Sunday, 27 June 2010

Switzerland V Honduras V Spain V Chile: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Gabrielle Sander

Ahead of the game between Switzerland and Honduras, I actually managed to muster up a bit of enthusiasm for this World Cup malarkey. I’m quite a reasonable chunk Swiss you see, so even though I was born in this country and realise I should be wearing a Union Jack for the duration of the tournament, saying prayers for the England team and wiping back tears when they win or lose, I have managed to tactfully avoid every game so far. In fact, the only other one I’ve seen is that disastrous France/Uruguay match on the very first day of the Cup.

So anyway, last night as I sat with my boyfriend Adam (the Welsh, rugby-loving one who’d prefer to see Germany win tomorrow over England – I know, shock horror), at a lovely round table at Spaghetti House Haymarket, right opposite a massive flat screen; the two teams lined-up ready to play; I’d decided Switzerland were my team of choice for the night. Until, what’s that? Oh, we’re not watching the Switzerland match after all, it’s Chile vs Spain.

Diners at the other tables were busy ordering food, looking excitedly toward the screen for the first whistle, seemingly not too bothered, so I guess it was just us that had the wrong end of the Vuvuzela. Despite this minor set back, Adam and I decided to back Spain. I wanted Chile because I’d prefer to travel there than Spain (that’s how you choose who to support, right?), but he convinced me we should be backing Spain.

I decided to stick to what I know: good food. And lucky for me, despite deciding beforehand that Spaghetti House Haymarket was just going to be one of those awful chains - all big logos, no substance - I had already begun to warm to the place. The manager had greeted and seated us like one of the family; the other staff we met were really lovely and welcoming too. All that was missing was a big hug from Nonna.

I loved where we were sitting, and the olives we’d been given as appetisers, and the dimmed lights; and the way the place was set up thoughtfully for dining football enthusiasts to sit one side and a designated section up front next to another big screen, the bar, and the open fa├žade for drinkers. I also liked that the volume on the TV was just enough to hear the whistle and a bit of the crowd, and not enough to bother us while we ate. So if we did want to turn away and chat amongst ourselves for a bit, we didn’t have that awful horn din and loud commentators interrupting.

We were tempted by the World Cup menu – any pizza and a Moretti beer for a tenner – but the a la carte, with its great selection of sharing starters, pastas, pizzas – even a Nutella one, which I vow to return for one day - and meat and fish mains swayed us otherwise. We shared the Italian cheese platter, working our way through the Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte and Fiorentina, soft crusty bread, grapes, walnuts and honey, with the crisp, chilled Soave that’d been recommended by one of the waiters. Looking up now and again to see Chile trip up another opponent – even I could see they were playing dirty – and Spain rise above the bullies by scoring their first GOOOOOAAAAALLL! at 24 minutes. The other customers – a chilled out late-twenties and above crowd - gave a collective cheer, before returning to their food.

The second goal at 36 minutes came just as I was starting to tuck in to the cod from the specials board. A delicious fillet of grilled fish, sat on a homely bed of cannellini beans, cherry toms and chorizo, with a generous portion of garlicky spinach on the side. Adam, meanwhile, was enthusiastically tackling the shell-on king prawns in his garlic and chilli linguine and agreeing with my suggestion that we should definitely come back here again.

Just as the game was wrapping up, we decided to sample more of what Italy is really good at – unlike football I hear, from their poor performance the day before – delicious, smile-inducing food. A homemade tiramisu for me, one of the best I’ve ever had, and citrus liquor ice cream for Adam; both very, very good. As the final whistle blew we were stuffed, much like Chile.

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