Turns out you can eat alone even if you’re with someoneby Wendell Steavenson / September 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
Paris in August. Everyone was away and everything was closed. I was alone for the whole month. For the first two days I ate my usual chicken broth soup. On the third day I made gazpacho by liquidising leftover tomato salad. Then I was bored and a bit lonely. The happy quotidian question “what shall we eat today?” had been replaced by a plaintive dilemma: who am I going to eat with?
Eating alone is a curious thing. “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink,” said Epicurus many years ago, “for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.” At home, solo quaffing balances indulgence against expediency. I tend to pare down to the very simple: salmon sloshed with sesame oil and soy sauce. Bacon sandwich. Bags of crisps and pots of taramasalata.
Eating in restaurants alone is an awkward social navigation. It can be fun if it turns into an adventure—if you end up talking to people; if you end up, in effect, not alone. But more often I find myself holding a book in one hand and a fork in the other, an unhappy marriage of two pleasures.
Exception for the exceptional: once I lunched (for an article) at a table for one at Pierre Gagnaire, an exalted three Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. I was prepared to be miserable. But because I had no one to talk to, I found I could savour and examine every mouthful: gorgonzola ice cream, cool and smooth and salty; hake in sweet and spicy sauce; strawberry and rhubarb matched against a bitter liquorice mousse. For two hours I was blissfully engrossed in the precision engineering and art of haute cuisine.
Pierre Gagnaire was closed for the summer, like everything else. I was desperate. I went on the internet.
Jim Haynes’s name pops up at the top of any search of “supper club Paris.” He has been hosting a dinner at his apartment in a leafy part of the 14th arrondissement every Sunday night for more than 30 years. All are welcome; in mid August there were more than 80 of us. Jim is a founder of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In the 1980s he wrote guide books to eastern Europe that were collections of people to meet when you got there. He is by nature a nexus,…