I am sandwiched between two lone male diners. Not in the biblical sense, obviously, they wouldn’t be dining if they were sandwiching me (if that is even a term) and I’m not sure I’d refer to them as “lone” males if we were midway through performing some kind of debaucherous act.
No, I merely mean that I am sitting (also alone) at a table in a restaurant and the tables either side of me are occupied by lone male diners. I could have said it like that to start off with, but that would have deprived you of the lasting mental image of me being “sandwiched”.
Anyway, I write with important news, because I think I may be at the end of my love affair with burrata. You know burrata, the incredibly rich and creamy italian cheese – it looks like a ball of mozzarella di buffala, but it’s milkier and more surprising. If I was to accurately describe it, I’d call it a cheese sack filled with cream, but that has to be the least appealing description of any foodstuff ever, so I’ll leave it to finecooking.com who say:
“burrata is a supple pouch of tender mozzarella stuffed with stracciatella, a luscious blend of fresh cream and soft mozzarella shreds”.
Supple pouch. Supple. Pouch. I’m not sure which is worse: cheese sack, or supple pouch.
Getting back to the matter in hand; my love affair with burrata. We’ve been all over the world together – Paris, L.A., New York, London, Tokyo – and I’ve been faithful, dear reader, choosing burrata over almost anything else when given the choice. But things are fizzling out. It’s not actually the burrata’s fault, because I still love it, the big supple pouch of a bastard, the plump white orb of goodness; it’s what chef’s are doing to it that is turning me off. What they’re serving it with.
It seems to have become de rigueur to serve it a) completely by itself or b) with something that simply doesn’t do it any favours at all. Gives it no help. And you might say “oh, but burrata doesn’t need any help, it’s perfection the way it is!”
But try eating a whole, large burrata with nothing else on the plate. Which is how I’ve been served it a few times. It’s just too decadent, too rich. My body can’t cope with it. It’s so gloriously creamy, with its mozzarella shell and liquidy insides, but it’s (whispers) too much of a good thing.
In my very humble opinion (I say humble, but I must have eaten over eighty thousand burratas, so in a way I’m probably a world expert) the best way to eat a burrata is with something ever so slightly sharp, or tangy, beside it. My preference would be that there was something involving tomatoes, but equally it could be some peppers that have been charred, skinned, marinated in something slightly acidic. A quality balsamic, perhaps.
I don’t know, I’m just giving you my thoughts.
Of course the ultimate delight, if bodies didn’t have arteries that had to be kept relatively unclogged, would be a huge bowl of penne with an incredibly spicy tomato sauce and then a massive great big sac magique of burrata plonked on the top. Quivering. Ready to explode all over the spicy sauce and extinguish the fire. See? Balance!
Instead, I get given: a burrata on a plate, a sea of cream, some sprigs of what looks like thyme sprinkled on top. Which also makes no sense – why thyme? Or, in one overly-wholesome place, a burrata served next to an avocado purée, which was just nonsense, a triangular plate-shaped mess of expensive baby food.
And now I sit here, amongst my lone male diners, staring at another burrata creation: burrata with pine nuts (meh) and chargrilled broccoli. Broccoli!
The broccoli is offering nothing in the way of flavour, nothing strong enough to contrast with the milkiness of the cheese. It’s just faintly like guff, broccoli, and I love it but at the same time it’s not worthy of a place at the table with King Burrata.
And this meal was going so well, too. The ceviche starter was excellent. I even gave it my undivided attention, because my iPhone battery has died and I didn’t want to accidentally make eye contact with other humans. Not the ones here, at any rate. I’m not cool enough for the people here – the men all have fisherman’s beards and are wearing jeggings and there’s a girl wearing what seems to be a non-ironic tiger outfit, complete with tail. When I walked in wearing my tracksuit I saw the sea of eyes upon me; I’d have been less conspicuous had I weaved my way through the restaurant on a Penny Farthing blowing on a hunting bugle.
Now the dessert is here; deconstructed fig tatin. I thought that a tarte tatin was pretty deconstructed to start with – pastry, fruit, caramel – but here we are with it brought down to even humbler components. Wait: two of said components are missing. This is just figs and ice cream. Where’s the bloody pastry? Where’s the tatin? It costs 8.5, which means eight and a half pounds, to those of you who are used to the normal pricing system, which tends to work quite well so why mess with it, which I think is extortionate for three figs and a scoop of vanilla.
