinker strummed a guitar as he sweetly sang 'you killed ma wee brother ya bastard' or something very like it to passers-by; in any lesser town the same words would have been screamed out in the middle of the night outside a block of flats, and without the benefit of a classical twelve string. But I digress.

Mrs H and I negotiated the doors of our chosen eatery and were greeted by a shaven-headed whirling dervish, masquerading as a waiter, who handed us a couple of menus and promised to seat us soon. Initially, the menus could not be read as our glasses had steamed up. But we needn't have worried. The 'soon' turned out to be a few minutes as the dervish multitasked his way round the restaurant, clearing tables, laying tables, collecting monies and delivering meals. But eventually we were deposited at a table for two in the middle of the restaurant and left to our own devices to study the menu now that the fog had cleared from our spectacles.Eventually Mrs H settled upon a little smoked cod and haddock dish with chunky chips, whilst I decided to tackle the steak and kidney pie. Off went the dervish to fulfil the order, which gave us the leisure to examine our fellow diners. Behind us was a husband and wife with two children; one a girl around three years old, and her little brother, probably no more than nine months old. They had clearly been waiting some time for their food, as the girl was in the process of demolishing two slices of bread, which she laboriously buttered with a knife that was almost as big as herself. And, after every mouthful of bread, the child wept copious tears for no readily apparent reason. Her little brother, in contrast, was rather quiet and solemn, dressed as he was like a mini country gentleman, with a tiny tattersall shirt and a grey waistcoat. I expected to see a gold dummy on a watch chain tucked into his waistcoat pocket, but disappointingly this was absent.

After waiting for more than half an hour for our food, I enquired of the dervish as to its whereabouts. Off he sped, and returned five minutes later with the news that my pie had been dropped on the kitchen floor just prior to its delivery to our table. This piece of information I found very hard to believe, for the following reason. I noticed that someone in the kitchen would ring a tiny bell when food was ready to be collected. One of the junior dervishes would then dash into the kitchen, emerging with said food. And, whilst I had heard many tiny tinkles during the preceding few minutes, I had not heard the tumultous crash of a steak and kidney pie, encased in a ceramic pie dish, hitting the kitchen floor. I suspected that they had simply forgotten us and our order, and had concocted the dropped pie story to cover their tracks. Deciding not to cause a fuss, I let it pass, and settled down to my dish of complimentary olives to await pie number two.

A few minutes later, a young female under-dervish arrived.

'I'm really sorry, ladies,' she said. 'I mean, sir and lady,' she added, having noticed that I was, in fact, a man.

'It's the hair, isn't it?' I said.

She blanked this rejoinder. 'I'm really sorry, but it was me who dropped your pie.' I gave her a half smile in an effort to show that I felt her discomfort. They had obviously drawn straws in the kitchen, and this young lady, having picked the short one, had been selected to confirm the story concocted by the senior dervish.

'Your food will be here in a couple of minutes.'

Our food arrived in a couple of minutes and, I have to say, it was well worth the wait. But what was even better than the food was the middle aged, middle class couple on the next table, who were clearly having a blazing row about where they were going to spend their next holiday. However, it was conducted in a very quiet and civilised manner, like two people who barely knew each other politely conversing about the weather. She wanted to go to Aspen in Colorado. He wanted to go to Europe. What have you got against Aspen, she asked. The length of the journey, he said. You didn't think Bermuda was too far away when you wanted to go there, did you, she asked. Well, then we'll go to Aspen, he said. I really want to go to Aspen. What's the snow like at this time of year, he asked. I have no idea, she said...

We paid the bill and departed before things turned really nasty and they started dipping their fingers in the carafe and flicking water over each other.

Incidentally, I can thoroughly recommend the restaurant to you. Sorry, did I not tell you what it was called? Oh dear...


Ivy Black said...

I like Lewes, I haven't been for ages, but when I next visit, I shall enquire as to which of it's eateries drops pies.
I know what you mean about the place though...it is as they say 'well up itself' but has a pleasant smile at the same time. I think Winchester is it's old friend from school.
It would never go out for a drink with Cardiff or Birmingham...

Chris Hale said...

Greetings Ivy. On the plus side, the eatery did have some rather nice cakes. But I hope they realise that drop scones are a bakery item, not an instruction.