Sunday Lunch

As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writes today in The Observer, there is something irresistible about eating things that mingle contrasting temperatures.

Hey look, if I had the opportunity to hyphenate the normal surname of Fearnley with such a magnificent moniker as Whittingstall then I’d do it, deffo.

As it happens, I could, quite legally I could just decide here and now that you should all start calling me Brook-Kitchen because that is what my last two names are, Brook being the third of my four names and my paternal Grandmother’s maiden name – there are also a couple of paintings in this house somewhere that I have signed Brook-Kitchen in response to a suggestion this summer that I become all pretentious and represent myself in this way – at some point in future someone at Sotheby’s is going to have a right barney with a punter who insists that its the same artist who did both paintings and just because he’s signed his name differently on one of them doesn’t make it worth £2 million less or anything.

Anyway, food.

Putting ice cream on hot things has long been a favourite of mine, if I were a wartime spy and held the secret plans to the latest top secret weapon system and I was captured by the enemy then you, the enemy, wouldn’t have to pull out my fingernails or extract nasal hair with tweezers without warning, no, all that would be needed to make me tell you everything I know about the secret weapon system would be to promise me a whole bowl of apple pie and ice cream.

Apple pie the way that my mother used to make apple pie of course and not the way that my mother-in-law made apple pie, there was a difference, a huge difference, for my mothers apple pies would be made from huge Bramley cooking apples sliced into generous chunks, sprinkled with sugar and then encased in pastry and cooked for just long enough to allow the pastry to rise and flake and the apples to soften but not collapse into mush so that when you ate the pie it still had huge chunks of apple in it – and thereby lay the difference for my mother-in-law cooked the pie until the apple descended into mush and you’d end with a flat pie that had a sliver of apple inside rather than chunks.

Its important.

Serve hot, straight-from-the-oven apple pie with frozen vanilla ice cream and you have me, I’ll confess to anything.

Cold stuff, served with hot stuff, moments of magic.

There was a time, just the once, and we all still speak of it, when I went with my work colleagues from the Birmingham office to a Chinese all-you-can-eat-for-a-ridiculously-cheap-amount-of-money restaurant, well, I call it a restaurant, you might not, not if your standards were only slightly higher than mine, to the untrained eye it looked just like the Chinese owners had rented an empty store unit before the builders had finished it with niceties such as a ceiling, or plaster on the walls, and instead said “No, reeve it rike it is, peepur will steel come” (He’s Chinese you see) and indeed that’s exactly what they did – you walk into Big Wok in Birmingham’s Chinatown and think “Oh, we must be in the wrong place, the builders haven’t left yet…” but they have, ages ago, this is Big Wok where the emphasis is not on the ambience at all.

In fact the ambience is “School dinners” and is enhanced by the rows and rows of stacking chairs and tables that you last saw when you were in your junior school dining hall – but you’re not here for the ambience, you’re here to eat as much Chinese food as you possibly can, only stopping when, in true Tom and Jerry style, other people can look into your eyes and see a meter needle pointing to “Fit to Burst” and steam comes from your ears and a horn sounds.

You will never eat more food in your life than when you go to Big Wok and I have to say, its all very excellent food too, there must be forty or more dishes to choose from and you have to believe me when I tell you that I’ve eaten all of them, sometimes in one sitting, once you’ve got over the feeling of shame of rising from your table for the eighth or ninth time to go help yourself from the self service buffet then you relax a little and REALLY apply yourself to eating your own weight in Chinese food for £10.

But there was this one night, the night that we all still speak of, the very first time that we all found Big Wok, when we were sitting at the table fit to burst after consuming every Chinese dish in Birmingham and I happened to mention to my fellow diners that there was just one dish left that we hadn’t yet tried.

The Mr Whippy ice cream machine.

Yes, they were stupid enough to have installed a self service Mr Whippy ice cream machine and then invited me to dine there, they were lucky to not have last seen their Mr Whippy ice cream machine being pushed down Queensway by a slightly balding, portly but in a handsome sort of way chap who looked like all his birthday presents had arrived at once in the shape of a Mr Whippy ice cream machine.

Do you know how much Mr Whippy ice cream you can cram into your average sized ice cream sundae glass ?

Lots, that’s how much, you can almost empty a Mr Whippy ice cream machine if you calculate precisely where to layer your next swirl of ice cream properly, you have to ignore the kids in the queue behind you crying because they don’t think there will be any left for them, but fook ’em, they haven’t paid ten quid.

And then, just as we thought we’d rounded the evening off nicely with a gallon or so of Mr Whippy ice cream, we spotted it – right next to the Mr Whippy ice cream machine as if in pure temptation.

A chocolate fountain.

Hot melted chocolate cascading down a plastic tiered fountain in a very pretentious way with jelly babies and things to dip in it.

I shoved some more pesky kids out of the way, grabbed a large spoon, a ladle actually, and scooped hot melted chocolate all over my helping of Mr Whippy ice cream – heaven.

Hot stuff, poured over stuff that is freezing cold, a juxtaposition of ecstasy, Big Wok Birmingham, all you can eat for £10.

PS – the next time we went they’d removed the chocolate fountain, I protested to the manager and he said “Had to remove, Heff an safety probrem” (he’s Chinese, remember?), Health and Safety my arse, I think we overdid it on the all you can eat for £10 boys, that ice cream dish was the straw that broke the Chinaman’s bank balance.


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