You can just about get away with a spot of ice cream, and nobody so much as raises an eyebrow at a splash of juice these days. But an entire golf ball-sized meatball is deemed too much for polite society. As a self-confessed messy eater I’m used to finding parts of my dinner artfully rearranged about my table, person and, on extreme occasions, in my socks.
I’m not proud of this. Nor am I particularly ashamed, although I’ve taken to tipping the waiting staff generously so they realise I’m not staging an elaborate dirty protest in whatever sparkling Dubai establishment I happen to be visiting.
On the plus side, I’ve been told it can be viewed as a great culinary compliment: a way of telling the chef the diner was so eager to eat more that thoughts of decency and decorum were put to one side. To do anything less than gorge could be considered rude. To be fair, it was my dry cleaner that told me this, so he may not have had my best interests at heart. My soup-splattered ties alone have put his kids through college.
The problem is usually one of concentration, and my lack of it. I believe the dinner table should be a lively, animated environment. A place to share in your companion’s hopes, dreams and, if they’re a slow eater, their main course too. If leaving a restaurant with spotlessly clean clothing is your only metric for success, you’re setting the benchmark too low as far as I’m concerned. Better to eat, think and be messy. The more spirited the conversation, the more likely I am to start gesticulating with my arms, raising my cutlery for emphasis and creating a general blast zone of a few feet around me.
Somewhere between my plate and mouth, fate intervenes in the trajectory of a gravy-smothered roast potato. The aforementioned spud – let’s call it Ted for fun – starts the journey securely skewered on my fork with nothing but gastronomic endeavour in its heart. But when Ted gets to shoulder height, he makes a last-ditch bid for freedom and just jumps for it. There’s no telling where he could end up. I once found a pea in my jacket pocket 24 hours after visiting a restaurant. The worrying thing was I only ordered a dessert.
Dubai boasts an eclectic array of restaurants and cuisines: greasy burgers, juicy oranges, sloppy curries, melting chocolate – there really isn’t a food group that messy eaters can be entirely comfortable eating. So next time you spot somebody with crumbs on their lapels or even meatballs on their shoulders, they might not be scruffy slobs. They were probably just too lively at lunchtime.
Will Milner is our digital editorial director. He doesn’t play with his food, he chats to it.