Monkfish in Orio

Two blokes, obviously British, turn up to the restaurant (Bodegón José Maria). They don’t know where to sit, they sit outside for a bit and then they go inside. One of them is immediately mulling over which wine to order – the other seems less interested. They are the only ones in the restaurant but they sense the quality hanging on the walls and the history of the building. They order a quality wine, smell it and then for some reason put it to their ear. One of them – the older looking one – seems deeply affected as he takes each smell and sip of wine like he is experiencing some spiritual touch at first hand – divine and delirious spring to mind. The other one drinks quickly with less fuss but doesn’t drink as much water as the older one.

A salad arrives, they call it a Fifty dollar salad for some reason and they make conversation with the waiter, which is nice. They laugh a lot and seem at one with the world and themselves. Either that or they are drunk. Some other customers quietly enter the restaurant. Their main course is barbecued Monkfish – their eyes light up. One of them is relieved it has no bones. They pull orgasmic faces as they eat and make sounds of deep pleasure. They eat the gristle and the burnt bits and mop up the sauce with wholesome bread like starving pilgrims. They leave no stone unturned. They talk a lot about food and wine and the past and the present. They are like two ships out at sea on their own journey, two birds in the sky or two identical leaves falling in a forest. For this moment they seem like the best of friends who know exactly what they want and how to enjoy themselves.

They order a cheesecake for dessert and tell the waiter that the town is nice and the food: excellent. The older one is unimpressed by the cheesecake though but tells the waiter it’s great anyway. Maybe he doesn’t want to rock the boat.

The bill comes and they are surprised at the cost. €56 for the monkfish alone for a moment, derails them: a wave under their boughs, a predator in the sky, a breath of uneasy wind in the forest. They soon get over it and leave smiling wide and with purpose look for the waiter to say goodbye and to shake his hand. They also thank the chef who is outside cleaning the barbecue before disappearing into the Basque summer night. They seemed like good people.