The Three Bells, Heathrow Airport
Terminal Three (pre-security)
020 8897 6755
by Joyce Carol Oats
This is the thing about restaurants in airports: they shouldn’t be good. They should be pretty bad. If they were good you might want to linger there, might regret departure, and regretting departure is not something that you should be doing when you are in a place that is all about leaving. We’re pleased to find one, therefore, that strongly resembles a very expensive Wetherspoon’s, and therefore promises to be pretty bad.
Landside restaurants are pretty bad, in particular, because they are full of people being left behind as well as travellers. We are here because only Departing Friend is going: she is emigrating to America, and a trip on this scale, an actual emigration, seemed to require me and Departing Friend’s Brother to pay our respects to her in person, although now we are here we are just grumpy and quiet and sad. We take our seats amongst the other heavy-hearted people: here, a couple clutching hands over untouched plates of breakfast glazed with cold bacon fat; there, a moist-eyed grandmother, her daughter, two small shouty grandchildren who no one would ever want to sit next to on a plane.
This is the flavour of goodbye: a thick Cumberland sausage patty, an egg, a puffy white bun, ketchup. I sink my teeth into it and am immediately surprised because, I realise, I am expecting it to taste like a McDonald’s sausage McMuffin. And it doesn’t, perhaps because it costs about £5. There’s something distinctly British about that Cumberland flavour, that even the most uninspiring Cumberland-esque sausage lacks something of the metallic tang of one with the McD recipe, probably because it might contain fewer pieces of actual metal.
It is pretty bad. And the coffee is pretty bad. And Departing Friend and Departing Friend’s Brother are ploughing their way through their English breakfasts like it is their duty, but they are pretty bad. Departing Friend cannot face the tomato. I bite it and it tastes like nothing, a small mercy on the part of the chefs, to ensure that in a place so charged with emotion, the flavour of the tomato will evoke no feeling. And by the time we pay (something ridiculous, like £20) and proceed to wave Departing Friend through security, we are all so preoccupied by being sluggish and sickly that we forget to cry.