Twelve o'clock. Time for one final look around the room before the doors open Not that anything will be out of order. This is just my excuse to stand and savour that one instant in the day when I can tell myself that everything how I always dreamt it would be. And as ever the room is ready, the discreetly distanced tables swathed in crisp white linen, china and crystal gleaming softly in the low lighting. The flowers in full bloom and the rows of bottles behind the corner bar are a colourful contrast to the expensively muted decor. Behind me from the kitchen as familiar and soothing as a favourite piece of music, comes a frantic cacophony, a mix of urgent voices, the clash and scratch of metal, the sizzle of meat and the hiss of steam, sounds of activity that will, like a kind of alchemy, produce something wonderful from the most ordinary of ingredients.
By half past the room is full. Looking at it you would say I was a success. And it is true, the scent of money hangs heavily here. I can close my eyes and sense it for just as the dishes I serve each have their particular aroma so too has money. Underneath the sweetness of herbs and the sharpness of spices it is possible to detect it. The smell of money is bespoke perfume, leather and, I swear, the tang of chemicals from so many Botoxed and freshly peeled faces. And so the look of money is smooth. And of course thin. And there it is. From my table in the corner I watch the rich, smooth and thin lunch. Lunch but never eat.
All my life has been about getting to this point, to have this chance to share my passion. But each day I watch as the food I love is toyed with and ignored, talked across in a place that has become no more than one more fashionable somewhere to be seen. I grew so tired of half eaten plates that the portions of food I serve got smaller. No one noticed. The plates were still left half eaten.
So now in my more bitter moments I fantasise about serving empty plates, watching empty forks in thin hands lifting to smooth faces. A place not to eat for those who never eat. And I fantasise too about walking away and starting again, a greasy spoon, a cheap and cheerful cafe filled with happy, hungry, fat and rumpled people. Appreciative people. Success is seductive. But as I watch my non-diners, sickened by their abstinence, I know that day must come for when I lift my own filled fork the food more and more each day is like ashes in my mouth.