A FEW days before Christmas, I ate with family at one of my favourite restaurants, L’Escargot Bleu in Edinburgh, run by Fred and Betty Berkmiller.
Many people, triggered by government cautions and over-hyped projections of Omicron risk, had shut themselves down in self-imposed confinement by this point, yet this landmark French restaurant has earned such a loyal clientele that it was full, through two services.
We ate like fortunate French people being fed by a doting grandmère who has all the skills and standards of la cuisine bourgeoise in her DNA.
We couldn’t look past Fred’s legendary fish soup, terracotta from pulverised crustaceans, floating croutons in it liberally daubed with velvety rouille, decked with aged mountain cheese.
Straight out of the era of Elizabeth David came a goose terrine, cooked in a Le Creuset dish, and served in fat slices. Slivers of smoked cured duck breast curled over leaves that Fred grows in his garden at Newton in Midlothian, the Escargot Bleu’s celebrated steak tartare, dressed to order before your eyes, and a hearty casserole of ox cheek with fondant venison in a glossy, stick gravy, were sublime.
And of course we absolutely could not ignore dessert, all classics, crème brulée, iles flottantes – those puffy clouds of poached egg white floating on a liquid egg custard – and nougat glacé, a crush of candied fruits and toasted nuts, bound in vanilla parfait.
Naturally we drank wine, but that was not the reason why we left in such optimistic good humour. The fact is that a celebratory meal in a fabulous restaurant like this where you are so well looked after by the front of house team is one of the most life-enhancing experiences.
It warmed the cockles of my heart yesterday when I jumped in a taxi after the driver had dropped off an elderly couple at a city centre restaurant. Steadied by his wife’s arm, he could barely walk.
“It’s his 90th birthday today” the driver explained, “so they’re off to celebrate”.
What love! What sweetness! How determined these people were to enjoy their lives, going against all the government propaganda.
Between them, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney put a hex on Scotland’s hospitality sector. They stopped short of shutting down pubs and restaurants as they did nightclubs, yet did their damndest to see them empty of customers, counting their losses.
Their behaviour is wicked, mean, and dishonest. To shut the sector down on government orders, Sturgeon and Swinney would have had to come up with a credible compensation package.
It was easier to as good as close their doors by scaring their customers away.
George Galloway aptly summed up the disastrous impact of this destructive duo: “The SNP have devastated the Scottish hospitality industry – again. Despite the evidence, and just to be different to England.”
Sturgeon, like Mark Drakeford in Wales, quickly politicised Covid, turning what should have been a vehicle for cross-border cooperation and harmonisation into an opportunity to virtue-signalling over Johnson.
“Look at us. Aren’t we wise? Didn’t we judge it better?”
The fact is that they didn’t.
Despite Sturgeon’s more Draconian mandates, Scotland is performing worse than England by most health measures, and the Scottish economy is in a more parlous state.
No wonder thousands of Scots flocked south across the border last night to bask in a more relaxed atmosphere where the ghouls of Scottish Covid security operation have not yet suffocated all joyousness.
Thanks to these technocratic dictators, Scottish cities are dead. Our restaurants are barely open. Bricks and mortars shops are on their last legs. None of this damage was inevitable. Blame Sturgeon and Swinney, not Covid.
Are they just over-cautious, plodding Covid zealots who erred too heavily on the side of caution? I think the truth is worse than that.
These up-tight control freaks have lapped up the power the virus has allowed them to assume over our lives. Sturgeon and Swinney have become so deeply invested in talking up a never-ending public health emergency, that as it becomes clear that we should be moving on from pandemic to endemic, they can’t bear to let go.
Can you imagine either Sturgeon or Swinney enjoying a sociable meal in a restaurant? I’d invite them to L’Escargot Bleu but the experience would be wasted on them.
Would either of them make sparkling companions for a night in the pub? Can you see them letting their hair down in a club or at a party? I doubt it.
They show all the signs of being the dull types who disapprove of food and drink-related enjoyment, and conviviality, as a point of principle.
Of course, it’s their business if they have zilch feeling for the pleasures of the table. If Sturgeon and Swinney self-isolated for ever and a day, ordering online from supermarkets and Amazon, while working on Zoom, well, that’s a dull life, but it would be their own, personal, miserable, restricted choice.
But when, by their actions, they show nothing but a shoulder-shrugging indifference as they take a wrecking ball to the lives and livelihoods of all the restaurateurs, publicans, club owners, suppliers and producers who cater for those of us who do value food and drink, we should tell them to take a hike.
The New Year’s exodus to England shows that despite sustained Scottish Government gaslighting, we aren’t all brainwashed sheep who, as in 1984, await orders in front of the “telescreen” displaying a single channel of news, propaganda and wellness programming dictated by Big Brother.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and grandchildren, to make 2022 a happier, more humane New Year.
Let’s do that in a practical constructive way. Our civic duty, money allowing, is to book as many restaurants as we can, visit cafés regularly, take taxis, go to the pub, support theatre, cinema, and arts events, use small independent shops.
We’ve had almost two years of governments fronted by medical dictators messing with our heads. We cannot let them get away with ruining our lives in perpetuity.
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