I can’t really remember the first time I ate something that I knew lots of other people considered gross. But I must have been pretty young. I certainly have a pretty clear memory of ordering sweetbreads when I got taken to my first posh restaurant (the sadly now crap Bell’s Dinner in Bristol) when I was somewhere under 10. And I definitely was the only member of our family to manage to eat the 1000-year-old bird’s eggs we were proudly presented with when we were in Hong Kong and I was about 12 or 13. I’ve basically always wanted to eat the bits and pieces no-one else was brave enough to consume; even if sometimes – like with those rotten, gelatinous eggs with their yolks the colour of vomit – it was probably more sensible to turn my nose up like a normal pre-teen and demand to be taken somewhere less terrifying.
Whether it was a rat roasted on the side of the road in Uganda or a raw scallop tartar with the texture and taste of semen at a Christmas meal in France, the allure of the gross has been strong in me. But now everyone is a foodie and the whole world apparently understands the appeal of Balut or those birds that people in France apparently drown in brandy and eat whole under a napkin so God can’t see them cracking through the beak and chowing down on feathers. As a result, no one I’m eating with even bats an eyelid when I opt for the pasta with chili and sea urchin at Amici Miei – the newish Italian place at the bottom of Kingsland Road that is linked to the pizza place we got take away from a couple of weeks ago.Luckily, I wasn’t ordering it for effect (well maybe a little bit). It’s actually delicious – tasting strongly of the sea in the same sort of way oysters do. Here, it was served really simply with just some chili and not much else; one of the tastiest pasta dishes I’ve had out for ages. The other mains we had were also good. Even though Nat didn’t much like the amount of pasta that came with her seafood and tomato sauce, she did appreciate the seafood itself. And I actually thought the pasta – Homemade Neopolitan pasta – was also great; it still had a bite and occupied that middle ground between spaghetti and something more substantial perfectly. Scott’s trio of fish was actually more like a platter; the three actual pieces bolstered by a mound of other seafood nuggets that must have been good as he wolfed them down at a healthy rate.
Earlier, a sharing plate of cured meats had also helped us soak up the booze we’d consumed for free earlier that evening at an internet meme event. In particular the salty lardo hit a boozy spot, even if Nat said that it tasted of fatty crayons. The only bum note; some sweaty Italian cheese that looked horrid and tasted little better. After the mains, we were too full and half cut for much dessert, but shared a tiramisu, which tasted exactly like every other tiramisu I’ve ever had.
The coffee was good though, even if it did keep me up all night on what must have been the stickiest evening of the year. By the morning, the sweaty sheets looked like the sort of thing that someone would probably tell me was a cured meat delicacy in Mongolia and I’d devour with relish while the people that served it to me laughed and my misplaced trust and foolhardiness.