London and (Gastronomic) Liberty: It’s the Little Things

For Vincent Vega, it was the little things that made Europe different: Quarter Pounder with Cheese? No way. Royale with Cheese. As Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction hoodlum with a heart of gold reminds us, over on the Continent, “they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”

To be honest, we Pricks aren’t completely clear on the concept either. But we do agree that it is those picayune details of daily life in Europe – and by this point in our tale we haven’t even made it out of London – that make us realize we’re not in Sydney any more.

A few nights in we find ourselves without a dinner reservation and wandering the streets of South Kensington. Turning a corner we pop into a local wine bar/wine store and realize that, sorry, in this one instance the Brits have it all over the Aussies.

Now just about every Sydney wine shop the Pricks have ever been in has let our terrier join us for a browse (they’re hardly going to be halal, after all). But this shop – called The Sampler –  actually clears off a shelf on the floor for the resident border collie to have a sleep. Solid.

They have eighty – EIGHTY! – wines on tasting with those clever card-activated wine-preservation machines, from cheap and cheerful Spanish jobbies to Chateau Talbot.

And they put out plates of wine and cheese and crackers, which means that people from the neighbourhood just come in and have a couple of wines and a chat and a snack and a sniff and maybe a purchase or two of an evening after work. The whole thing was a little exercise in Tocquevillian civil society, the informal institutions that keep us from going at it hammer and tongs.

Over a pour of Pernand-Verglesses we sat outside dreaming about opening something similar in Sydney until one of those little on-the-shoulder cartoon devils appeared (looking strangely like Clover Moore, as it happens)  to tell us all the reasons it would never be a goer back home.

First off, dogs, because God forbid a pooch be let within a nine iron of food for human consumption, and inevitably someone’s Frenchie would sniff someone else the wrong way and thus prompt a flurry of letters to the Herald about “selfish, selfish pet-owners” from angry grumps who still somehow don’t get why some prefer pets to people.

Then there’s the whole serve-yourself thing which, even though intermediated by those very cool (and likely very pricey) WineStation machines, would get the whole Baptists-and-bootleggers coalition of Big Hotels and Big Nanny in a righteous snit. A few 5-centilitre pours of pinot probably counts as binge drinking these days and without a whole lot of folk with RSA certificates and a Tongan large enough to have his own post code out the front you never know, a young person might try and sneak a cheeky malbec rather than go swallow a handful of pingers before a dance party in current societally-accepted fashion.

And then there’s food. Offering so much as a plate of water crackers by way of hospitality without getting the health inspectors in would probably lead to a stint in Long Bay for health code violations. A reckless endangerment charge, in whatever class “driving blindfolded through a playground” also sits,  would be tacked on to “send a message to society”. These guys at the shop were doing cheese and little sausages, which as every local bureaucracy knows is like serving shots of arsenic while juggling flaming bowling pins: It’s a wonder we poor Pricks lived to tell the tale.

Oh, did we mention the dog thing?

While we never darkened the doors of a London maccas to find out if they really do call it a Royale with Cheese over here (and yes, blogging about McDonald’s can be done and done well) we also popped into a local mini-chain of burger joints in need of a snack … and found that they actively encourage customers not only to go the double-patty route, but to have a slug of bourbon alongside their beer (don’t mind if we do!).

Dave Cameron may be a ninny who has only hastened the demise of ancient rights set in train by Tony Blair, but on some level the Pricks will never again be able to listen to a Brit talk about the local nanny state without bursting out into peals of laughter: As far as the food and drinks side of things goes, it’s the sweet land of liberty.

And this was even before we hit France.

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6 Responses to London and (Gastronomic) Liberty: It’s the Little Things

  1. This blog post makes me sad. Australia was free once.

  2. Meerkat says:

    Superb writing Sir! Sadly so true it needs to be said over and over again “Australia is such a Nanny State nowhere in the English speaking world compares” NOT EVEN BRITAIN. I thought I’d landed in the Wild West when I went to the UK a few years back. I won a pint in a bet with my Scottish Cousin when I told him Bicycle Helmets were compulsory in Australia. “Noo Man what yer mean is fawa Motor Cycle nae gov makes ye wear em on a pushee!’ 2 Seconds on Google later….

  3. Free Advice says:

    From memory, England is still a bit confused when it comes to metric. They still use miles don’t they?

  4. DMS says:

    London has come a long way.
    10 years ago in a greasy spoon in London (waiting for our room after getting off an international flight, funnily enough) I’m pretty sure I got an instant coffee. Bloody good fried egg sandwich though.

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