Column April 28, 2010: Clear Up Sneaky Cream. Oh, What Can It Mean?

I HAVE a problem with dairy products. Not as big as the problem suffered by the woman I overheard in a sandwich shop on Monday asking if the cream of cauliflower soup was dairy-free, but it is a problem nonetheless. I’m not allergic, I just don’t really like them.

I’ll take a whisper of milk in my tea. I enjoy a bit of cheese. I’m more than partial to ice cream. But the rest of it can just go away – cream, yoghurt, butter, custard, milk, they are like wasps to me, an irritant which, unlike bees, brings nothing to the party.

This means I’m in a constant state of vigilance for the Sneaky Cream, the bit of swirly cream that restaurants drop onto puddings unannounced. It can happen on any dessert, but mostly on ice cream.

In restaurants of a certain calibre, I scour the menu for the one pudding which fits my, admittedly pathetic, criteria, the only pud which is not drowned in cream or custard. This is usually ice cream. I know it’s inconsistent to like ice cream and not like cream, but awkward beggars like me are the price of living in a democracy.

Once I’ve located the ice cream, I read through the description. “Chocolate sauce . . . good. Nuts . . . yep. Brownies . . . excellent. Toffee sauce . . . gosh, this is going a bit over the top, but go on. Any mention of cream? No. Good. I’ll have the Chocolate Nut Brownie Toffee Sundae, please, waitress.”

Then I remember the Sneaky Cream. “Do you put cream on that?” I ask.

“Ooh, yes. A lovely big swirl on the top.”

“OK, don’t. Don’t put the cream on. It’s like wasps. I know it’s inconsistent to . . . ”

At this point, the waitress usually runs away.

But on Sunday, while I was out with family, I was caught unawares. I read the menu and was lulled into a false sense of security. For all the options on the dessert menu were brutally specific about the presence of a swirly bit of cream. All apart from one. The Honeycomb Explosion. “Cornish ice cream infused with honeycomb shards, toffee sauce and Belgian chocolate sauce.” “What would you like, sweetheart?” our kindly waitress asked. “Honeycomb Explosion, please.”

“You didn’t tell her no cream,” I was reminded as the waitress departed. “No need,” I said. “The menu was quite specific on this occasion.”

The waitress returned with my Honeycomb Explosion – garnished with a lovely unadvertised wafer and the biggest, swirliest pile of cream in the history of catering. It had almost achieved critical mass – one more milligram and all the cream in the world would have been gravitationally pulled towards it.

It meant I had to do the one thing I hate most in the world – complain in a restaurant. And it wasn’t a straightforward complaint. It was a ridiculously petty complaint. I would be asking the waitress to take it back on the basis that she had added cream, which I don’t like, to something almost entirely made of cream, which I do like.

I decided to take the moral high ground.

“Erm, you’ve given me cream. But there’s no mention of cream on the menu.”

“But we always put cream on it.”

“That’s as maybe, but if I’d known that, I’d have asked for no cream.”

“But we always put cream on it.”

“Why do you put cream on it? I had chips before. You didn’t serve them with a scoop of mash on top.”

The waitress looked me in the eye, murder in mind, the words “The customer is always right” ringing hollow in her head.

“I’ll get you another one,” she said.

“Told you to say no cream,” I was reminded when I sat down.

“Why should I?” My dander was up. “Do I have to check for every unwanted ingredient? Oh, can I have that ice cream without mince, carrots, Babycham and arsenic?”

The waitress returned with a cream-free ice cream and departed. No “sweetheart” this time.

“Oh,” I said. “She didn’t put a wafer in.”

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