P2 is getting worse, not better. I took a wrong turning in the Tube the other day, and there she was, a frankly bad impression of news-reader Jan Leeming.
The M- Restaurant, she said, without preliminaries. You know it?
I had better anonymise the place, given what I am about to relate.
I racked my brains. Knightsbridge? Indian fusion? I’ve read about it.
The same. Your uncle Edgerton wants you to check the biryani.
With that she dematerialised. I could not imagine what relevance the biryani at a Knightsbridge restaurant had to the unending struggle against the zombies (or the Z people, as my uncle would call them in front of his wife, my Aunty Sally). I would have treated it as a low priority. In 2012, unlike the 1930s in which Uncle Edgerton lived and worked, the Z people could not be called a current menace. However, as I was preparing for bed that night I noticed smoky lettering on the shaving mirror:
So, for a quiet life, I did, and a few days later (‘good heavens, sir, we seem to have a cancellation’) there I was with the better half. She has little patience with Uncle Edgerton – I think that she holds it against him that he’s dead – but she’s always up for dinner out, especially at a place such as this that has caught the attention of the Michelin committee.
The address is fashionable and the décor is what Tanya Gold in the Spectator calls Assad chic. I left my coat at the door – it had been raining – and we went in and took our place. We ordered our food and drink from a nice but vague lady.
The real Indian food is designed to be shared and is served as it is prepared, there are no conventional first courses or main courses, she explained.
The bill arrived first.
Only joking. It was someone else’s wine.
How elusive the taste sensations were! These are subtle complex marinades using time honoured Indian grilling methods, the better half explained.
And they are prepared in full view in a theatrical restaurant show kitchen, I noted. It certainly makes for a casual and joyous dining experience.
The uncertainty about when the biryani would arrive only increased the excitement. Finally there it was. The waitress drew my attention to tiny red flecks on the surface, like the veins on an unwillingly exposed brain. It is rosewater, she said. She was, as I say, amiably vague, and I think that the reference to rosewater was the only specific remark that she volunteered to us all evening. As it turned out it was wrong – horribly wrong.
I think that the M- restaurant’s biryani is the most revolting thing that I have ever seen on a plate. It was the colour and texture of sludge, inert but not – horrifyingly – quite inert enough. A faint smell came off it. It wasn’t rosewater, it was…
As I sat there with my fork poised a passing customer jogged my arm, disrupting my train of thought. Involuntarily I looked up.
OMG, it’s Victoria Beckham, I cried.
Or rather a very late impression of Victoria Beckham, I added, getting a better view of her face.
P2 ignored this.
On no account eat the biryani. But find how it’s made.
At least she didn’t disappear in public. She shimmered into the Ladies and no doubt did it there.
That set me a poser, and one that the better half was disinclined to help me with. We finished eating and got the bill. Again, it was someone else’s.
Go on ahead. I’ll follow you. There’s something I have to check.
I was still uncertain how, but events assisted me when I presented my ticket at the cloakroom.
No record, said the man amiably.
I sighed elaborately.
I never did see that raincoat again, but the cloakroom gave me somewhere to hide. Hours later, after they had locked up, I emerged to see what I should see.
I never expected to find the biryani being made in the theatrical restaurant show kitchen – and I was right. There was another kitchen beyond it and down some stairs. At the centre was an enormous cauldron, simmering. You can guess what was in it. But you may not guess what was being dripped into it from an elaborate arrangement of retorts and pipettes. It wasn’t rosewater, it was blood. And I was prepared to wager that the blood was human.
So what happened to those who ate the M-‘s biryani? With Uncle Edgerton’s interest and my growing suspicions I was beginning to understand. I was suddenly furious. My uncle Edgerton had risked his life to make London safe from the Z people and here they were being brought back. I seized everything I could find, starting with the subtle complex marinades. (Actually what I found was vinegar and curry powder, but they were a start.) I emptied them into the cauldron; then the contents of the fire extinguisher. The biryani gave an almost human sigh, and then it did become inert.
Having destroyed the abominable concoction as best I could I left the restaurant and ventured out into the Knightsbridge dawn. Figures lurked in the shadows, swaying. I could see that they were the customers from the M-. They were dressed for a Knightsbridge evening out, the men in blazers, loafers and ironed Levis, the women in little black numbers and amusing costume jewellery, all now smeared with blood, faeces and worse. Their skin was greenish. Decomposition had begun.
You ate the biryani, I cried.
Aaargh, they replied.
Enough was enough for one day. I texted Aubergine Small to sort it all out and I set off fast, away from the zombie menace and towards home.