Valentine’s Day for Dummies

The leering pink teddy bears are bad enough. Then there are the furry red hearts that leap out at you from every corner. Not to mention the moony-eyed Levis and lettuce brigade, giggling hysterically over milkshakes, mushy poems and Michael Learns To Rock.

To top it all, there’s the threat of acquiring either a random rakhi brother or a husband over Valentine’s Day. Talk about sticky dinner dates! (Though as an especially urbane friend pointed out, it could just be the quickest way yet to marry a millionaire. “Grab him as soon as he emerges from his Mercedes, and hold on till the priests arrive.” (Eat your heart out, Marilyn Monroe)

And now, to add to all that you need to navigate the rocky restaurant route. Rocky? To all the smooth young men who are suavely sniggering into their lemon yellow Ralph Lauren shirts (‘Because real men wear Yellow’), don’t be too sure of yourselves. I have a story that will strike fear into your blasé hearts.

A friend was recently taken out on a dinner date by one of those sophisticated Young Turks. You know the kind: they seem to spring up everywhere where there’s a shower of sparkling Pellegrino. He airily asked her to pick a wine. And like any nice girl, she pointed to the top of the list and casually asked the waiter to bring her what she assumed was the house wine.

Traditionally wine lists begin with the house wine, which is the cheapest, and then get more expensive as you move down the menu. But, this hotel had their list arranged the opposite way.

They were so pleasantly surprised at how astonishingly ‘drinkable’ this wine was that they ordered another bottle, and took it to the bar to share with friends. Their bill? Each bottle was priced Rs. 65,000. Talk about high-maintenance.

Restaurants have a monthly target to accomplish. And waiters generally get 10 per cent of the bill as a tip. It’s in their best interests to inflate your bill. So, unfortunately, a waiter is more likely to steer you towards spending an obnoxious amount of money on dinner. As far as he’s concerned, it’s his job to make you spend like Paris Hilton on Rodeo Drive. It’s your job to stay alert.

Unfortunately, you’re probably at your most vulnerable when you’re on a date.

First comes the nasal recitation of the menu, blanketed with French words and Italian expressions, which is unnerving enough. (Here’s a tip, if you can’t pronounce it, just point and smile.)

Then, comes the Evian, opened with a dramatic flourish. (For heavens sake, it’s just water. If you’re dying to be posh, add a wedge of lime to your Bisleri.) Once you get the wine list, consider ordering by the glass instead of loftily doing an Old King Cole impression, calling for bottles and bowls and all the resident fiddlers.

It’s at this point that the chef/ waiter/ smooth-talking manager will slide over and offer to whip up ‘something special.’ Let’s be clear: Something special almost always means something expensive. In some places it also stands for that-stuff-we-couldn’t-get-rid-of-yesterday-now-served-in-a-white-sauce. (Oh yes. Keep a sharp eye on all white sauce.) Pick something off the menu, unless you’re familiar with the restaurant and its staff. And stay away from those jumbo prawns all waiters seem to love with a passion. The way they’re priced, you’d think each prawn has a personal masseur smothering it with love and garlic butter every hour.

While we’re on the subject of food doused in over enthusiasm, keep a sharp eye on the buffet. In theory it sounds like a great idea. In reality, you’re not going to eat that much. If you do, you’re just going to feel like a blimp once you’re done. A la carte is not just far more civilised on a date (who wants to watch someone plough through Old MacDonald’s farm grilled, steamed and batter fried), but it’s often much tastier since the food is fresh, hot and, thankfully, uncongealed.

And, for heavens sake, keep the coochie-cooing to a minimum. Some of us will be trying to eat. Happy Valentine’s Day!


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