But this is not a restaurant review, I merely popped in to talk about burrata. Pressing issues, people, pressing issues. The man beside me has just leant in and asked me a dubious, conversation-opening question about wine – wine! – which means possible social contact and a potential awkward situation: time for me to run like the wind! I’ll not be the filling in your lone diner sandwich, matey!
Questions to answer: do you like burrata? If so, am I right about the accompaniments or amiright? Opinions below.
NB: the burrata in the image is actually a Claridges one, which was – incidentally – delicious, but appearance-wise scored low. Whatever the hell it was served upon looked like a bed of maggots. The cheese was, as expected, delightful, but where was the tanginess? Something contrasty? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where!
I finally caved in, after over ten years of owning an iPhone, and bought myself a protective case. Why the prolonged hesitation? I’ll tell you why. I genuinely think that most phone cases are horrendous. They’re like the tech version of Crocs. Plasticky, garish monstrosities that just seem to be needlessly bad. Design abominations. And what’s worse is that they take an object of great design beauty, the iPhone – so divine in its apparent simplicity, so streamlined! – and clothe it in fancy dress.
Whether it’s a rectangular neoprene wetsuit affair or some kind of angular, metallic thing that adds four kilos to the total weight of the handset, pretty much all iPhone cases look shite.
But anyway I bought two. (I kept my old phone – see below.) One is all gold and shiny and jagged, like a teen’s drawing of a futuristic supercar, the other is a rubbery coral-toned sheath. A kinky flesh suit for my new iPhone 11 Pro Max, which was a very kind Christmas present from Mr AMR and I had no idea quite how kind until I accidentally stumbled upon the price online whilst looking for phone tripods. It’s the sort of price that warrants full-time security and a driver, or at least one of those briefcases with a chain that you can handcuff to your person.
Anyway, back to the rubbery sheath. It has this funny pop-out thing at the back that looks a bit like a weird nipple; it pulls out with a satisfying thrrrp and helps you to grip the phone, if having a phone almost entirely covered in non-slip material isn’t grippy enough for you. Perhaps your fingers are made of banana skins or the tips produce a constant flow of melted lard. I don’t know. You’d have to be pretty bloody clumsy to not get a grip on a silicon case.
And I look at these cases and think this: why have I spent a fortune buying an iPhone, an object that has surpassed all usual standards of design and function, an absolute tech icon, and then put a case on it that’s so ugly you have to question the designer’s sanity? It’s like throwing a polyester dog blanket over a George Smith sofa, or wrapping a Ferrari FF in sticky back plastic, or clothing Michelangelo’s David in a tracksuit from Boohoo.
But I’ll tell you why I’ve put a case on: because the iPhone is too naked and vulnerable without one. With its glass casing it’s more like a phone foetus than a fully-formed piece of tech – one wrong move, one rushed pants-pull-down to go to the loo when it’s in your back pocket, one child’s clumsy swipe and the whole shebang is game over. Carrying an iPhone about is like being responsible for a Fabergé egg – you’re constantly catching it mid-air, comedy-style, and breathing a sigh of relief when a knock results in “just a small crack in the corner but it doesn’t affect the screen”.
And all of this is the fault of the iPhone designers, who have made what is now our most-used modern-world thing out of the most fragile material they could think of. They may as well have folded it out of origami paper or covered it in the crumbling pages from a 12th century monastic ledger. I just can’t even conceive what was happening in the meeting where they discussed manufacturing.
“OK guys, I am loving this iPhone idea. It’s like a cell phone, but so much more. I mean, I totally see people using this all of the time – like all the time. Not just for calls, but for everything. Schedules. Emails. Taking photos. I want this to be in people’s hands constantly, I want them to carry it with them everywhere. In the car, walking down the sidewalk, at the mall, on a family trip to the ocean…”
“Yeah boss, this is so awesome. It’ll be, like, the accessory. The most-used thing people will ever own. Question is guys, what do we make it from? This piece of expensive tech that the world will carry with them and probably put in their back pocket loads? Let’s put our heads together here guys. Over there in the corner, you there – Sam, what d’you reckon? What should we make the iPhone out of?”
“Awesome Sam. Alright team, let’s go ahead and manufacture in glass. If you could also make it super-slippy to hold, and also create weak points in the screen and casing so that if a spider sneezes it immediately shatters, that would be super-awesome. Let’s go guys, let’s do this!”
I still haven’t gotten used to my sheathed iPhone. Sometimes it takes me surprise and I look at it and think “that phone cannot possibly be mine.” Alas it is. I feel as though I’ve had a horrific hairdye job and I sort of forget about it until I look in the mirror and then, for a few seconds, I have a sense of disbelief. How could I have gone so dreadfully wrong?
But anyway, my iPhone now has the equivalent of a hi-vis hazmat bullet proof wetsuit on and so I’m sure it feels a lot safer. (It ponders upon this as it lies there on its charger-pad bed. The fact that it’s so brilliantly, perfectly formed, yet it needs so much help to survive. “Why did Daddy make me so weak?”)
I bought another case, too, for my old iPhone, the one that I didn’t trade in. WHAT? you may well ask. One always trades in, surely? Not I, friends, not in this case. And do you know why? Yes, the £350 was a massive temptation, but I can tell you a bigger temptation: having a spare phone filled with noisy/educational game apps for the sproglings to play on when I want a moment’s peace. Because do you know what I like to do when I’m having that moment’s peace? I like to play on my phone! There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down with a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake (it’s still going strong, well done Mother) and realising you can’t actually scroll through Instagram or read the news because the very thing giving you a spare five minutes is the thing you need!
Anyway, I bought a case for the games phone (extravagant, but quite honestly there’s no price you can put on sanity, is there?) and good God it’s even uglier than my silicon nipple-backed one. (Nippleback. Could be a Nickelback tribute band!) It’s all angular and weird like Kryton from Red Dwarf.
The oddest thing about it is that it has a porthole cutaway so that the apple symbol can still be seen. Oh good! At least if people see the apple then they won’t think that the entire phone is an Early Learning Centre replica. It screams “there is good design inside me! You just have to look deeper! Beauty isn’t all skin deep you know!” Good bloody job really isn’t it?
Putting a sleek, flawless iPhone into the Kryto-case is like making Gisele routinely wear a suit made from egg cartons.
“We’re shooting Gisele for the cover tomorrow and we need to keep Chanel happy but she’s currently working with Dior, so…we have the bias-cut Dior drop-neck slip or we have the Chanel bikini styled with the snow boots.”
“Uhh, really? OK no, scrap those. Can you just go to fifth floor and ask if they’re still recycling the egg boxes? I’ll make them into a suit.”
“A…suit? We’re paying fifteen thousand dollars for a phone – I mean a model – and we’re going to hide her in an egg carton suit?”
“Yeah don’t worry, we can cut a hole out somewhere so that you still see how good her body is underneath.”
Don’t know where that semi-analogy was off to! Anyway you get the gist. I’m not impressed with these cases – even the apple ones look rubbish, although slightly less rubbish. To be quite honest I do wish I’d bought the silicon Apple one, which doesn’t have a Nippelback and is a nicer shade of pink. I think it was cheaper, to add insult to injury…
If you’re looking at these cases thinking I don’t actually think they look that bad then a) observe an unadulterated iPhone – isn’t it quite smooth and perfect and wonderful? – and b) you’re probably right but if I didn’t fully exaggerate all of my thoughts then I’d have nothing to write about.
Mind you, the three lens thing on the back of the new iPhones is almost as hideous as a Nippleback – I feel as though my new phone is an escapee from a robotics junkyard and any minute the front will open and little wheels will drop down and it’ll start beeping at me like R2D2. It’s an excellent camera but jeez. Chill out on the lens orgy!
Notes so that I don’t get sued: apparently Apple have made the new phone out of the strongest metal-strengthened glass known to the entire universe. The extra lenses are necessary for the super-duper image quality and both of the cases shown above are top-rated, high-performing cases that shouldn’t be mocked.
Why is it that when I have an early wakeup call, I simply cannot get to sleep? And by the way, I’m talking early-early here, when the owls are still hooting and the foxes are still tearing open the bin bags and rooting for chicken bones. Witching hour early, 3.30am early, not your pedestrian kind of early. Not 6am early. Pah! I spit on 6am.
Before Christmas I had a hideously early wakeup time – 4am – and the night before I could not get to sleep no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I started packing at 11pm and couldn’t decide what to wear to travel to Paris. (Luxury problems, I know.) It was a toss-up between two terrible options; the skinny jeans that garrotte my Pleasure Garden in half with their seam, or the dress that makes my underarms overheat. And the choice of travel attire of course affected all of my other packing, because one option needed a longer coat and the other required a shorter type of coat and the whole debacle sent me into a late-night, overtired tailspin of organisational hell.
