On the Plate: cookie pizza at The Charles XII


Our food columnist Alfie Packham sees evil in a dubious dessert

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By Alfie Packham

[caption id="attachment_116653" align="aligncenter" width="494"]cookie
The cookie pizza. Photo credit: Alfie Packham
"One cookie pizza, please," I said to the barman, "and hold the anchovies." I regret that only the second half of my dessert order was a joke. The man's face registered no mirth at my delightful banter anyway. I was yet to learn that cookie pizza is no laughing matter. It is a dreary afternoon of November that a friend and I visit the Charles XII pub in Heslington. The historical student haunt is owned by the Stonegate Pubs chain whose monopoly spans half of York. It encompasses your favourite establishments - The Graduate, Missoula Montana, The Slug and Lettuce, and Yates's, to name a few. Each venue is allocated their price bracket and synthetic ambience where the Charles comes under the "competitive" subdivision. Apparently this is marketing speak for sticky tables. When it came to branding the Charles they settled on a stereotypical chain pub with flecks of greasy American diner. The US is presumably the cultural influence you'd need building a menu before "cookie pizza" sounded like a responsible thing to serve people. Obviously, the cookie pizza is not meant to be a pizza. We're far from a land of buffalo mozzarella and olive oil here. Whatever it is, and wherever it came from, the thing is quick to arrive. Americans ruining everything is indeed a hot topic around Black Friday, and I'm reminded of that consumerist gorging window now: the cookie comes to our table representing similar evils. Because at first the temptation is admittedly there to gorge on it like a post-Thanksgiving mob-shopper at a toaster sale. Yes, despite its patent offensiveness my sweet tooth tells me that this lard-Frisbee looks good. Brownies as giant chocolate chips? They look good. Caramel, marshmallows, and chocolate sauce? They all look perversely good too. The pub recommends that the cookie be shared, even is this does give way to uncomfortable eye-contact as you sit across the table from your colleague, who knows just as well as you that it would be shameful to be seen enjoying a nine-year-old's fantasy meal. You dig in, though, and the realisation comes that there's no danger of enjoying anything here beyond a giddy sugar rush. Questions are suppressed as the excavation begins in silence (there's a medical centre nearby, isn't there?) and beneath your vanilla ice cream you literally hit rock bottom with your spoon. The base is half stale and impossible to eat with the cutlery provided. This is one tough... you get the idea. Flavour is out too. It's too sickly-sweet to discern anything. Chocolate is marshmallow is caramel. The petrified disk lies on the plate like a bizarre monster, a Frankenstein creation had Frankenstein worked at Greggs. After a few bites, a troubling gunk collects at the back of the throat. It's a familiar cloy; the aftertaste of any prefabricated chain dessert that's packed and sent to the kitchens to be unwrapped and plated with a scoop or dollop of whatever. Because that's how they get you. We keep buying this ridiculous stuff. I don't know how companies like Stonegate manage to plug the gap between disappointment and our memory of it. I guess that's the way the neoliberal society crumbles. Atmosphere: "Studenty" Food: Meal receipt doubles up as a sick note. Service: Indifferent, not overly fond of customers' jokes. Address: Main Street, Heslington, York, YO10 5EA