Raw like the pain of cash for sushi

Wow. It’s been a while since I paid £45 for dinner for myself. (I am a student, after all.)

The trouble is, when you’re working 12+ hr days in a suburb of Paris, there just aren’t many places to eat late evening, especially the night before a public holiday. (I’ve had too much room service recently at the Radisson, corridor pictured: it’s smart and funky, but endless club sandwiches aren’t my thing.) Which is why I ended up in a Japanese place tonight. And it was very nice. But that’s not the point here.

I walked past perhaps 20 restaurants on the way back to the hotel, including the hotel itself. But let’s face it, being the only customer in a COMPLETELY EMPTY restaurant is depressing. The staff resent you, the food’s served grudgingly, and everyone’s watching you just wanting you to be out of there so they can go home.

It’s not as if I didn’t try. I looked in a restaurant called ‘La Marmite’. (What’s on the menu? Just toast?) Several pizzerias. Three brasseries. All of them forbiddingly vacant. Most others were shut completely.

Since I spend about seven hours a day thinking about food, this was a nightmare.

Finally I happened across a Japanese place, all beechwood and shoji, looking inviting at 9.30pm, with a whole two tables occupied. Went in – and yes, it was great. Sat at the bar all Tokyo like. Had grilled yellowfin and rice, then some yakitori, and a fair amount of Asahi. Bill: E55.50.

That’s a lot when your client’s only paying hotel and breakfast. On my reduced day rate (you take whatever’s on offer when you’re a student) it’s not far off 10% of my daily fee. (However unlikely it may sound, I AM that good.) I was hungry. And hunger counts for a lot.

But I’m strangely content, since the counter and paper menu and the little red pepper pots reminded me of that country I loved so much. A bar below streets in Ginza, where you could hear drunken footsteps above your head. A teahouse in Kyoto, where the guests sat admiring koi carp late into the night. A basement in Roppongi, where the proprietor served up hour-young tuna in a way I’ve never forgotten.

Alone at the bar of a japanese restaurant in a suburb of Paris, three languages in the air, grilled yellowfin on the table. This is where I really belong. Surfing the foamy tubulars of utter cultural confusion.

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