Raven Smith On The Eternal Search for Deliciousness
Introducing Resy’s new columnist, Raven Smith, and his new column, Raven Smith Eats Out. Smith is an author, current Vogue columnist, and widely known as the funniest person on Instagram in addition to frequenting some of London’s finest restaurants. In this and forthcoming columns, join Smith at some of his favourite restaurants as he searches for outstanding dining experiences that transcend words and cleave notions of style and taste, all shared in his own inimitable style.
I’m taking this restaurant column full time and, not to get too woo-woo too quickly, but I’ve been mulling over how food tastes versus what food means. As we continue to dine together, I want to give you more than delicious, more than ground control to major yum. I sometimes find my meals laced with pretence, with long tales of ingredient ideation, concepts layered like Kleenexes in a box.
Fret not, my potatoes have led a decadent life, lovingly confit-ed aboard the Titanic. I can tell you the sexual history of my swedes. I have received the full résumé of my devilled crab, discovering with a proud-father nod the date he first started walking sideways. Thick-armed butchers pounded flesh for my scotch egg. The eggs themselves incubated by virgin’s hands.
It’s not that I don’t care where my vegetables come from, but while the past is important, the taste is important-er.
Taste is the key to a good meal, the bare bones of the flavours and the heat and salt and acid. Taste is the thing that surpasses food chat, surpasses expectations. Taste makes practical, simple, passionate sense, rather than a regurgitation of jargon, a retelling of provenance.
I’m wondering if I’m a restaurant outsider, in that I’m an eater of food, a sitter on seats, a holder of a knife and a fork, rather than a sniffy connoisseur, a networker, a business of foodie. Like you, I have my food peeves. I prefer things that feel hand drawn rather than pixelated. I have an insatiable appetite for tastiness, I cannot overstate that simple fact. And knowing my carrot had an un-turbulent puberty doesn’t change the taste for me. I’m not anti the traditional mechanic of restaurant-ing, of talking me carefully through a few courses – I just think there’s other ways to eat too, where the backstory is irrelevant from the first smell of basketed bread, the first forkful of who knows what, London’s Nopi does a Valdeón cheesecake. That’s it. You really, really don’t need more info than that.
What do I know about food, I hear you ask?
Well, I know about that cheesecake. I know the right chicken soup at the exact right time in the exact right polystyrene quart can be a salve. I know to red flag someone who’s too into pulses because pulse people are the worst. I know St John love to sling you well-seasoned orifices over the pass, but their simple egg sandwich on white bread will rescue you from the most vicious of hangovers. Their Welsh rarebit could massacre my own family and I’d still order it again. My favourite colour is prawn, and I know a martini glass of them with a touch of greenery will never not be excellent. I know where to get a proper Martini without feeling like an underdressed prick. I prefer very cheap vanilla ice cream that’s either too yellow or not yellow enough but will Citybike across London for a slice of Rochelle Canteen Neapolitan. I know with absolute certainty that great food isn’t something to regret or work off. That anything with prongs is a fork and you simply cannot use the wrong fork at a sit-down meal. I know that snails are for people who pretend to like disgusting things to feel cultured. Onion tart is just middle-class people cosplaying at rustic.
St John love to sling you well-seasoned orifices over the pass, but their simple egg sandwich on white bread will rescue you from the most vicious of hangovers. Their Welsh rarebit could massacre my own family and I’d still order it again.
And what is eating out if not the out part? If not the long-term hunger game, one of plotting and planning and reserving. Of donning my living-my-best-life shoes and calling a cab and taking in a meal. Okay, occasionally it’s as simple as walking past and ‘I can’t believe there’s no queue’-ing, but a night out is a night out. It is the ceremony; it is the pomp. It’s not just what you eat, in the same way the appeal of a sleeper-train isn’t just how you slept. It’s the food and the rest. Or the rest with food added. Less about the facts and figures of a meal and more about the sum of all parts. It’s about a duel of spoons across a crème caramel and espresso taken black. But it’s also about laughing til you snot and absolutely no washing up and getting back home to the memes you’ve missed.
This column will always be a gamble, a punt on a dining experience that levels up. A stab at excellent eating. An endeavour for outstandingness. At its core, and in the least naff way, I’m searching for love. A moment bigger than salivating and ordering. A moment bigger than chewing and flavouring a swallowing. A moment bigger than pudding. Perhaps bigger isn’t quite the word — smarter? Smaller? Chicer? More intricate? More nuanced? More astounding in its remarkable execution, or dumbfounding in its soft familiarity? I guess I am looking for the kind of magic that somehow transcends words, in order to then assign words to the wordless experience, and to get you through the door so you can be speechless too.
I’m not sure where we’ll go, or quite where we’ll end up. But all I keep thinking a good meal has is enough salt, enough pepper, and everything else is noise. I am here to make a noise about great food whilst searching out second helpings of deliciousness. What more could you ask for?
Raven Smith is a cultural commentator, best-selling author, and a columnist at Vogue. Buy Raven Smith’s Men, his latest book, and follow him on Instagram here. Follow Resy, too.