Lah-de-dah menus and wine that costs more than a whole off licence: the gammon food critic goes French

Restaurant reviews by Justin Tanner, our retired food critic who thinks the Suffragettes must have been on their periods

I’VE got myself a date. Swiped right on a dating app I heard about in the pub, had a chat and we’re meeting for dinner. Technology has its uses after all. 

I haven’t had a first date in a decade so I’ve pushed the boat out, and you know what that means: French. The Frogs have had the monopoly on fine dining for bloody centuries, but she’s worth it, and hopefully it’ll soften the blow of me not resembling my profile picture.

Turns out we’re a match in that regard: she looks fuck all like hers either. Still, she’s the right side of 50 and dressed up nice, so I’m hardly in a position to complain. Any port in a storm at my age.

The menu’s in French, which is unnecessary and rude, but there’s none of the disgusting shit on there. No frog’s legs, no snails, no inflated veal lung which they served my great-granddad in Amiens after the Great War. Sickened him. He never left Worcestershire again.

I suggest we skip starters and head straight to the ‘menu a prix fixe’, whatever that is. Sounds like a specialist in genital correction work. Then, stupidly, I ask for the wine list. Fuck me, how much?

‘You could empty the shelves at Bargain Booze for that,’ I tell my date, and order tap water. To eat, I’m tempted by the rare venison loin with blackberry jus but play it safe and order garlic chicken. It doesn’t mention the garlic but it’ll be smothered in it.

Linda opts for the pan-fried sea bass – what else would you fry it in, a fucking kettle? – with samphire and buerre blanc. It looked quite nice from the brief glance I gave it, before going into a bit more detail about tank movements at the Battle of the Bulge.

The bill turns up and it’s a bastard fortune. I pull my ‘I’m a food critic’ line to get out of paying but the manager, it eventually turns out, is having none of it. It doesn’t surprise me. The French are world-renowned for being rude, insolent wankers.

I stick to my guns, but she’s looking a bit awkward for some reason – the sea bass, no doubt – and offers to pay for the lot. Fair enough. I’m getting the distinct impression I won’t be getting in her knickers regardless, so why not?

Will I see her again? No. Quelle fucking surprise, as the French say. I’m blaming this on their bloody fancy gastronomie dominie food. Never again.

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Let's move to an unwelcoming market town still waiting to get paid for Buckingham Palace's gates! This week: Bromsgrove

What’s it about?

Right at the heart of England, yet awkwardly out of reach like a boil between the shoulder blades, Bromsgrove is perfect for anyone yearning for a characterless shit tip where everybody hates you.

Historically, neighbouring hamlets nicknamed the locals ‘Swedegnawers’; sounds like a Scandinavian sex act, is actually a derisory reference to townsfolk being so uncivilised they chowed down on a sole diet of raw root vegetables. Insulting but a fucking brilliant word for Scrabble enthusiasts.

The Bromsgrove Guild also constructed the ornate gates to Buckingham Palace in the early 1900s. The freeloading Royals never got around to paying for them so in 2015, the guild wrote to the Queen demanding final settlement or their return. They were promptly told to fuck off.

Any good points?

There are a host of childishly amusing place names, including Lickey End, Bell End and Twatling Road. Very Instagrammable. And in the late 80s the public toilets by the bus station were awarded the title of Best in Britain, though in the years since the coachloads full of visiting pensioners have dropped off a bit.

Famous sons include Fast Show cast member Mark Williams and classical scholar AE Housman who grew up here and released a famous book of poems, A Shropshire Lad, pretending he didn’t. He’s been honoured with a statue in the town centre, near Rymans.

The authoritative translator of Juvenal looks over a town centre which, come chucking out time, is occupied by drunken locals kicking shit out of each other for imagined slights in the Red Lion. No doubt he’s delighted.

Beautiful landscape? 

If you get out of town. The Lickey Hills afford stunning views to the Malverns in the west, and delectable vistas of the cloak of smog enveloping the sprawling metropolis of shite Birmingham to the north.

Anywhere worth visiting is miles away. Birmingham and Worcester aren’t worth driving to, the buses are shit and the railway station’s a mile out of town. There’s Sanders Park but you’d have to be fucking desperate.

Hang out at…

The remote locations of Pipers Hill Wood and Timberhonger Lane are equally popular for dogging and suicides. Check for a length of hose from the exhaust pipe before getting your cock out.

National Trust members can traipse vacantly around Hanbury Hall, which has all the usual shit, and the open-air Avoncroft Museum of Buildings has buildings in. You’ve probably seen buildings before. They’re around most places.

Where to buy?

The Charford estate is rough as arseholes for those on a low budget, the village of Catshill has convenient amenities like schools, pubs and even its very own religious cult, and the suburban settlements of Marlbrook and Fairfield offer a more upmarket alternative.

Shitting money? The posh hamlet of Barnt Green is home to millionaire footballers in tasteless mock Georgian mansions. Jack Grealish lived here once before getting a proper job in a real city.

From the streets: 

Eleanor Shaw, aged 53: “We used to have a Woolworths and an Our Price. Even the local paper fucked off out of town in 2015. Mind you, it was still a shithole back in the day.”