A queuing convert

I have been transformed with all the zealotry that only a recent convert can possess from a curmudgeon to a queue-er. I have always moaned about this trend for restaurants not to accept reservations as being more suited to them than their customers. Why would I want to stand in a line when I should be able to go online and reserve a table at the time of my choosing?

Then yesterday a friend who repeatedly told me we had to go to Hoppers in Soho and would even stand in the queue with her boys ahead of me arriving so as to bag a table to minimise my pain broke my thoughts. There was no way I was going to let her do that so I got there at 11.45 (they open at 12) on a wet and sleepy Saturday morning only to find there were already about 30 eager people waiting for the doors to open.

Yet as I stood there a curious sensation struck me. It was rather exciting to stand and chat with strangers about the prospects of getting a table, asking had they been before, with passers by asking us what we were doing. It made me think there may be a new sensory experience we have overlooked in our conventional criteria for appreciating food – alongside the technical tick boxes of sweet, savoury, salt, bitter and the newly discovered umami (which, Iike in the episode of Friends, I imagined was a type of sushi). Smell, look, atmosphere also greatly enhance one’s dining pleasures.

But anticipation is now another for me.

Anticipation is a form of excitement and excitement triggers adrenalin. Is it going to be as good as everyone says? Will we get a table when they open? Why am I straddling an umbrella and a phone tweeting about me queuing? The doors opened and the adrenalin rush began – it looked like the couple in front of us were going to get the last table. They were waiting for two more friends, they told the greeter, who replied that whole parties had be present to get a table. I don’t know who makes up these rules but I love this one as we then got in. This sense of achievement by default made me want to enjoy the food even more.

And of course the food was delicious – everyone agrees on that, perhaps enhanced because of rather than despite the queue.

Ninety minutes later we left and saw the couple we gazumped now joined by their friends – cold and wet, but also happy and about to get happier with a table. When Jean Paul Sartre created the notion of “bad faith” he would have been hard pushed to find a better example of that with me until yesterday.

Now I want to look for a line of people, join them and ask: “Right – what are we queueing for?”

About Iqbal Wahhab

Founder of Roast Restaurant, Borough Market.
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