Not having a menu, or indeed a price list, has never restricted the provision of food in Great Secret Miss. It tends towards the exquisite – albeit casually presented and consumed – rather than the filling. You might be handed a small dish containing morsels of something unidentifiable in an equally mysterious sauce. Eventually you would be relieved of a more or less appropriate sum of money: in cash as likely as not, as for most except a privileged few, including I am glad to say myself, the card machine will be unexpectedly broken.
Similarly, not having a licence has never restricted the availability of wine: this will not be provided for money but there will usually be a bottle or two already opened and made available at, of course, no cost. Senior members of the local constabulary are among the patrons and have expressed themselves entirely content with this arrangement.
Amy and her girls work long hours and tend to eat on the premises, although there are some excellent Italian restaurants round about. Some of the regulars also treat it as a reliable source of one or other of their three main meals of the day. Those who are fussy about these things keep their own chopsticks behind the counter, and I am confident that they are thoroughly cleaned between bouts.
So it was a surprise when Amy announced to me, without any preamble:
“I don’t want this stuff for my luncheon today. I read about hogget pudding. I want to eat hogget pudding. Like steak pudding and kidney, but hogget. Find it for me please.”
“Where do you read about this pudding?”
I thought that her exploration of English literature might have penetrated back to Fielding, or Richardson, where I could, or would, not follow her.
“I can’t say – but find it in London please.”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
She sighed and handed me her iPad.
The last time that I had hogget pudding was at the Garrick, but the great clubs were not an option since I am not a member of any of them. I phoned St John. They had served it a few weeks back but it was not intended to return to the menu in the near future. I Googled, also without success. Finally I telephoned Jake at The Kingdom. I should have tried him first: you can often rely on Jake.
“Curiously,” said Jake, “I do have some hogget and I can make a pudding for you. Obviously not for luncheon, because the preparation takes some time, but I could serve it to you for supper.”
I put my hand over the phone and consulted Amy. Then we agreed a time. I called the better half.
“Jake at The Kingdom is making a hogget pudding because Amy wants to eat one. Eight o’clock. You’ll come?”
But the better half had to meet a Russian client early in the evening and said that she would join us when she’d finished; we shouldn’t wait.
Jake called back.
“Perfect. Potatoes would be too much.”
The afternoon opened up ahead of me. I read the Spectator for an hour. Then Amy told me that she was experimenting with a flavoured version of the house kefir and I agreed to be a guinea pig. One of the girls took me to the back with a glass of the stuff and soon I was sleeping.
I had emerged.
“Colourful. Dramatic. Maybe too dramatic. Like being in Assassin’s Creed.”
“Computer game. Actually I’ve no idea what being in Assassin’s Creed would be like. I’ve only seen the adverts.”
“I’ll take the edge off it anyway,” said Amy.
“Isn’t it time to set out?”
The Kingdom, as I’m sure you know, is to be found in one of those streets towards the Euston Road where Fitzrovia ceases to be Fitzrovia even to an indulgent eye.
“We can walk,” I said. “You need to get your energy up for a hogget pudding.”
“Pft,” Amy said.
We took a taxi.
The usual layabouts were sitting around, but Jake had kept one of the pine tables for us; there were even flowers on it. The Kingdom is more formally a restaurant than Great Secret Miss. There is no menu as such but there are suggestions on a blackboard, and some people go there to eat and then go away again. As with Great Secret Miss, there is no liquor licence.
In the interests of drama the greens appeared first, shining with freshness and a lump of butter. It then turned out that fortuitously a bottle of malbec had been opened. Then the hogget pudding was borne to the table. It was big, certainly enough for three. The suet was the colour that suet should be, quite unlike the colour of faces that are described as suety. At one point it was darkened by gravy that had broken through, and the suet had been stretched over so as to cover the point of the eruption and keep the intense flavour inside. I was reminded – and I told Amy – of the scene in Arthur Ransome’s Swallowdale where the children visit the charcoal burners, who cover their fire with earth to keep the wood slow-burned until it becomes charcoal, and whenever a flicker of flame breaks through they trowel more earth on top.
“Charcoal burner has snake. Very tasty food.”
I was not sure that she had the point. She continued:
“I thought Swallowdale below standard book, but reread, revised ideas, very good book.”
“You’ve reread Swallowdale!”
No wonder the Chinese are going to be top nation.
Jake plunged a knife in. The gravy unleashed ran on to the plate. The smell of the mature meat and the herbs in which he had cooked it was indescribably wonderful.
Forty-five minutes later the better half arrived. Amy was sitting propped up in her chair, an idiotic smile on her face, fast asleep. This had enabled me to take more than my share but there was plenty left for the better half and she set about it.
“Takes away the taste of the champagne,” she said, with the sound often rendered as ‘Pah!’.
In the fullness of time Amy woke up.
“Hogget pudding very wonderful,” she said. “Fielding or Richardson don’t say the half. And great dreams. Man in hood. Very sexy man. Is it Assassin Creed?”
I tried to catch the better half’s eye but she was staring intently at the hogget pudding, helping herself to the last piece.