31 Oct 2008

Where’s Wallingford Now?

'The disparity between a restaurant's price and food quality rises in direct proportion to the size of the pepper mill...'
[Bryan Miller, Critic]
I RECENTLY visited Andrew of Spittoon fame in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. My Sat. Nav. insisted that he lived in a Waitrose car park. Whilst I can imagine worse addresses, it turned out that his actual home was no less surreal: a factory which used to mould manhole covers.
We had dinner at ‘Avanti’, a family run Italian cut from the same cloth as so many others in southern market towns: coloured bulbs, chairs assembled from wood and straw and probably an obscene, outsize pepper mill or two. It was a poor chap’s birthday that evening and the restaurant erupted into a Banshee’s chorus as spontaneously as a flock of birds leaving a wire. When everyone had tired of singing, the ‘Pizza Pie’ muzac was dimmed and replaced with ten protracted minutes of piped Happy Birthday turned up to 11 (delivered incidentally with an Australian accent). If I had been thus victimised I would have scuttled out screaming, my burgundy face a contorted collage of sweat and tears.
Fat, lifebuoy squid rings were chilli-fiery and licked by fresh garlic. Pork in brandy and green peppercorn sauce cut like veal.
Our Polish waitress had a tattoo in Latin which translated as ‘Trust no one’. Very wise, but slightly distressing.Down the road at a pub, untouched since the days of Withnail, I took a picture of the traditional soft drinks siphon in action and then exited for a cigar. Moments later, a local lady approached me demanding why I had committed her to camera. I explained that even though she was charming, I hadn’t specifically sought her picture. I wheeled out all available linguistic tricks to quell the situation (her lumberjack ‘hubbie’ was already en-route). Calm restored, my punishment was to listen to her rather grim life story.
We returned to Spittoon H.Q. where it seemed a plausible plan to unstopper Mead. In days of old, a freshly married couple were given enough of the stuff to support their first months of marriage, hence the term, ‘honeymoon’. The sting – a revolting hangover.
The day after the night before, Andrew cooked a marvellous, restorative breakfast. Muddled by mead, I thought I had left my wallet at the pub and cancelled my cards. I found them beneath a cushion exactly an hour later.
Thank you, Andrew, for an interesting 18 hours.
'Avanti' - 85 High St., Wallingford. OX10 0BW. T. 01491 835500