The are meals in our lives that punctuate the days of monotonous chicken salads and daily bowls of porridge and become a standard that we try to recreate in another environment, in another time and never quite manage it.
They’re not like favourites, like my mum’s farathas, flakey and doughy all at once, hot off the tawa, buttered and sugared ahead of the family meal, she’ll let me steal one and we eat them conspiratorially. Or an extra hot almond latte with a shot of hazelnut syrup. These favourites are akin to comforts and comforts and ‘the best’ are very different.
There are so many things that make a dish so memorable, enjoyable and cause us to exclaim ‘that was the best bloody whatever is I’ve ever eaten!’ and you vow to go back and do it again, but perhaps to do it again would be to ruin it?
I remember the black dahl and Dishoom’s King’s Cross branch with fond memories. It was a bitterly cold day and in the first throes of a crush, me and a boy stood excitedly in a crowd, cloaked in scarves and coats snaking through Granary Square, sipping on hot, sweet chai, waiting for a table. We got one: and in the warmth of the restaurant, condensation clouding the windows and whiskey warming our insides, we devoured the creamy black buttered dahl in rapture. We walked down the river ferociously full, cold and happy and exclaimed it was ‘the best bloody dahl we’d ever eaten’. I’ve yet to re-order that dahl, though I’ve been back to Dishoom countless times, just in case that little cauldron of pulses won’t even be an echo of that first spoonful we tasted together.
The best peach I’d ever eaten I plucked from a market stall in Nice and ate facing the ocean, my back warm in the sun and the taste of french coffee still in the back of my mouth.
Another memory pops to mind of the best tiramisu I’d ever eaten, this time at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Southwark. Maybe it was cos we were those people on a date that others scorned to look at; we were looking at each other more sickeningly than the pudding, or maybe it was because we shared it and was left wanting? The not to sweet cream peppered with a sprinkling of chocolate and spongey cake soaked in almond liquor was the best bloody tiramisu and beat any I’d eaten in Italy.
One meal no one could beat Italy on though, was the best bloody pasta I’d ever eaten. Twice.
Once came in Lake Como. The sun was setting, and me and my old best friend had wandered around the cobbled streets taking pictures, talking romance and by dusk, were both a little sad. The talk of lost love, or a love unable to keep a hold of after the riotous night out with Davidoff and his friend in Da Club in Milan could only be tempered by pasta. Freshly made, the lake glittering out in front of us as we ate outside in the late autumnal sunshine, the simple dish of penne, tomato sauce, basil and cheese was the like medicine. It filled the hollow feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, made my heart swell and no matter how many forkfuls I took from that plate, it kept on giving (seriously, it could’ve fed a family of four). That was the best plate of pasta I’d eaten. Until a fortnight ago that is.
In Venice, yet another romance capital I’d visited with friends, minus 6 winds whipped at our coats and my knees could not take another up and down of a bridge as we hunted for somewhere to eat lunch (and breakfast – as the lukewarm latte we were overcharged for had seriously aggravated my mood, which was already soured by the fact I was coming down with the flu). We entered Da Cherubino, an Italian eatery recommended by an old colleague of a friend. We entered and were the only people in the restaurant (I suppose 11.30 is a little early for lunch especially by European standards). I choose spaghetti, and waited dipping the cakey slices of crumbly Italian bread into unctuous olive oil and sharp balsamic from Modena. Cooked al dente, the tomato sauce stuck to the strands of spaghetti like a hug and by the end of my plateful, a contented smile and a glassy look you get when you’re full of carbs, had replaced the harried frown and tensed shoulders from bracing against the cold. I told the owner he’d cooked me the best plate of pasta I’d ever eaten and he was so embarrassed and proud all at once I wanted to hug him.
Because this is one of my best bloody dishes I’d ever eaten, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to eat it again. I urge you then, when you’re next in Venice, spin around in circles around San Marco Square as you try and use google maps to navigate the labyrinth of alleys and bridges until you reach this restaurant, sit down, and order the best bloody plate of pasta you will ever eat.
Trattoria Da Churubino
S. Marco, 1702, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy