Posh food and steeling the nerves to buy it

Visiting Brindisa, the very lovely purveyor of quality Spanish goods in Clerkenwell, on the way to the first night of the Beijing Opera at Sadlers Wells, was always going to feel like something a woman with much more expensive shoes would do. Still, I manfully knuckled down to it, and managed to buy some nice chorizo, manchego cheese and bittersweet paprika without breaking down in gastro-social anxiety; not without effort, as a silver fox businessman (in his suit and tie) breezed through shedding ’50 notes while discussing the evening’s dinner with his (presumable) trophy blonde on a high-end mobile.

I had naturally trained for this boutique experience, having wandered around Fortnum & Mason‘s food hall the other week after taking in the recent Jenny Holzer exhibition off Berkeley Square (I find that combining culture with epicuriosity is beneficial, if conducive to terminal smugness). The piles of beautifully packaged tea, the extensive range of mustards, the vats of buffalo mozzarella: all this overloads the senses like a very expensive hangover. There is something very pornographic about it the whole experience, but maybe that’s just my middle-class anxiety showing. I will admit to getting freaked out by the 57 flavours of balsamic vinegar available at even the humblest of supermarkets, so the range of shiny boxes, packets and bags of exotic and potentially delicious goodies to be found within these exclusive temples to the guts are bewildering.

It’s really the quality of the bags and packing that set quality epiceries aside from the common herd (in experiential terms rather than product quality – to a certain extent, you do get what you pay for foodwise): Fortnum & Mason’s precious duck-egg blue in heavy-guage matt plastic (lovingly filled by one assistant wrapping while the other rings up the cost behind a nice oak counter), Selfridges‘ the familiar strident yellow, Brindisa’s fetchingly translucent so a hint of the products purchased coyly reveals itself. Until fairly recently, Krispy Kreme doughnuts were only available in the UK from a concession in Harrods, and a flat logo-strewn box awkwardly poking though a flimsy transparent bag and bruising commuters’ knees on the tube was a sign of the rich ironist popping home to host a terribly chi-chi dinner party. Now that every Tom, Dick and Tesco has a proprietary cabinet prominently displayed, one has to wonder if the same cachet applies.