Stephen Jardine: A sweet trip down memory lane

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
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London is currently one of the greatest places to eat in the world. It has a vibrant street-food culture and some of the finest restaurants and best chefs in the world.

Last week I ate one of the finest steaks I’ve ever tasted in Hawksmoor, which has buried the ghost of the Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses and turned meat into an art form.

Nearby restaurants served foraged food while others showcased lobster in a bun. If you want to see what is coming next in terms of food and drink, a trip to London is a good place to start.

Having said that, I’m looking forward to my next visit for a very different reason. Instead of looking ahead, last weekend a restaurant reviewer turned the clock back for me.

In the back streets of the South Bank, she uncovered a hidden gem that sounded like it has slipped through a gastronomic crack in the space-time continuum.

The food at Sirena’s wasn’t awful she said, it just wasn’t of this century. But it wasn’t the goat’s cheese salad or the seafood pasta that caught my interest, it was the photo she tweeted of a relic from a bygone age.

Standing in the middle of the restaurant, like a DeLorean in Back to the Future was a 100 per cent bona fide sweet trolley. Alongside tiramisu and a lemon drizzle cake, there was pecan pie and, of course, a whole pineapple surrounded by exotic fruits. Next to that was the jug filled with cream to crown the whole experience.

I checked out the restaurant online just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. That didn’t help because it has the look of a website designed and uploaded in the early 1970s, roughly 20 years before the internet was invented. Persevering, I found the page that confirmed all my hopes.

Written like an extract from the Dead Sea Scrolls was the promise: “Sweets from the trolley £2.60”.

Forget desserts or puddings and never mind your deconstructed puddings with artful spun sugar, this place serves sweets that view the world as if tooth decay was just a silly rumour.

Somehow in an age where we are always looking forward for the next big thing, there is something marvellous and uplifting about this blast from the past. It also begs the question, why did the sweet trolley ever disappear?

I can remember going to the Cairndale Hotel in Dumfries for family celebrations as a child. The only incentive to get through the bitter grapefruit segments and the burnt roast beef was the promise of the trolley at the end. Aged ten, black forest gateau with a scoop of sherry trifle was my personal favourite. For the indecisive or the just plain greedy, the sweet trolley is a dream come true. And in an age when we’re all “too full” for dessert, who can resist its delights?

So come on chefs, roll out the trolley. Its time has come again.