Guilt is not something I suffer from when eating out. Others fret over the damage to their waistlines, the environment or the poor while they munch their canapes and swig their champers. Alas – I cannot.
Middle-class guilt is an affliction affecting too many people. It helps no-one and manifests in all sorts of tokenistic and patronising behaviours. If you want to have a good time then spend your money and do so, is my advice. If you want to save the planet – well don’t we all – then fine, but please don’t think that buying carrots from Peru and drinking Innocent juice is the answer. But if I must be ethical when choosing a restaurant then I’ll choose an independent, which uses local suppliers, to assuage my guilt. Independents can’t squeeze their suppliers with their spending power, or hide their profits away in tax havens. They are part of the region they operate in and the name on the door is of the person responsible. Therefore, if there’s an independent near you doing the business then enter guilt free and munch away. Opus is one such guilt free eatery, with a market menu which offers tremendous value. Lady C and I felt morally obliged to check it out.
The market menu changes daily according to what chef proprietor David Colcombe thinks is the best produce available. Single courses are £12.50, but you can add another two on top for £2.50 each. The deal also comes with some very pleasant homemade bread and coffee to conclude. We were shown swiftly to our table by our pleasant waiter and Lady C chose the cream of cauliflower soup while I opted for the free range ham hock and potato roulade. The soup was thick, smooth and cheesy, with just a delicate taste of cauliflower. My ham hock was a firm and salty slice with a nice salad. All in all, two perfectly happy starters – though I’d probably have gone for the soup if Lady C and I didn’t always choose different things.
The fish of the day was brill, which was served with sauteed chorizo, black rice and pickled vegetables. This was a fair cut of fish, pan-fried so it was slightly golden on the exterior, but still moist throughout the centre. The chorizo acted as a good seasoner, and the pickled vegetables were a pleasant garnish. Lady C’s main was a slow-braised heel of Scotch beef, creamed potatoes and market vegetables. The meat was wonderfully soft and, combined with wholesome vegetables and mash, was a fine plate of food. Thankfully, Lady C’s appetite was not too big that day so I was allowed to polish hers off. None the less it was 2-0 to her when it came to choosing dishes.
I had a vanilla pannacotta with poached rhubarb. Lady C chose petit fours, which aren’t actually on the market menu but she fancied a treat. The pannacotta was a rich set cream, which complemented the tangy rhubarb. Meanwhile, the petit fours were soft and light, and as we had already ordered our coffees with the desserts, they were a great accompaniment. It was 3-0 to the wife. I suppose it is fair to say there’s nothing groundbreakingly original about these meals but that misses the point. These were three courses for less than £20 a head or just over when including wine. For three courses this is great value and surely means Opus is offering better value than the generic Cafe Rouges or generic Parisien eateries that are clogging up our high streets. I hereby call upon all those who are currently suffering from the shame of living well to join me on a crusade to boost our independents. We should all vow to eat lunch at one of them instead of going to the nearest chain. I have no real idea what this will achieve, but it might just save the planet, the whales and help starving kids in Africa. Or then again it might just mean we all have a nice meal.