Stuck in the Middle with You?

Nick Buglione gets lost between expensive meals and cheap eats

I have eaten the occasional meal that some could call borderline immoral.

A double Michelin-starred meal at The Square in its Phil Howard heyday, Savoy Grill (for Omelette Arnold Bennett), “Rockefeller” sushi at Dinings, Simon Rogan’s Fera tasting menu at Claridge’s and a, once in a lifetime, triple Michelin star blow out at Restaurante Lasarte in Barcelona (where we genuinely thought the next couple through the door would be George and Amal). The bill would have propped up a couple of third world economies.

But, I never left one of those evenings feeling short-changed. Not one of them wasn’t worth it.

And ditto the other end of the spectrum. I don’t pop to Jeff The Chef or many of the Pop ground floor outposts and feel short-changed. Same for a quick pizza – sourdough Margherita and a beer for a tenner, fine with me. Souvlaki, a quick Honest, some Pho, Jerk, whatever. Street food at street food prices, no problem.

For those that remember it, I practically set up residence in Speedy Noodle (RIP).

My problem, is what is in between. I get stuck in the middle.

Granted, once you hit the age of kids and babysitters, a meal out is more than a meal out. I have to pay a barely conscious teenager fused to a smartphone to eat half the fridge and fall asleep in front of my TV before my wallet reaches a restaurant. Pop 30-odd quid on the bill.

So it’s the mid-table meals. Those mid-weekers. Starters, mains (I don’t do desserts) and a couple of glasses of something, rolling in at £60, £70 or more. And not being much better than I can pull off in my own kitchen. Say what we like about elite pricing at “posh” restaurants, but I can’t cook like Phil Howard.

In poetic parallel, our high road chain eateries have been closing faster than Mariano Rivera. Strada gone, Jamie’s Italian gone, Zizzi, Café Rouge, Prezzo, Byron shutting sites left right and centre. And why Giraffe still exists I don’t know.

Unimaginative, common denominator aggregated cooking in identikit dining rooms. The rise and fall of the chains. Who treated us like lemmings, convenience diners to be upsold olives or edamame for a fiver.

Maybe restaurants are doing what cinemas had to realise? The pile them high and charge them a fortune for soggy nachos era has turned into “it’s got to be enough of an experience to beat the sofa and Netflix”. And seeing as how half the world is dining via motorbike delivery, eating out has to be enough of an experience to beat just thumbing it through with Deliveroo in your boxers?

Brixton, of course, is not just another high-road to hell for eating out. There are some great meals that aren’t highway robbery. For every Wahaca there is someone doing something more interesting for less money round the corner.

That’s where you will find me, or in the kitchen actually cooking something.


  1. Nick, you should come in and try our buttermilk cauliflower with roast serrano aioli, or our Riverford Organic squash taco with green cashew nut mole, or our grilled mushroom and cheese tacos – I think you might find they perked you up no end and did not leave you feeling short-changed – tacos served on nixtamalized corn tortillas from a small producer in Ireland and prepared with love by our amazing chefs. Let me know when you want to come in?

    tommi xx

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