Dining Alone In London
No, I promise, I did not eat a Starbucks Marmite and Cheese sandwich! I just want to show you that it exists, it’s a thing. Not my thing, but a thing. However, I did go into a Starbucks and get a coffee, when I didn’t seem to have time for lunch, and it gave me a great idea.
Before coming by myself to London my greatest anxiety was about eating dinner alone every night. That, amazingly, has turned out to be a piece of cake. Skipping lunch is part of the key, and the magic of Kindle is the other.
My hotel feeds me a copious breakfast every day, included with the room. In fact, their fried eggs are so perfectly cooked, so much better than any fried eggs I’ve ever made myself, that this morning I asked to go into the kitchen and talk to the cook about how she makes them. So that gets me off to a great start, and not eating lunch is pretty easy. The hotel also happens to be in a neighborhood chock full of little, and not so little, ethnic restaurants, places where I can have a whole dinner, with wine, for about the price of a main dish in a posher place. So all in all, I’ve figured out the secret to solo dining happiness, and I’ll share it with you.
I walk into one of these places early, 6:00 or 6:30, before it’s busy. Restaurants aren’t empty, though, at that hour, and eating early means that when I’m ready to leave and walk back to my hotel in the dark the streets are still teeming with people. I get a glass of wine, open my Kindle to something fun, and then try to befriend the server. I happened on this strategy accidentally. In an Argentine restaurant I commented that the fish reminded me of moqueca, and it turned out that was pretty much the local dish from the server’s hometown. Then the guy who brings around all the meats offered me beef and I asked for chicken hearts. “Ok, she knows moqueca and likes chicken hearts!” (which were indeed fabulous), from then on they were being super nice to me for the rest of my visit.
In an Indian restaurant the food wasn’t spicy enough (Brit tastes, I guess) and when I asked for a dish of chilis the server, formerly quite formal and distant as Indian servers often are, lit up. He took the most solicitous care of me for the rest of the evening, spent a lot of time explaining to me how the restaurant had been named for a warrior princess “so beautiful, so brave,” and I didn’t feel alone at all.
Tonight, in a Greek place, the server was perturbed by my request for three starters instead of a main course, and even shook her head at me a little. But when I lamented when she told me that they were out of retsina, because her boss thinks that people don’t like it, I told her that it seems normal to drink Greek wine with Greek food and besides I like retsina, and she beamed. Shortly thereafter she brought me a bowl of beautiful fruit “on the house, on the house,” and when I explained why I don’t eat fruit, or pita, or rice, she told me “I understand, but I offer it to you from my heart.”
Talk about food, which is the cross-cultural, universal language, and the kindness of those who spend their lives serving the food of their homelands to itinerant foreigners: they’re saving me on this trip from the potential awkwardness and loneliness of eating out alone. I don’t know why I worried.