A Review: The Tard Hole
October 14, 2010
(Originally posted here on 19/09/09)
Excerpted from the collected works of the late E.Q.A Natter (1926 – 2009), world-renowned restaurant critic for The Times and famed bon vivant, who passed away following an inspired bout of taramasalata-wrestling with his Thai houseboy, Pgingxhn (he suffered a stroke having attempted to pronounce the boy‘s name correctly during coitus). Though others have spoken ill of Natty’s lifestyle, and often described him to be a rude and contentious man (he was once jailed for Holocaust denial), we at theEntrenched Bourgoise’s Monthly will miss him deeply, and include one of his finest reviews herein for posterity’s sake.
The Tard Hole
Having spent holidays in Wales before, I naturally expected the Tard Hole to be like every other restaurant I had entered during my stints west of Offa’s Dyke; dimly-lit, and filled with cap-doffing peasants dining on boiled slate. However, my tour of the estimable town of Llandudno had rendered me to a state of starvation. I hadn’t eaten since my victorious entry into the All-Buckinghamshire Tudor-themed Hog-and-Hind Competition the evening before, and consequently sought that nourishment which Nietzsche called “the food of the soul” – i.e food.
The Tard Hole lies closer to Llandudno’s West Shore than to it’s famed promenade, and as such rids itself of the plague of unenlightened tourists and backpackers which frequent the hotels and eateries in that part of town. A heady aroma of halibut, marmite and summer meadows assailed my nostrils as I neared the restaurant – this, however, turned out to emanate from the laundrette next door. Going through my usual pre-restaurant ritual of nailing my wallet to the inside of my car and practising my acerbic put-downs, I found that the door had been opened by a member of the waiting staff, who bore a scimitar in one hand and an unoptimistic piglet in the other.
Without any kind of verbal command, he beckoned me towards the door. This impressed me – I had eaten in “silent restaurants” before and was always left satisfied by the lack of chit-chat, given the fact it allowed me to fully communicate with my own thoughts. But upon closer inspection I found his mouth had been sown shut with twine, and I was dismayed to hear the chatting of other diners as I crossed the threshold. I was led through a narrow corridor and into a plush downstairs seating area. I noted, with some unease, that the walls were covered with masks and swords of varying size. Part of me began to question whether or not this evening would end up like my infamous Night in New Guinea, where Gustaf and I had barely escaped with our limbs intact and free from the marinade which the natives had so happily prepared for us.
My fears were allayed when I was shoved into a chair by my silent guide, who grunted and clapped his hands three times. Into the room came a troupe of bejewelled belly dancers, who entertained me as the guide left, presumably to inform the manager of my arrival. Not five minutes later – which, to be honest, was all I needed those days – I was approached by a smiling, diminutive maitre d‘, who informed me that he had been sent by the manager to ask whether I would care for an aperitif or any appetisers. I ordered my usual favourite; a pint of Cinzano and a heady slab of pate de foie gras taken from Toulouse geese. He slithered back towards the door, taking care to bow every few steps, and my harem of dancers went with him.
The moment the door closed, something which I had never before experienced in a restaurant took place. The lights suddenly extinguished, and a blast of some abhorrent form of musical diversion (I believe the youth call it death metal) was pounded through a set of concealed speakers. A projector – doubtless hidden in the wall behind me – relayed a series of terrifying images on to the wall to my front, ranging from photographic evidence of war crimes to the woodcuts of Hieronymus Bosch. Some twenty seconds later, the lights returned, the music switched off as suddenly as it had played, and the maitre d’ entered once more. He indicated that I should follow him to the upstairs seating area, where my chosen hours d’oeuvres had already been served.
The dining area was as opulently decorated as its ground-floor counterpart. I looked around hopefully, but alas the belly dancers were nowhere to be seen. I was led to my table and presented with the wine list. Given this place’s embellishments, I neglected my usual habit of throwing the wine list away and decrying the staff for ever having presented me with a roster of such plebeian fare, and instead ordered two bottles of a curiously-named Chateau des Morts Vivants. This was presented duly – a good red affair, suggesting nettles on tombs – and I was then given the menu. Once more deciding to flout convention, I gave the menu a sound reading and eventually decided on the griddled parakeet to start (a house speciality, the waiter assured me), followed by a blackcurrant sorbet to clear the palate, the “local” fish and chips for my main course and a caramelised slab of fudge with wolf’s milk ice cream for dessert. With this done, the maitre d’ immediately nipped away to a kitchen doorway. As it swung open, I was offered a glimpse into its enigma, and saw a gent clad in Viking furs – doubtlessly the manager – reprimanding the sewn-mouth assistant for not having properly sautéed a turnip. But upon the door’s swinging shut once more, I was denied a glimpse into this Eden of occult cuisine and was forced to begin on my pate.
