Hip Chips is a specialist crisp restaurant in Old Compton Street, Soho; no, it is stupider than that. It is a specialist posh crisp restaurant and it is a grave disappointment to the compulsive overeater. The Bacon Nik Nak Shack would surely be a better idea because crisps, like leisure wear and coaches, can never really be posh. They should not even, ideally, be fresh; the joy in eating a packet of Pickled Onion Monster Munch is in the mingling of the Monster Munch and your own blood as the skin on the roof of your mouth melts off, and there it is. But these are details: who am I to stand against the tide?
Even so, the success of the Cereal Killer Café in Brick Lane shows exactly how much infantile adults will pay to have their infantilism sanctioned by consumer capitalism. They will pay a lot. The pop-up Cadbury’s Creme Egg restaurant of 2015 was more difficult to get into than Le Gavroche, so I gave up and ate a Cadbury’s Creme Egg instead, which was the whole point.
This is a diner with Hip Chips written in monochrome capital letters on the frontage, down the road from the excellent Herman ze German, whose monomaniacal obsession with hotdogs seems quite reasonable from the vantage of Hip Chips. (I have rather less time for the lasagne specialist Mister Lasagna two streets away. When Michael Gove tossed the concept of expertise, and with it himself, into the abyss I realised he has probably not been to Soho recently, or ever.)
The menu refers to potatoes as ‘heritage’. I distrust the term ‘heritage’ when applied to potatoes, not because I don’t like potatoes — I reviewed the equally insane and now permanently closed Potato Merchant in Exmouth Market in 2013 — but because I am not sure root vegetables deserve the status of ‘heritage’. There must be hierarchies of conservation and, now I think of it, you really must visit Compton Castle in Devon, a fortified medieval manor house in which I found the owner sitting in the courtyard reading the Daily Telegraph like an exhibit. But Hip Chips thinks they do. ‘Potatoes,’ says the menu ominously: ‘this is your time.’ Is it though? Is it really? Should we be afraid of potatoes? Perhaps we should. Everyone has a cause these days; and everyone is angry. This is a time of tiny causes and tiny dictators —and what is more tiny than a crisp? Outside, a pair of tourists from the north of England read the menu. They look bewildered.
Inside, a pile of crisps behind a counter — pale yellow, purple and pink. They are called Red Emmalie, Red Duke of York (this is unlikely considering the duke’s views on the Guardian newspaper, which he shared at a lunch in Kyrgyzstan and which was in turn shared by Wikileaks), Violeta and Mayan Gold. The potatoes are generic but the dips are not: we choose Katsu Curry, Veggie Ceviche (largely tomatoes, but bitter), Moroccan Yogurt and Smoky Cheese Fondue.
The crisps are not crisp; they’re not as tasty as Golden Wonder or Wotsits or Quavers or Frazzles or Salt’n’Shake or Bacon Nik Naks, which are my favourite snack. I ate a packet every day at school for seven years while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The dips, meanwhile, are sticky, bitter, complex and stodgy. Both elements of the meal fail, and together they fail terribly. It all reminds of the time I spread margarine on a Pringle, and that was also a terrible idea.
Pudding: the crisps are coated with sugar and dipped in chocolate mousse, or crème brûlée, or cheesecake. I cannot eat this combination of foods, so I pointlessly lick the sugar off a solitary crisp, and ponder, as I always do, the insanity we inflict on one another.
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