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Gemma Simmonite, from Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds, invokes the words of Martin Luther to celebrate lockdown community spirit ‘Let us drink beer’




So here we go again. Here we are in our second week of lockdown 2.0. It seems unbelievable to be here again despite most of us having real suspicions it was going to happen. Despite the low levels of infection in our area, we are now marooned with the rest of England. But it still feels like a shock now it’s upon us – a feeling of numbness is the way I’d describe it.

Once more our restaurant has been put to bed. I can’t explain how strange it is to be in an empty restaurant. It’s a place of such activity, so as you wander around it you can almost hear the ghosts. The chatter and clatter of friendly voices and dishes, the swirl of ice clunking in a cocktail shaker and the pop of corks all around me – but that could just be wishful thinking. Instead, it is deathly quiet, just the white noise of empty fridges and the blinking lights of machinery. It’s actually incredibly similar to tiptoeing around an empty theatre, which I spent a lot of time doing as a child as I was a proper little theatre rat. The silence in a dark theatre is similar to the silence of a snowy night. You know the sound, muffled and deadened but with the promise and intrigue that there is more at play. Because of course there is, there’s immense life beneath the blanket of ice. Just in the same way a theatre or restaurant echoes with all the fun and drama that has filled it, its essence still hangs in the air. Despite its pause, it’s still steeped in the energy and passion that it normally holds full to the brim. I recently walked around London at night, and weaved my way through Soho and theatreland, and the sadness was palpable. Even during the blitz many theatres vowed to not turn the lights off, even as the bombs dropped around them.

Without restaurants and theatres our lives are a little less bright. Both industries bring us escapism and a release from the day to day. And when spending time in them we are in their capable hands, free of our usual responsibility.

Mulled beer (43077696)
Mulled beer (43077696)

Both these industries have been my passion for as long as I can remember, and it’s devastating to see them so beleaguered and broken. Many of my friends are still actors, directors or agents. Their tenacity has been immense in the face of such extreme adversity. My oldest and dearest friend Kate worked tirelessly through the first lockdown with her theatre school in Liverpool – setting online rehearsals and workshops that would have been unthinkable online before Covid.

They have proved utterly invaluable to her students, many of whom would’ve floundered or been cut off without it. To quote one parent: “Without the help and persistence of the company, I believe he would have lost a part of himself. A part that he doesn’t know he has, which is that confidence he has when on stage. The life skills he learns without realising it when with the company, like leadership, teamwork, trust, all this would have been lost to a PlayStation.”

She and her team are doing it again this lockdown now that they’re forced to close. They’re reaching out to all the young people to keep that connection, that vital creative lifeline. I’m immensely proud of her and all the people striving in the midst of this damned disease. We must, when the time comes, make a concerted mass effort to revisit everything in normal life that we hold dear – restaurants and bars, homegrown shops. We must book that theatre visit, go see that concert and make that cinema date happen. Because without all these things, our lives will be so much drearier, and quite frankly less colourful.

So, yes, everything right now is in suspended animation, but we hope with all our might that this hiatus is only for four weeks, and that on December the 2nd we will fling our doors open once more, and with huge amounts of festive vigour, welcome you back in.

No, we won’t have had the normal November to ease us into the Christmas vibe, we won’t have had the beginnings of looking at sparkly gifts in shops and the early makings of lists. But what we will have had is time. Time to reflect on what matters. And what matters most is spirit.

It’s our indomitable spirit that will see us through, whether it’s helping a neighbour out, phoning a relative, or keeping in touch with colleagues or pupils. We are connected more than ever before despite being ripped apart, so let’s focus on our connectivity and use it to our advantage once more. We may roll our eyes at Zoom quizzes, it feels so ‘last lockdown love’. But if it lets us raise a drink with a loved one, then let’s not knock it, let’s embrace it. We need each other, and with each others help we will get through this.

Start by making this mulled beer. Whilst you mull over this protracted time it will warm you, and start to give you that festive tingle that’s just around the corner. I leave you with the surprising words of Martin Luther: “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

MULLED BEER

My mulled beer recipe doesn’t have the cloying sweetness of mulled wine that after more than one glass can be a bit too much. Mulled beer is, of course, as gorgeously warming, remarkably simple and importantly very alcoholic – it’s mightily quaffable, you have been warned. . .

Makes 8 glasses

Prep time – 20 mins

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons honey

1 large pinch of ground ginger

1 litre of beer – something full bodied and golden works best

300ml brandy (as a Greek girl, I favour Metaxa!)

2 whole cloves

2 whole star anise

3 cinnamon sticks

A long strip of lemon peel

A pinch of nutmeg

Method:

Gently melt the honey with the ginger in a saucepan, then stir in the beer and brandy. Add the lemon peel, and other spices, then gradually heat to just below simmering, and continue to heat for 10 mins gently, do not boil.

To serve, use fresh or dehydrated orange slices and serve in warmed glasses or chunky kilner mugs.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St EdmundsRead Gemma’s blog at gemwithrelish.com

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