Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of the Dining Room

Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of the Dining Room

Article excerpt

We should revive old-fashioned dining rooms

Dining rooms have been in the doldrums for decades. Even Mary Berry has given up on hers. 'Most of us, I think, live in the kitchen,' she said recently.

She's right. Plenty of us don't have a dining room to give up on, me included. Plenty more have knocked down what once divided a dining room from a kitchen to create an airy, open-plan 'living space' where we do battle with avocados and everything else.

We might be obsessed with what we are and aren't eating but we don't stand on ceremony. Nigella Lawson admits she slurps noodles 'hypnotically' while watching TV on the sofa. 'If it can be eaten out of a bowl, I'm very happy to eat while I watch,' she said.

Dining rooms are all but dead, then, which is a shame because they invite conversation, allow for contemplation and can be just as cosy as a kitchen.

I have happy memories of my grandparents' house where dishes were passed through a hatch in the wall and a different set of china used for each sitting. Morning coffee came in cottage-ware cups that looked like houses with little windows; a cooked lunch was served on chunky Portmeirion; a light supper on rather vivid green lettuce leaf plates. All of it in the dining room. These days it's fashionable to eat every meal out of a bowl. That arbiter of middle-class taste, John Lewis, reports we're losing interest in plates, while sales of bowls are going up.

At home, my sister and I petitioned hard to eat in front of the TV rather than at a table. The dining room was for Sunday lunch alone and its formality was intimidating, inviting mischief. This was a flashpoint for dispute. Now, of course, we love it. How nice it is to close the door on what's been going on in the kitchen and leave the pudding puffing away in the oven behind you. Dirty dishes can keep to themselves and even the cook can relax (a bit). The dining room is a retreat. It's not a thoroughfare or a table hurriedly cleared of unopened post, unfinished homework or a half-potted amaryllis. It has a sense of occasion. It's a world away from that workhorse, the kitchen.

Isn't life raucous enough? Wouldn't it be better to sit down, concentrate on what we are eating and, like slender Samantha Cameron, give every bite a properly good chew?

The death of the dining room is a sign that our eating habits have also become slovenly. Many of us eat two or three meals a day al-desko. We grab breakfast 'on the go'. Scoff a sandwich between emails. In the evening, we might watch while TV chefs create plate after exquisitely presented plate, but we're balancing toast on our knees on the sofa. …

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