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The meal at the end of the world

Hazelnut gelato

If it was the last night of the world, of my life, of your life, of all this, of everything, what would you dine on? What feast of the tastiest morsels of an interrupted lifetime of eating delicious things would pass your lips one last time?

Would there be foie gras? The bird is going to die anyway, it might as well have a useful and noble end, being savoured one last time by the connoisseurs of the world. Would there be truffle oil, drizzled on something? A few strands of saffron? A chutney flavoured with the finest Cape spices?

Should there be pizza? You think? Your last meal ever is going to be pizza? Or chips maybe? A nice big pile of chips? Okay, there is something in that. But chips and pizza, like hamburgers and boerewors rolls, occupy a special place in your palate’s memory anyway. You don’t really need to have another, one more time, for it to resonate in a long life of eating.

So how will this final meal begin? There has to be an amouse bouche, that poncy little chef’s favour that posh restaurants send out before the actual first course arrives. For me, this has to be a plump, ice-cool oyster served in a ceramic spoon with the faintest drizzle of sesame oil, a crack of pepper, a hint of lime and a pinch of salt. And the oyster needs to be washed in the wild Atlantic waters of Lüderitz, not Knysna.

Tomato soup

For a starter, you may expect something wildly creative, with rare exotic ingredients, but no. Tomato has to be the king of at least one plate of your last meal, and for me there’s no finer soup than the best, creamiest cream of tomato soup, with a hint of basil, a herb to linger on the eternal palate.

There needs to be a fish course, as there were in days gone by at any hotel with a dining room worth its salt. This being South Africa, that fish has to be kingklip. It needs to be grilled until it’s still moist and gratinated to give it a nice crust. It needs something properly old-fashioned, and that has to be a well-made parsley sauce, making this a course to remind your palate of earlier times and older ways of dining.

There’ll have to be two main courses. It’s just the way it is. There’s no point in worrying about the waistline any more, anyway, so what the hell. (If there is a hell.)

Bring on the fowl. But which? You’re going to eat chicken one last time? In which case, which of the millions of ways of preparing chicken would you choose? Maybe we should leave chicken in the memory box it already exists in, and choose, instead, the humble quail, wrapping it in Parma ham and stuffing it with preserved fig. It needs a sauce reduced and reduced again, one worthy of the finest French saucier. I’d serve this with creamy mashed potato enriched with butter and cream. But not too much, as there’s another main course coming.

This is actually Reuben Riffel's lamb served at Reuben's at the One&Only at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

And you know, if you know me, that this will be lamb. And it will be a shank. It will be slow-cooked, and a very large one, with thyme and oregano and olive oil and lemon, and served with perfectly roasted root vegetables, carrot and parsnip, whole baby onions and beetroot. It will fall apart and on to my fork of its own accord, and it will linger and be consumed slowly, reverently, as the endless night begins to fall on this final repast.

But there will still be time for dessert.

There will be chocolate, there has to be chocolate. But no mere Bar One or Crunchy bar will suffice. This has to be the richest, most decadent chocolate mousse or the best chocolate ice-cream you’ve ever tasted.

But if the last taste of your life is ice-cream, shouldn’t it be vanilla? Home-made, and perfect, like the first vanilla ice-cream you ever tasted as a child?

Yes. But no. If it is ice-cream it has to be Italian gelato. Deeply flavourful, creamy, nutty gelato in a bottomless cone, a magical cone of the kind you might get at a shop in Diagon Alley where you just keep eating and eating and the ice-cream just keeps topping itself up until the Grim Mayan Reaper has wrung every last breath out of our dying world. Hazelnut ice-cream with a hint of Amaretto di Saronno. That’s it. Heaven in a cone. Goodbye.

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