Writing about food is a bit like becoming a Tory MP or getting a job in the media – it’s really hard if you’re not posh.
The sort of words you need to use to describe what you’re eating just don’t come easily to anyone who didn’t attend private school or own a horse.
Try reading Jay Rayner or Giles Coren in the voice of a 19th century cockney chimney sweep:
“Awright Jay, ‘ows yer jellied eels geezer?”
“Proper unctuous Giles mate, wiv a toothsome yet moist mouthfeel. Laaaavely stuff…”
See? Doesn’t work does it?
A Working Class Hero is something to be
I am not posh. At all. I grew up on a valleys council estate in a tiny, draughty semi-detached shoebox.
The nearest we had to a pet was a damp patch at the bottom of the stairs that we had to jump over every morning to avoid trench foot. I remember occasionally having to have red sauce sandwiches for tea and hiding from the milkman when we were skint.
I was raised on a diet of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and (very) cooked dinners. Thatcher and yuppies were my bogeymen. Someone at Uni accused me of being middle class once and I had to be restrained from setting fire to her hair.
I’m proud of my roots, but my god, does it give you baggage. To this day I feel a pang of class-guilt every time I eat an olive, sip a glass of Merlot or dip a breadstick in hummus. These were wanky things that Del Boy pretended to know about to impress a “posh sort” before falling through a bar/dropping a chandelier/exploding a blow-up doll.
Turning to the Dark Side
So you can imagine the shame hangover I’m nursing having taken part in the most screamingly jolly-hockey-sticks, pony-riding, Range-Rover-driving, upper-middle-class foodie activity on the planet: Beaujolais Day*.
For the uninitiated, Beaujolais Day celebrates the release of the first wine of a new harvest from the Beaujolais region in France. Somehow, through a spectacularly clever bit of alchemical marketing bullshit, this has become a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s one of those “this was never a thing, how is this now a thing?” things. A bit like beating people half to death for 10% off a flat screen telly on Black Friday, or everyone suddenly deciding face-meltingly ugly Christmas jumpers are ironically cool.
Still, who am I to have a pop at the zeitgeist? As soon as December hits I’ll be breaking out my poorly rendered reindeer jumper with the light up nose just like everybody else. Sometimes you’ve got to just go with the flow.
Bully for you (and me)
For Beaujolais Day, the flow happened to be heading towards Bully’s in Pontcanna.
I’d never been there before, but it always seemed a bit intimidatingly posh from the outside; I could never quite see in, but I pictured either a wood-paneled 19th century gentleman’s club with huge wing-back chairs occupied by brandy swilling aristocrats/BBC Wales executives, or a poncy 80s chrome and leather bedecked wine bar full of power suited power-bellends talking about the MPG of their new 5-Series.
But then again, the price for their Beaujolais Day special didn’t seem too posh – under £30 for half a bottle of the red stuff, plus three courses. Still – was it even the kind of place that a filthy povvo like me could get into?
Er, yes actually.
Because in reality, Bully’s is a cosy, warm, welcoming little place that’s as unpretentious as my Nan’s house (if a bit better decorated). The walls are pleasantly cluttered with a mishmash of picture frames and artwork rather than the heads of endangered species, and the punters are a pretty diverse crowd. In short, I was massively, ridiculously, wonderfully wrong.
Duck, egg, blue (cheese)
I mean yes, it is kinda posh – my poached egg and Hollandaise starter came with chips made from salsify, which is a) sadly not a verb, and b) the kind of vegetable that even Nigel Slater would describe as ‘a bit la-di-da’.
It was bloody good though – the flavour is somewhere between radish, sweet potato and parsnip. Posh or not, deep fried in breadcrumbs and dipped in runny egg it’s a winner. It was so good in fact, I troughed the lot before I remembered I should take a picture of it (#ExtremelyProfessionalFoodBlogging).
The main – confit duck leg cassoulet – was a rib stickingly good feed, the crispy skin giving way to some of the tastiest, tenderest duck I’ve ever had. Plus, that fact that it would have been good sturdy French peasant food about 150 years ago helped with the class guilt.
The cheese board, not so much (“You can’t have cheese for afters, mun!” – 5 generations of my family). But come on, the only thing the French do as well as wine and casual aloofness is cheese.
The selection was pretty generous considering it didn’t cost a penny extra, and the blue (I think it was a kind of French gorgonzola) was like getting smacked round the face with a bag of spanners. In a good way.
The home-made quince chutney rounded off the edges of the spikier cheeses nicely, despite me not having any idea what a quince is (it’s a fish, right?).
I realise I’ve not said much about the wine considering that’s meant to be the point, but I’m really not qualified – it was red, wet and alcoholic, and I could happily have attempted a second bottle had I not remembered the battering my kidneys are in for this weekend.
The service on the other hand, is definitely worth talking about. We were given a genuinely warm welcome by owner Russ who, in a suitably Gallic stripy jumper, took the time to talk us (and every other table) through the menu, and generally have a bit of a chinwag.
I’ve said it before – you aren’t just buying food when you go for a meal, you’re buying a little bit of the folks who made it, and it makes a huge difference when they make an obvious effort to give you a good experience.
You want them to come across as the kind of people you’d happily have a beer (or a Beaujolais) with, and Bully’s nailed it. Given the quality of their food they could easily get away with being a little snooty, so kudos to them for keeping it real.
I don’t think I’ll ever quite shake that little frisson of working class discomfort that I get from enjoying the finer things in life (and from using words like ‘frisson’), but places like Bully’s make it a little bit easier to bear.
Do you go big for Beaujolais Day? Let me know in the comments or at @fuudblog on Twitter…
* Unless you live in Swansea where apparently Beaujolais Day is second only to Christmas as an excuse for a piss up…