Meat, Beer And Science Fiction
Since hearing about Hawksmoor a couple of weeks ago I have been obsessing about steak. I had a meeting in town yesterday and since it went well and I was then going on to the BSFA yesterday, I thought I would treat myself. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor is in Whitechapel but helpfully Gaucho has branches across London. You may well have walked passed one, they look a bit like a serial killer’s batchelor pad: black glass and cow hide. More like Gauche-o, amirite? The meat is the thing though.
It was an interesing experience as it is not at all the sort of place I would usually go; it has the air of a private members’ club, complete with paramiltary staff, and the clientele stank of business lunches with a fair smattering of tourists since this was the Picadilly branch. I managed to navigate this unnatural environment pretty well, although I was slightly phased when my waitress queried whether I wanted to see the meat tray. Er no, I don’t need to eye up the meat or have it pimped to me, just bring me 300g of ribeye, bloody as hell. And this I duly received. Marvellous.
To accompany my plate of meat, my waitress steered me towards potato puree but, despite liking this, I am always put off by the name this always sounds so much less appetising than mash. Instead I went for a potato cake (okay, the fact it had chorizo in it may have also helped tip the balance). I should have taken her hint though as it was completely indifferent, apart from the couple of mouthfuls when it was much too peppery, and accompanied by some similarly pointless salsa verde. Equally disappointing was the bearnaise sauce. Now this is the king of sauces and was nicely done but for a £2.50 supplement I expect a jug or a boat rather than one of those tiny ramekins pubs serve ketchup in these days. (I won’t give Adam Roberts the vapours by saying how much the steak was.)
Over at the Antelope – which I can’t help but think is a ridiculously incongruous venue for the BSFA meetings – I was pleased to see that they had Bengal Lancer on tap. Fuller’s have only just introduced this IPA but it is by far their best beer. Alas, it is only seasonal. Anyway, the actual event was a discussion of the BSFA shortlist between Damien G Walter and Graham Sleight, two very engaging panelists (Martin McGrath unfortunately had to pull out). The City & The City emerged as the clear winner of the novel category and it was noticeable that it was the only novel that the audience picked up for discussion. Despite some scepticism in the room, I really think this has to be not only the favourite for this award but a highly likely candidate for the Clarke and the Hugos. But please, let’s not get bogged down in whether it is SF or not.
Walter also raised an interesting point when he said that several of his favourite books of the year – for example, The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – weren’t eligible for the award because they haven’t been published in this country. I get the general impression that over the last decade we have seen an increasing divergence between what is being published in the US and what is being published in the UK. At the same time, as Walter pointed out, the internet has increased both the availability and discussion of US published books in this country. I can’t really articulate this but I do think there is an increasing tension here.