Jonathan Meades is that podgy bloke in the suit and sunglasses who used to wander around doing dryly humorous commentary-pieces about architecture. Now he’s shed a few pounds, lost the shades and is doing dryly humorous commentary-pieces about food instead. Perhaps there’s a link between body weight and subject matter, and once he’s eaten enough he’ll go back to doing houses.
This week, Meades looked at the British fondness for foreign restaurants. The format was familiar. First, bombard us with statistics (if the proportion of Indian restaurants to Indian people in Britain was translated to white Anglo-Saxons, there’d be 1,768,742 English restaurants in the UK). Then, while we’re still stunned, follow through with a rag-bag of theory and assertion, accompanied by a succession of dryly humorous camera set-pieces, most of them involving Meades sitting, statue-like, in suitably quirky and/or photogenic locations.
Thus we saw Meades sitting in Indian, Greek, Chinese and Czech restaurants, and learnt they became popular because, unlike us surly Brits, their proprietors knew how to give service with a smile, while giving us the opportunity to construct neatly-packaged stereotypes of their homelands. We also learnt that hard-line religions use food as a mechanism of control, while the dear old Church of England doesn’t care what we eat, so stands for personal liberty but leaves us without a national dish.
Meades also pointed out that our acceptance of culinary diversity exemplifies the contrast between British and French attitudes to colonialism. And that the phrase “I could murder an Indian” is actually an expression of our hatred for food. And so on and so on.
Most of it was fair comment (or at least not worth arguing with), even if some observations (eg expatriates use restaurants to remind them of home) strayed into the realm of the bleedin’ obvious. Instead of providing dazzling insight, Meades comes across as a bloke who could theorise for England on any subject under the sun, and could easily have delivered 10 more theories by tomorrow if they’d wanted to extend the running time. As it was, half an hour was more than enough.