As I stand outside in the soggy crowd, ineffectively thrusting my hands further into my pockets in reaction to the rain-flecked wind, I think back to when it first began. Poor Peter Molyneux, hounded from the games industry simply because he repeatedly produced videogames that bore little resemblance to what he promised. Shortly before that, he realised that it was literally impossible for him to make realistic claims about the projects he was working on. Whereas a different millionaire might have considered this cause to employ a psychiatrist, Molyneux simply withdrew from the press altogether. If you can’t say anything truthful, don’t say anything at all. It was no use, however. The rise of the internet had led to a more regular, intense scrutiny of exactly what it was that he was (or was not) doing. Frustrated at no longer being worshipped, Peter Molyneux gave up on games.
Peter Molyneux opened a restaurant instead.
It was outside this very restaurant, Paradigm, that I stood on this dull, wet evening with a hundred or so others. He had risen to fame in the culinary world in a similar way to how he had achieved glory in the gaming world. Molyneux and his small team of chefs quickly gained a reputation for making the very best Chicken & Mushroom pies in Soho; nay, the best Chicken & Mushroom pies in the whole of London. He had fired and hired a completely different team within months, but by then the glorious reputation of Molyneux and his restaurant (none of the other chefs were known by name) had been sealed. The city watched eagerly to see what he would do next.
The answer, of course, was more pies. Steak & Onion pies, Chicken Tikka pies, Cottage pies, Fish pies, Apple pies… all excellent, all lauded; but all pies. Then, one day, Paradigm shut its doors. Molyneux announced that he and his team would reopen in six months, unveiling a creation that would shake the culinary world to its core. And it wouldn’t be a pie, oh no. Forget what you think you know about pies. Forget, Molyneux said, what you think you know about food. His new recipe would be like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and had a small chance to literally make your trousers fall down if you looked at it for too long. Other chefs were too narrow-minded. People were crying out for his new recipe, and they didn’t even know it yet. Come back in six months, Molyneux said, and I will give you the deepest meanings of the universe on a plate for £52.99 (not including rice or chips).
Naturally, creating and producing a life-changing dish would not come cheap. Not only would tables have to be booked in advance, they would also have to be paid for (in full) in advance. Six months in advance. It was an unexpected move but, trading on the reputation of past pies, Molyneux had a full house and a full(er) pocket within days. The press picked up on this odd turn of events, and whipped the whole nation into a frenzy. The UK waited with baited breath.
I had tried some of Molyneux’s pies myself, and they were damn good (even if I seem to remember the menu describing fillings that differed slightly from what arrived on the plate). So when he announced his restaurant was going to relaunch with something better than ever before, I put the money down. It wasn’t cheap, but I had high expectations; besides, the booking would allow me to try the dish at least six months before Molyneux had expanded Paradigm enough to allow the public to walk in without a reservation, and it would give me something eye-catching to write about on my amateur food critic blog.
So I was one of the ones to receive a letter, three weeks before the scheduled date, announcing that Molyneux had been regrettably forced to push the reopening back by a full year, and he was really very sorry, but it would be worth the wait and please be patient.
I was frustrated, but what could I do? I decided to simply grit my teeth, write a very unhappy blog post about it, and start counting down the days again. Others, however, took a more active approach to expressing their displeasure. There were the inevitable news stories, and interviews with a handful of disgruntled customers (including me, which gave a nice boost to my pageviews), but more than that – a few dozen people angrily and very publicly demanded a refund. Molyneux came forward and said sorry, no, really not possible. He really was very sorry, but the extra time would allow them to make the dish as life-changing as possible, and besides the contracts we all signed had small print visible under UV light which explicitly stated no refunds. When it became clear that the public outcry was not going to go away – or even become less intense – Paradigm sent us each two Ginsters pasties by way of compensation, in a beautifully presented box which also included a note subtly informing us that this magnanimous gesture went above and beyond their legal obligations.
Just when the outrage had dulled to a grumbling susurrus, it emerged that Molyneux had, during the five months we all presumed he was using to concentrate entirely on reopening his restaurant, opened several fish & chip shops across the country under a different brand name (Deep Fried Empathy). These had been bringing in a fair amount of money, and Molyneux had been spotted behind the counter in at least three of them on five separate occasions. He quickly came forward for a public statement, soothingly assuring us all that the Paradigm and Deep Fried Empathy teams were completely separate, and that he had always been – and always would be – 100% dedicated to the reopening of Paradigm. It is, he pointed out, perfectly normal for a food business to run multiple franchises simultaneously. Incidentally, that also happened to mean that anybody who had put money into one project (in whatever shape or form) was not entitled to any sort of share in the profits of the other project.
It was at this point that the world-famous food critic William Hamill had decided that he’d had enough of Molyneux’s questionable antics. He managed to secure an interview with Molyneux behind closed doors, and posted a 150,000 word transcription on the culinary blog that he co-owns, Oven On, Fork Off. Neither interviewer nor interviewee came across particularly well (Hamill often resorted to expletives and at one point accused Molyneux of killing orphans for fun, while Molyneux himself was unrepentant and often answered questions in his own made-up language), but it certainly didn’t do Molyneux or his reputation any favours.
All things considered, the next twelve months or so passed relatively quietly. There were no more delays, and so – finally – it came to pass that I stood outside Paradigm with a legion of others in the dull afternoon rain, wondering how much inflation had increased the value of my long-gone £52.99 since I first paid it. We had been promised that the doors would open at 15:30. It was now 19:25, and I really needed the toilet.
A mere three quarters of an hour later, the soggy masses were finally allowed inside, ushered in personally by a beaming Molyneux. The interior was much as I had remembered it, with the only noticeable difference being the staff and the fact that there were now four coat racks by the entrance rather than three. These were already heaving with soaked jackets and hats, so my miserably dripping coat accompanied me to my seat.
“Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes.” Molyneux announced proudly, about an hour before the food arrived.
And when it did arrive, well… in all honesty, I’m not sure what I had been expecting. I was not foolish enough to believe that I would be presented with the truly epic dish that had been promised, but I was expecting… I don’t know. I was expecting something special. I was expecting something different.
I wasn’t expecting a pie.
What was on the plate that the waiter (who had the decency to look very embarrassed before he scuttled off) brought me looked very much like a pie. Round, of a reasonable size; pastry with something inside it. Neither angry nor happy, disappointed nor satisfied, I carefully cut a piece off and ate it.
Chicken and mushroom, possibly with carrots.
It was nice, and it didn’t taste exactly like the chicken and mushroom pies that they used to serve; but it tasted awfully similar to the chicken and mushroom pies that they used to serve. It certainly wasn’t worth £52.99, in this economy or the economy of the year before last. The wine was a nice fruity red, but that was all we got. No starter, no dessert, no further courses of any kind. When the chatter of the other patrons became widespread and loud, it wasn’t particularly friendly. A screech of tyres made me leap to a nearby window, just in time to see Molyneux making a rapid exit in a very well-kept Jaguar. A snatch of conversation I hear between a chef and a waitress tells me that the staff are already fearing for both their jobs and their reputations. I feel sorry for them; this is clearly not their fault.
The next day, Molyneux issued a press release that said yes, he overpromised; he’s really very sorry about that. It’s still an extremely good pie though, and do please try it before passing judgement. He was however pleased to announce that he is currently working on a casserole that cures cancer, and is asking for only £39.99 from anybody interested in booking a table.
Project Milo’s release date is still TBC.