Thursday, 27 October 2011

Canapés: The Rules Of Engagement

By Patrick Evenden

This is no game. This is a war of nutrition.

As anyone who has read The Game by Neil Strauss will tell you, there is no more pathetic creature than the pick-up artist. For those not familiar with Strauss’s work, The Game sets out how to manipulate unimaginably stupid women into jumping into bed with you. As far as I could gather, Strauss’s strategy hinges on elevating your status above that of your target by a series of well-placed insults, delivered whilst wearing a hat. In spite of its simplicity, the book has proved popular amongst the type of men who have previously conducted their relationships through the medium of World of Warcraft and now fancy a crack at engaging with fellow humans offline.

There is, however, a social situation that is crying out for clearly defined rules of engagement; an insider’s guide to conniving your way to success; a Machiavellian method of manipulation: canapés.

Last week I found myself in the theatre of combat at the reopening of Kensington Place in Notting Hill. The popular brasserie has just undergone a redesign and employed a new head chef, Dan Loftin, who was eager to show off his considerable talent on a miniature scale.The Champagne was on ice and the canapés were fantastic. But I turned up like a tit in a trance, with no preconceived idea of how I intended to lay my hands on them. What’s more, over the course of the evening I made a number of fundamental errors that hampered my ability to tuck into the culinary treats, being paraded around the room in front of me like a really delicious version of The Generation Game.

First I brought my girlfriend. Big mistake. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely girl, one of the best and we had a great time. But we wasted far too much time going through the standard relationship chat routine of discussing our respective days and working out what so-and-so meant the other night when she said such-and-such. We were not focused. We were under-prepared and we paid for it. It was twenty minutes before I got my hands on the duck tartare!

I also discovered, that my looking-for-canapés face is remarkably similar to my looking-at-other-women face. Often, after eyeballing a plate of smoked mackerel pate from across the room, I would return to meet my girlfriend’s deeply-unimpressed-face.

These opening exchanges all took place next to the bar. Mistake number two. Admittedly, we were never short of fizz. But then each glass of Champagne tasted the same as the last. There wasn’t the myriad of flavours that was marching forth from the kitchen. We quickly relocated.

We found ourselves a prime location on one of the main thoroughfares leading out of the kitchen. A tray full of cheese-filled profiteroles came through the door and started towards us. We thought we had it sussed. This was the pay off. The waiter was about to walk unwittingly into our hastily assembled sting. Then he stopped at the group next to us. They must have been 20 strong. Hands were everywhere, like a Rihanna video, but less dignified. Once everything had been consumed, he was ejected as suddenly as he’d been enveloped, with an empty plate and his bowtie at a slightly squiffy angle. Once again we had been thwarted.

We later found some success by befriending an Italian waiter with whom my girlfriend shares a common language. But by this time much of our competition had departed, sated from happily grazing on the mobile buffet that had, until now, evaded us. We had to accept we had been found wanting. Difficult questions need to be asked. Next time I go ‘live’, I want data. Shit loads of data. I want room plans, personal information on my fellow diners and an accurate waiter-to-guest ratio. My girlfriend and I have even been rehearsing an elaborate pincer movement, with my mum playing the role of waiter, complete with a plate of Scotch eggs. Next time we’ll be ready for them. Watching. Waiting. Peckish.

Alternatively, we could just return to the new Kensington Place brasserie in Notting Hill at a later date, booking ourselves a table beforehand. If only there were some masterful way in which to do this automatically. Oh, hang on....

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