Hummus for butter and perverts in bathrobes: The gammon food critic visits a health spa

Restaurant reviews by Justin Tanner, our retired food critic who thinks Luis Rubiales might as well have grabbed her tits for all the fuss there’s been

THE older you are, the harder it is to shrug shit off. For example I had a bit of a basic week – a Chinese takeaway and eight cans of lager every night – and I felt terrible. 

So I thought what the hell, I’ll use that voucher my ex-wife’s cousin sent here in error and book myself a night at a health spa. Sweat out forty years of poison in one session, or I’m demanding my money back.

Besides, it’s bound to be crawling with bored middle-aged women looking for a discreet fuck. What happens at Champneys stays at Champneys and all that.

I check in for lunch and ask where the bar is. Raised eyebrows and a curt explanation they only serve alcohol at dinner in the evenings. Not a good start.

And once in the buffet queue I discover that fuck me, they’re not joking with the whole healthy eating thing. No steak. No chips. Just plain grilled chicken, endless salads and 500 kinds of coleslaw.

I pile my plate high, but grilled mackerel, though. Hideous, oily shite that smells like a Frenchman’s bike seat. If this is what you have to eat to keep heart-healthy I’d rather die in a tsunami of cholesterol.

Everyone’s walking around in bathrobes, as advertised, and probably nude underneath. Which forces me to keep my Speedos on beneath mine so I’ve got something to strap my erection down.

I expected my afternoon masseuse to be a gorgeous Swedish blonde called Helga, saying a heavily-accented ‘naughty boy!’ when I grab her arse. Fuck no. It’s a strapping brute of a woman who looks like a warder from Cell Block H, complete with five o’clock shadow.

Goes at my back like she’s tenderising a steak. I know you hate men, love, but I haven’t done anything yet. If I asked for a happy ending she’d yank my cock off and laugh.

Evening rolls around, as does dinner, and I’m starving. Guess what the wholegrain, healthy and frankly small bread rolls come with? Hummus. Lurpak’s contraband here.

The chicken breast with seasonal vegetables marches in with kale, steamed cauliflower and green beans, which will have me farting like a Holstein Friesian all night. The plates are decorated with calorie counts. As food goes, it’s closer to dying.

And the dessert menu? More like a desert. Essentially I’d be chewing scented foam. Still hungry, I head for a quick fag outside. It’s pissing down and my complimentary slippers are ruined but it doesn’t matter, you have to give them back when you leave anyway.

Breakfast? Muesli, fruit, not a bacon rasher in sight, and plant milk in the tea. Now excuse my ignorance, but how in the name of Chinese buggery do you milk a plant? Where’s the udders on an almond?

Pointedly whistling the theme from The Great Escape, I order a taxi to the nearest Wetherspoons. So that’s good health, is it? I’m surprised I fucking survived.

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Let's move to the post-industrial cesspit that truly defines the genre! This week: Middlesbrough

What’s it about?

A town whose reputation for shitness is as legendary as it is deserved, Middlesbrough keeps applying for city status and being rejected. Not because it doesn’t meet the technical criteria, but because it’s not worth the ink for a bigger dot on the Ordnance Survey maps.

An important industrial centre for more than a century, the steelworks was royally Thatchered in the 80s, leaving only air, land and water pollution to remind residents of Middlesbrough’s glorious past.

In a perfect metaphor for the state of the town as a whole, its iconic landmark, the Transporter Bridge, does not transport. It’s been closed since 2019.

Any good points?

The residents’ passionate loyalty to this unequivocal shitheap borders on the touching. A well-known poem claims that Middlesbrough’s steelworks ‘built the world’, the recitation of which is sure to bring a tear to the eye of every Smoggie, despite being complete bollocks.

Four years ago local drug dealers were given free advertising after it was reported that Middlesbrough was the proud home of England’s cheapest smack, costing less than a DVD of Trainspotting.

People come from as far away as Sunderland to sample the local delicacy, parmo: most of a chicken, flattened, battered and covered in bechamel and cheese like it has been tried for witchcraft.

Wonderful landscape?

Middlesbrough has been passed around various counties like a hot potato, or the recently adopted feral cat of a recently deceased relative. It currently resides in North Yorkshire, where it soils the county’s grassy dales and windswept moors.

The pleasant, leafy areas of Middlesbrough are so rare that they appear like a mirage, receding away as you reach them and discover the trees are in the rich’s back gardens. Why would anyone be rich here? Because the same purchasing power would get you a south-facing skip anywhere else.

Hang out at…

The ailing town centre. Marks & Spencer’s, TK Maxx and Debenhams are just a few of the fallen soldiers of the recent past. TJ Hughes is gone too, but not missed. A New Look caters exclusively to the tween girl population, who have achieved the highest fuck-per-sentence ratio of any demographic.

Find yourself in need of a camouflage vest, a nipple piercing and meat that’s been on the floor? Head down to the Dundas Arcade, unofficial museum of the 1970s. It smells so powerfully of cheese pasty that it penetrates the hair follicles.

Before it got its drinks licence revoked after a brutal assault allegedly by its bouncers, you could dance the night away in local institution Club Bongo International.

Now there are only two options: the genuinely brilliant Empire, which is constantly packed to capacity with people from even more boring places, or a budget-friendly night in the Swatters, where a man will claim to be able to drink six pints in 20 minutes before vomiting into his pint glass.

Try the MIMA art gallery for a more culturally enriching experience. Fair warning: all the art is fiercely Middlesbrough-related, just in case you thought you might be able to pretend you were somewhere else for a bit.

Where to buy?

To get stabbed with a proper knife, the town centre. If you prefer box cutters or improvised shivs Hemlington is alphabetically organised by street name, so you can assess whether the danger level is ‘I think we should leave’ or ‘our bodies will never be found’ simply by checking a street sign.

Linthorpe has a scattering of beautiful Victorian houses, but their position in the centre of a Bermuda Triangle formed from Eastbourne shops, the increasingly dilapidated Linthorpe Village, and a cluster of bin bags which may or may not contain a corpse make it a gamble.

The house prices can get as low as minus £50,000, cash which will be reimbursed by the local council for braving the move. If you live.

From the streets:

Bill McKay, aged 51: “We tend to put all our hopes into football, up here, like. We’re currently 24th in the Championship.”