The first part of a series in which our bold correspondent Old Parn attempts to buy wine in various more or less challenging venues…
Eat. A chain that defines itself with a single, blunt verb. And a full stop.
So what does an intrepid wino do at Eat? He attempts to Drink.
It so happened that I and two delightful companions were on the South Bank, about to see the fantastic Mr Stewart Lee
perform his latest standup show (Carpet Remnant World). We were going
to eat beforehand at Pizza Express. But the queue for Pizza Express snaked menacingly from its door like a hungry tapeworm from a distended orifice. So (with almighty reluctance) I agreed to become an Eater.
Not necessarily a Happy Eater; let's call me a Resigned Eater.
Now. My first observation is that the South Bank Eat at 7pm on a weekday seemed bizarrely understocked when it came to things that one could, um, Eat. The array of sandwiches on offer could only be described as impoverished.
But the impoverishment on display here was nothing, dear reader, in comparison with the grinding, pitiful destitution of the wine shelf. The stuff of Children In Need videos with impassioned celebrity voiceovers.
I'd set myself a mission — for you, dear eVines reader, for you — to sample that wine. But, like a champion racehorse faced by an impossibly daunting fence, I felt a kind of instinctual terror. I may even have shied and whinnied a little in dismay, my eyes rolling madly in their sockets.
But I'm nothing if not a purebred. So, nostrils flared, ears flat to my head, I conquered my bestial fear, grasped a bottle of Stowells Colombard Chardonnay, and joined the queue — enticed by the wall display promising hot pies. For a hot Eat pie and Stowells Colombard Chardonnay are verily a food/wine match made — if not in heaven — at least in some upmarket suburb of purgatory.
'We'll have two pies and this delightful bottle of white wine, please.'
It's amazing to behold the effect that a request for two pies has upon the staff of Eat, South Bank. The resulting scene put me in mind (doubtless entirely unfairly) of the phone-room of a small rural police station suddenly being informed of an incoming invasion force. Despite the fact that the (two) remaining pies in the pie-keep-warmer were mere metres from our doughty sales assistant, a human chain of no fewer than two further employees rapidly formed to span the intervening space.
'PIE!' cried one man to the next, with all the urgency of someone whose long hours of training, whose innumerable drills, have prepared him for this very moment.
It was a little like that bit in the third Lord of the Rings film when they light the beacons. And it imparted, you may well imagine, a similarly uplifting sense that we were at a turning point.
'There's only enough potato left for one pie.'
Nevertheless, the resulting haul consisted of two pies (one dejectedly potatoless) and that cheeky little bottle of Stowells. Huzzah.
'Oh god — you don't want to drink that stuff. It's absolutely horrible.' Such was the verdict of one of my fellow Eaters when she saw it. 'How much did it cost?'
'What was that?'
'Um … £4.90.'
At this point, you may well imagine, I was already regretting my mission. What had in a certain light seemed noble now seemed conspicuously, idiotically masochistic.
AND THAT WAS BEFORE I'D EVEN TASTED THE VILE STUFF.
Because, let me tell you, dear, persevering reader: Stowell's Colombard Chardonnay is despicable. It is bland and confected. It is slack. It spreads across your mouth like the decaying carcass of a malformed beast. As if the nauseating slobbery of its initial passage through your gob weren't offensive enough, it leaves in its wake a cloyingly banal aftertaste — like a drunkard deliberately farting before being forcibly ejected from a small, crowded room.
On the bright side? The pie was actually quite nice. And Stewart Lee was sodding fantastic, of course. So the conclusion, I suppose, is that the people who decided to call it Eat rather than Eat and Drink did so for a damn good reason.
Now. If you've any suggestions for future venues in which you'd like to see Old Parn attempting to buy and drink wine, do put 'em in the comments below.
(But, please — be gentle.)
Title photograph is Creative Commons licensed by learydotmark