Guardian columnist and food writer extraordinaire Felicity Cloake spent last summer – six weeks in fact – cycling around France on a gastronomic tour of the country.
While many meals consisted of a quick croissant snaffled on the road, many involved eating alone in restaurants – Cloake spent a third of the trip accompanied by friends and family, but for two-thirds it was just her, two panniers and her trusty bike, Eddie.
“On my birthday I went for a meal at this Michelin-star restaurant on my own,” she recalls. “I arrived sopping wet from the shower, almost crying because I was so late, hair like a scarecrow, and I’d had a really bad day in the saddle – and the staff just did not bat an eyelid.
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Also a year ago, in Lyon, when I’d gone sufficiently native to wear saucisson as earrings and think I was hilarious — offaly good dinner at Le Garet feat more parts of pig than can be dreamed of in heaven or earth, only mildly shitty andouillette, and a hefty portion of “fireman’s apron”, plus pretty lively cheese, a hefty portion of creme caramel — and some rather unusual loo art. France je t’aime 😍 #onemorecroissantfortheroad
“Everyone else in the restaurant stared at me, but I said, ‘I’ll have a glass of champagne and a massive bottle of water’.
“Drinking champagne, I’ve got my book, I’m really happy – and then at the end I said to madame behind the counter, ‘Thank you for looking after me so well’ – they put a sparkler on my pudding! And I said, ‘I’m alone in France and I wanted to come and celebrate my birthday’, and she said: ‘You’re not alone, you’re with us.’
“Honestly – I had drunk quite a lot of wine, but I teared up! She came round and gave me a big kiss.”
Dining alone is unmatched.— Michaela (@chaelawho) June 11, 2019
The kindness of strangers aside, there are admittedly some drawbacks to eating solo in public. “In France it’s very difficult to get a glass of wine, they do a half bottle, and a half bottle is really a three-quarter bottle, and I hate leaving stuff,” muses Cloake archly. “The other annoying this is, obviously, if you’re with someone else, you can order more at a restaurant.”
Then there’s the fact “you eat very fast on your own, because you’ve got no one to chat to, and even though you try and spin it out, you can’t”.
However, that doesn’t stop dining alone being “quite exciting”, says Cloake.
Am dining alone which is always a bit... weird for me. But I’m embracing it - just ordered dessert and a cosmopolitan 🥰😋🍸— Lisa McLisa (@hedwig_thegreat) June 20, 2019
“I think it’s slightly glamorous. I think a lot of people worry that the conception from other people is, ‘How sad, she’s got no friends, she’s sitting on her own’, whereas what I see in my mind’s eye is this glamorous woman sitting on her own being confident.
“It’s a great pleasure,” she adds. “It feels like such a decadent luxury to go and do it, and I’ve always got so much food at home that I don’t often allow myself to do it, but when I do I really enjoy it, it’s a real treat.”
One More Croissant For The Road by Felicity Cloake is published by Mudlark, priced £14.99. Available now.
- Press Association