Even when I finally got into bed and closed my eyes (the kids woke up twice between 11pm and 1am) I tossed and turned for hours, unable to get comfortable or stop my brain from whirring.
And then after all of the whirring and tossing, I was too hot. Far too hot. This phase lasted for an eternity, roasting my feet and legs even though my shoulders and chest were cold. Which was a worry in itself, as I had a chest infection and we all know you have to keep your chest and back warm! God, you might get pneumonia and die! I’d already tackled death and the depressing certainty of it in the first couple of anxious hours.
It’s that first era of sleeplessness that always kicks everything off, isn’t it? The anxiety era. It starts with the worry of missing the alarm going off, then it moves to the worry of travel in general – things that can go wrong on car journeys, on trains, definitely on planes. After twenty minutes you’ve played out at least eight horrific scenarios involving masked men, suspicious packages, air hostesses with exploding tea trolleys, pilots with a death wish. Then, once you’ve exhausted all possibilities and turned your pillow over to the cool side again, you move onto life in general and all of the things that can go wrong, compiling an almost exhaustive mental list and committing it to memory so that you can refer to it again and again in times when you really need to be getting to bloody sleep.
Anyway, I finally got to sleep at three, but it could have been later because three was the last number I saw on my phone and we all know how time flies when a wake-up call is looming! And then, my friends, guess who sauntered up to the front door HALF AN HOUR EARLY?
The taxi driver. He knocked on the door at four, waking up the dog and then the toddler and then the small child who had until then been peacefully, blissfully slumbering, no worries or hijack scenarios keeping them from their beauty sleep.
I imaginary-throttled the taxi driver. Had I been living in the Georgian times and not merely living in a house from that period, I would have thrown open the bedroom sash, upturned my chamberpot and doused the man with piss. Alas I live in 2020 and we have a toilet. Also, if anyone can “throw open” a Georgian sash window I’ll give them a medal, because it takes about eleven minutes of jostling and joggling just to get them open enough to poke a hand out, even if you’ve had the frames reconditioned and all of the sashes re-weighted. Just saying.
So the kids woke up when the taxi driver knocked and – bizarrely – one child puked and the other did a poo. They were like an effluent-emitting version of a cuckoo clock, pyjama’d kids instead of cuckoos. Cuck-koo-BLEUGH! Cuck-koo-pppppllllllllllop. (That’s the universally acknowledged sound of a poo happening.)
Why could the taxi driver have not just been on time? Why half an hour early? Why knock on the door? It’s not as though we’re short of places to stop and pull over, near us. Yes, it’s dark, yes it can be slightly sinister and the trees look like witches fingers and you might get a bat flying into your windscreen, but for the love of God it’s four o’ clock in the morning! Being early is worse than late, in some scenarios – any decent person knows that. It’s as bad as turning up half an hour early for a dinner at someone’s house – you just don’t do it. They might be shaving their legs, or they could be peeling potatoes; if it’s a couple then they’ll likely be stressed and shout-whispering hateful things at each other, things about divorce and who makes all of the social arrangements and whether chicken past the sell-by date should be thrown away if it smells faintly of cheese.
If you book a taxi for 4.30AM, who in their right mind turns up early? It’s not like 4pm, when the passanger-to-be will most likely be doing that pacing, hand-wringing thing whilst waiting for their chariot to arrive. Daytime passengers are always ready for their car approximately twenty minutes before it’s due: morning passengers are not. Nobody sane chops a full thirty minutes from an already truncated sleep just so that they’ll be ready for a taxi – if you have all of your faculties then you’ll time it to a tee. Wake up, brush teeth, slide into pre-laid-out clothes, quietly creep downstairs and let yourself out of the front door – taxi idling outside, but preferably engine should be off so that you don’t disturb half the world.
You’d think that these would be basic and obvious default settings in life. Mind you, you’d also think that knowing how to pack a suitcase would be, yet I fail each and every time I do it. On this particular trip I managed to pack four different moisturisers yet only one matching pair of shoes – the other pair were both made of the same beige leather but the left foot had a 6cm heel and the right foot was a whacking great 10cm! Oh how I hobbled.
Anyway, those anxiety-fuelled sleepless nights are a total bore, aren’t they? And there’s nothing worse than finally dropping into a deep slumber and then hearing the alarm go off. I should have had one of my Epsom Salt baths (I tip five large mugfuls into a warm tub) but I was too busy hunting my wardrobe for the jeans that would leave me permanently disfigured in the nether regions.
Why don’t they make jeans with a gusset?