Sometimes living in London is a bit like living inside a Monet painting. Not that it’s a beautiful work of art, or anything (instead of waterlillies we have damp copies of the Metro trodden into the pavement). But it is like a Monet painting in that up close it is blurry, and only people standing at a distance have any real idea what’s going on.
A few weeks ago, my mother phoned me. “Have you had a flat white?” she demanded. “Pardon? A what?” “A flat white. Apparently they’re all the rage.”
I mentally scan through a few speculative options. Have I had a flat white? It sounds like a shark. Is it a shark? Are we all meant to be eating shark burgers in gastropubs now? Have Wild Boar sausages finally had their day? Or maybe it’s an activity, flat whiting. Like free running or pilates or something, that involves lying still on the floor under a silk sheet as a cure for cellulite? Maybe it’s a flat, white person? Surely she can’t mean a flat white PERSON?
“It’s a coffee,” she says, when it becomes clear that I am not the Suzy Society I profess to be. “Everyone in London’s supposed to be drinking them. It said so on Radio 2.”
“In London, where you live.”
“Well? Have you had one?”
“Ummmmm. No. Not to my knowledge. I thought we were still excited over the Macchiato.”
So this got me slightly worried. Am I losing my grasp on the fleeting world of popular culture in the capital? When did I miss this sudden development? Was it those two days I spent watching Crystal Maze on Challenge? While I was with Richard O’Brien in the sunken ship, was everybody else out in coffee houses, comparing foaming techniques and laughing gaily as they tipped lattes in the Thames? WHY WASN’T IT ON THE NEWS?
After a little further research, however, it transpires that nobody I ask has heard of a flat white. I conclude that it must be one of those provincial myths about London-dwellers, like “we get mugged on average once a week” or “Boris Johnson makes us lol”, or “you’re never more than three feet away from a heroin addict”. The thing is, though, I would quite like a new coffee order. After several years of being the idiot who asks for a grande decaf soy hazlenut latte, it would be nice to go minimalist. I like the idea of rolling into Starbucks and just growling “flat white, ma’am”, like a cowboy in a western, then the barista can whiz it down the counter to me and I’ll stroll off into the sunset, no biscotti complications. The legend of the flat white has me possessed. Some might say it is my (flat) white whale.
Then, finally, I find it. Or rather, it finds me. I am walking past Costa one day and BAM, there it is on a board outside. It claims to be ‘velvety smooth’ for ‘coffee lovers’. It even has a heart whooshed into the foam, as though it loves me before we’ve even met. It looks promising. Mum will be so proud.
Reader, I drank him. And I am here to tell you today, as your London-living correspondent, that it just tastes like normal white coffee. But then, you have a Costa in Worthing so I guess you’re capable of finding that out for yourself.