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Aesthete / Supermodel Theme Parks

As we’re now two and a half months into the Covid-19 lockdown, I am finally running out of new coffee cafes to review. But having completed my coffee experiences from last September’s trip to America, I do have one more place to talk about, right here in Sheffield. Way, way back in mid-February I met my friend Mike for lunch and coffee at a new coffee bistro in Walkley, Aesthete. The bistro was opened by the same mother and daughter team who also have the very tiny Alyssium, just down the hill from Commonside. This new space, the former Tikka Masala restaurant, is much bigger, and the menu has expanded as well.

On the Saturday just after noon that we met it was surprisingly jammed, so Mike and I agreed to wait awhile for a table. Unfortunately we were given probably the worst seating in the place: a little table crammed into the end of the centre aisle, with the chair I was to sit in sticking out in the aisle near the kitchen door where the waitstaff passed by constantly along with the customers who wanted to leave or use the toilet. For anyone who knows my minor neurotic eccentricities, they’re definitely aware of my complete inability to enjoy a meal when the back of me is constantly being bumped and jostled by total strangers. So naturally I was not going to put up with sitting in such a situation, especially as this was supposed to be a treat because I hardly ever go out to eat. Fortunately Mike, who's not small by any means, could squeeze his chair back just enough so that I could move my chair opposite him, out of the busy thoroughfare and into a space that only a skinny person like myself could fit into. And fortunately the two people seated behind me with whom I was rubbing back bones were fairly slim as well. So it was not perfect, but at least it was an improvement.

As I looked around at all the wildly happy chattering freshly scrubbed customers I realised the vast majority were 30-something yuppies, probably chatting away about their great office jobs or wonderful children or both. And they all had better seats than we did. So were Mike and I that undesirable?

The massive squeezing of as many bodies as possible into this space produced a hot steaminess that required both of us to strip down to our t-shirts on this cold February day. I noticed that quite a few other diners had done the same thing. Honestly, I think they had at least one too many tables crammed in there, and they should definitely have spaced it out a bit, at the risk of losing seating for maybe six diners at the most.

After squeezing into our seats and undressing, we finally had the chance to peruse the menu. It did look interesting for both of us, myself a piscatorial and Mike a vegetarian. We both ended up ordering the same thing which was crushed avocado and haloumi on artesan bread with poached eggs. My double macchiato was served in an elaborate silver cup but with the obligatory white interior, and Mike's cappuccino came in a huge glass cup. Sadly the first taste of my drink instantly registered “sour”, and Mike's cappuccino was automatically served with chocolate sprinkles which he didn't ask for. So even though their coffee menu looks like a proper espresso menu, I can’t consider them a real coffee cafe that knows anything about coffee. Or perhaps I've just been spoiled for too long on a lot of Sheffield cafes that actually do know how to serve proper coffee drinks.

The food was pretty good, though, so we were happy with that. Because of the mass of customers chattering away it was difficult for Mike and me to have a conversation, and I will admit I didn't catch probably 75 percent of what he said to me. So it's definitely not a good venue for conversation, at least on a weekend at lunchtime.

Hopefully, if Aesthete makes it through this lockdown and re-opens with the new social-distancing requirements, the atmosphere will improve with the increase in space between tables. But I’m not going to hold onto any false hopes about the coffee improving, unless the months in lockdown have given someone at the cafe the idea to read up on how to serve a decent-tasting coffee.

There’s no telling at this point when I’ll be able to again sample a new coffee cafe, so my next column will be about some of the interesting beans I’ve tasted, from Sheffield as well as California, while being stuck at home.

Speaking of being stuck at home -- where all of us are developing a nostalgic appreciation for the days when we could go to a proper salon or barbers and have our hair made to look less like a hermit-inspired art exhibit -- reminds me of a short recent email exchange with my Bay Area friend:

A brief article in today's Guardian was quite upsetting. Lately I find myself complaining all the time about having to spend all week in a university where probably 80% of the white female students have long, long straight hair, ridiculous overloads of thick black mascara, and those awful shit-coloured painted-on eyebrows, which makes them all look like they've been mass-produced. Someone recently suggested that this probably stems from the large amount of time they spend on fashion-and-image-promoting social media.

In just a few days my worst nightmare is to open in Santa Monica. ModelLand, a 21,000-foot-square theme park which is to be opened by supermodel Tyra Banks, aims "to bring modelling to the masses". Which only proves to me that California is just as bad as Sheffield, so there's nowhere to escape. Is this truly the end of civilisation? If so, bring on climate destruction and coronavirus! God, ModelLand sounds halfway between an April Fool's joke and a nightmare. Especially the painted-on eyebrows.

(Digression: maybe men with shaved heads could start a movement of painted-on hairstyles. It wouldn’t necessarily need to resemble hair. If an artist the calibre of Odeith can transform blocks of concrete into wondrous illusions, imagine what could be done with a bald human dome.)

Your description provides the words, I think to add a verse to the REM song:

long-straight-hair,
ri-dicu-lous over-loads of
thick black mas-cara,
and those aw-ful shit-col-oured
paint-ed-on eye-brows

. . .

It's the end of the world as we know it

Maybe Bernie has a plank in his platform to address this.