“The lamb’s neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil with rocket,” said the manager, pointing with his pinkie at two miniscule pieces of meat. “The sun-dried tomatoes come from Bulgaria”.
‘The Dinner’ by Hermann Koch
The setting for Hermann Koch’s novel ‘The Dinner’ is an expensive restaurant in Amsterdam where you can only get a table by booking five months in advance. The narrator has a lot of fun mocking the food there and it reminded me of a place not far from here where a main course of “ Cumbrian slow roasted belly of pork” turned out to be a piece of meat no larger than my thumb served on an enormous white plate. ‘The Dinner’ has sold a million copies in Europe and the English edition has just come on sale here. It’s a treat. One of the diners is the charismatic leader of the opposition party in Holland who is riding high in the polls and is all set to become Prime Minister in the general election which is due to take place a few months hence. Very little is said about the politician’s policies, but he’s portrayed as being vacuous and over-hyped, all style and no substance, very much like the restaurant in fact. One of the ways in which the author portrays his character is by describing the way he eats- “quickly and efficiently, to make sure the food reached his stomach as soon as possible”, without the slightest appreciation of what he was eating.
This portrayal rang very true to me because it happens that not long before the last general election I had lunch with a very similar character who, as the Leader of the Opposition was tipped to become Prime Minister, which he succeeded in achieving (just). David Cameron sat next to me at a fund raising lunch at the Riverside Hotel where he gave a rallying speech to 265 of his supporters. I don’t remember anything about what he said, but the one thing I do recall from the lunch is how he tackled his food – he bolted it exactly as described in ‘The Dinner’. It may be no coincidence that he has turned out to be as vacuous as his fictional counterpart.