I have never been to IKEA. I’m not a fan of DIY. Actually, I’m lazy and I don’t have a ‘housey’ gene. I have never cooked dinner, aside from presenting a deeply regrettable cookery show on You Tube, but they prepared the food for me, so it doesn’t really count.
I live on smoked salmon, tinned tuna and rice cakes (also ice-cream). I can no longer stomach sardines after eating them every day for a year. I highly recommend them though, packed with protein and Omega 3, I glistened like Bo Derek emerging from an oil slick.
Recently though, I’ve started displaying nesting tendencies. I made curtains for my bathroom last week, so I don’t have to go to the toilet in the dark. I’d spent the last year crouching in the bath, after my neighbour told me men were watching me shower. And I’d like to get married now. I want to learn to cook in case I have kids and someone reports me to social services for only feeding them hors d’oeuvres.
So when I’m invited to IKEA’s DIY restaurant to cook dinner under the supervision of a chef, it’s like the universe is lining it up for me. It’s called The Dining Club, and the idea is that you rock up with your friend, for dinner, lunch or brunch. Aside from the chef and support staff, you have the restaurant to yourself, with 8-20 of you in a group, and everything, including wine, is free.
It’s the press preview and I’m taking my Argumentative Lefty Friend. We’ve arranged to meet at Liverpool Street station, for a stroll to the pop-up on Shoreditch High Street. We’re handed large glasses of wine on arrival, which is how I like to start my evening, so thumbs up for the Swedes so far. The PR suggests Lefty Friend signs up for a group booking. He says he doesn’t have seven friends and I imagine I’d probably struggle too.
They ask who wants to make salmon tartare. My hand shoots up without registering what I’ve agreed to. I am like the ones on University Challenge who hit the buzzer, clueless as to the question. It turns out we are making cold fish on crackers, which is literally what I eat every day.
Lefty Friend is not pleased either, but then he’s not sure about the concept as a whole. In the introduction, the head chef says Dining Club came about because they’d noticed people weren’t eating and cooking together. Lefty Friend finds this Big Brother-ish. I’m pretty sure this “research” is just a hook to hang a PR stunt on, to get people in the door to buy IKEA bits. But as stunts go, it’s a nice one – who wouldn’t want to eat free food with their friends?
I proudly stand about with my chopping board of salmon tartare on broken biscuits, so everyone will know I made it. It is the most ingredients I have mixed together for one meal. Later, after we’ve sat down to eat, it is the least touched tray. I declare this undeserved. The other two offerings are beef carpaccio wrapped round green stalks (like someone with bad breath pushing their cold tongue into your mouth) and cerviche salmon, AKA more cold fish on crackers.
Lefty Friend goes outside for a vape, and I join him, with someone else’s plus-one. We all agree we’ve enjoyed it, although frankly I’m disappointed at the fare. Lefty Friend says this problem is particular to me, as normal people don’t eat cold fish on crackers every night. I check with the PR who says it wasn’t dinner – for the press night, we’ve just made three starters. I come away downhearted that I’m still unable to cook dinner, and strongly suspecting I’m better suited to being served.