The pate was as unctuous and as silky as any good foie gras ought to be, and I was surprised to see that it had been sculpted into a rather accurate microcosmic mimicry of Krak des Chevaliers, the crusader’s fortress in Syria. The bolt-holes particularly impressed me.
My griddled parakeet followed quickly. I was assured by the staff that this parakeet had led a life of happiness, having had tapes of the works of Oscar Wilde played at it in the battery cage which it shared with eighty other parakeets of similar sexual orientation, and as such I was promised similar contentment. The rum sauce on my bowl, the waiter told me, was the same fluid which they had used to drown the parakeet, having force-fed him an entire sheet of LSD blotting paper the evening before. Needless to say, it was the best parakeet I had ever tasted, and I heartily recommend it.
I decided to passing over the sorbet and head straight to my main meal – this, as frequent readers will know, is a trick I often use in order to irritate serving staff. My platter of fish and chips was served personally by the head chef and manager, who had deigned to engage in conversation with me having learnt that a food critic as estimable as myself was in his eatery. When I quizzed him on his bizarre pre-meal ritual, he laughed and answered that the use of belly dancers and terrifying fear tactics which would get you sent down at the Hague was a regime designed to force the diner into a state of cognitive dissonance, experiencing bliss and horror in equal measure. With their sensory equipment then having reached their maximum capacity, the happy diner would enjoy their meal or the more so.
The fish and chips was a combination of fresh cod caught from the Tard Hole‘s own private sea, and potatoes which the manager had bewitched into running across nearby golf courses, forcing his staff to hunt them down with the use of land rovers and specially-crafted spears. He told me, with a wink, that this made the chips surprisingly tender. Having tried one, I learnt that the best chip is one carved from the body of a potato which yearns for liberty. The only dampener to my fish and chips was when the manager found the sorbet which I had declined and poured it on my head, in order to “teach me a lesson”. Normally I would have been incensed to blustering complaint, but I felt that given the quality of his food, my head was fair game.
Dessert followed thereafter. Although, strictly speaking, it didn’t – it followedbeforeafterthere, as I was told that a highly advanced time machine had been used in order to propel me back in time an hour earlier and allow me to eat my dessert both before and after I had consumed the earlier (later?) portions of my meal. This stunned me as much as one might expect, and combined with the sensation of my fourth-dimensional body having its taste buds experience both the pate and the fudge at the same time, I quite nearly climaxed – however, the stern, rod-bearing maiden of experience had taught me that this was a bad idea, given that heart attack usually followed such instances.
With my meal finished, before I had the chance to thank the staff and leave, a trapdoor opened beneath my chair and I was delivered swiftly into a pressurised flume, the inside of which was lined with clothes-snatching hooks. Rendered as naked as a babe, I was propelled into a large tank of very cold water. After some initial disorientation and a brief stint in a coma, I then found myself being jet-washed with soap and scrubbed by bizarre mechanisms. Time passed for what seemed like two hours, but was in fact two and a half hours. Before I could gather my bearings, the base of the tank opened, and I found myself descending towards a field. As I strove to turn myself towards the skies from which I had been spat, I saw a large military helicopter carrying the open base of my tank, piloted by the head chef and his verbally restrained comrade. They gave me a grateful wave – a nice touch to what I now believe to be the height of hospitality.
Having eventually made my way back to dear old London town – my car having been scrapped by the restaurant for going over the allotted parking time of sixteen minutes – it was only with the benefit of hindsight and regressive hypnotherapy that I realised what a grand evening I’d had at the Tard Hole, and I’d recommend its twilight confines to any enterprising gourmand any day of the week – as I can now no longer recollect what day it is. Pip pip!