She taught me the joy of getting your hands dirty and earning that bucket of fried chicken.
Sure, then I struck oil, paid people to get their hands dirty while I had two extra buckets of fried chicken, but I didn’t forget the lesson. Mostly because I pay someone to remember it for me, but that’s not important right now. A boy’s love for his momma is special. Even repressed Brits like Shorty realise that. Although here, he tells me it’s called “respect for matron”.
I was reminded of momma’s love and advice with visits to Babbo and Le Manoir, which is pronounced Le Man War and not La Manure. Babbo is Italian slang for “daddy” and is meant to reflect the chef’s devotion to family. Some devotion. He’s stolen his mother’s recipes, and judging by how skinny and, according to Loretta, “cute” Douglas Santi is, I’d question whether he’s ever eaten any. If he did, he sure didn’t clear his plate. Bad son.
I, on the other hand, did. I need no encouragement to eat but when it comes to Italian food, that goes double. The second I tuck that napkin into my shirt, I start channeling Marlon Brando AND Tony Soprano.
Lasagne is Santi’s signature dish. Well, that made me warm to him some, tiny waist or not. When Shorty told me it’s got a Mayfair postcode, I was already planning meat fruit and burgers on the way home. Not so after Babbo. Damn that boy knows his portions. He can cook real fancy too, doing clever things with milk skin on one of the puddings. I had to take Loretta’s word for that, and Shorty’s assertion that the gnocchi and suckling pig were excellent. I started with lasagne, had double lasagne for main and then, for pudding, lasagne. It’s Santi’s mother’s recipe, apparently although when the waiter brought the first portion, he explained that it’s delicious… but not as good as his mother’s.
But in terms of mother love – and not the kind those rappers talk about – Santi, me and our waiter are mere amateurs compared to Le Manoir’s main man, Raymond Blanc. According to Shorty, Raymond is the only man who’s got more French the longer he’s lived in the UK. “He may go on about Maman Blanc,” explained Shorty, “but I reckon he’s faking it and he’s really called Ray White.” Blanc or White, the man could talk to me in Swhaili for all I care if he can cook like that. Hoo, boy. It’s food so good, it makes you wanna smack your own momma. Or, er, would in any other circumstances.
Le Manoir is in a pretty London suburb called Oxfordshire. If the car park is any indication, the local Mercedes show room must make a pretty penny, although Shorty claims he recognised two of the cars as second-hand and formerly belonging to his colleagues at the bank.
You know what I said about paying people to get their hands dirty? Raymond clearly learnt a similar lesson. He’s got people here for EVERYTHING. A man we never even noticed materialised behind the car to take our bags. Another checked us in. Another showed us to the room. Another called 30 minutes later to check we were happy… No wonder he’s got time to cook and get two of those ol’ Michelle Lynn stars people keep talking about.
According to Shorty, word on the (well-heeled, Mercedes-lined) street was “go decouverte and let them do the wine”. After explaining that this wasn’t French for “undercover” – a crying shame as I’d already worked out an alternative identity as a distant, slightly lasagne-stained cousin of Pavarotti – Shorty cheered me up by explaining it was a whole heap of plates – eight? Nine? Ten course? – and matching wines. Also, being French (possibly), the bread kept coming and coming, including one made with beer and mashed potato, and another dotted with bits of bacon.
Plate after plate came, got admired – “gosh, that’s pretty” I heard someone say and dammit, it turned out to be me – and devoured in the sort of whimpers I’d associate with the sort of internet sites that Mommas Hunter, Santi and Blanc wouldn’t approve of. I’d never say anything about my momma’s ability to (hire someone to) cook fried chicken but if Momma Santi or Maman Blanc ever want to adopt a food-loving billionaire, I’ll have my people send the papers over.