Meet the regulars

The Guardian

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Tyne O’Connell at The Wolseley

Tyne O’Connell, 52, is a writer. She eats at the Wolseley in Mayfair, London, every day

I stumbled across the Wolseley by accident when it had only just opened in 2003. I ordered the steak tartare, and I’ve eaten it pretty much every single day since. People find it extraordinary that I eat the same meal every day, but I don’t have the kind of palate that yearns for change.

I normally eat only one meal a day, usually around 7pm. I never cook for myself — I don’t have a kitchen at home, just a mini-bar-sized refrigerator. They serve what I like to call nursery food. My mother used to feed me raw fillet mince when I was in my high chair, so for me steak tartare is nursery food.

I live nearby, so it’s like a local cafe. The staff are always very accommodating. I broke my hip earlier this year, and now they put a special cushion on my chair. They always seat me at the same table; it’s where they put celebrities, so they’re not going to have people jumping all over them. It’s often occupied by people who are in a West End production, such as Bill Nighy or Michael Gambon; I call them my grandpa crushes.

When I come in, all the waiters say hello, and often the actors will presume that they know me and jump up to say hello. I’ve had a cuddle from Tom Conti and Michael Gambon that way. I once sat next to Lauren Bacall and we accidentally put our hands into each other’s bags.

Lucian Freud always sat at the table opposite mine, and he’d come in every day, too. He travelled everywhere in the same black cab, so John the doorman would get Lucian’s cabbie to drop me home at night. This cabbie would regale me with tales about the Freuds, and how he’d spent a lifetime trying to persuade Lucian to paint his wife.

My daughter is 24 and will often call me and say, “I’ve had a terrible day. Are you at the Wolseley?” And of course I always am, so she’ll join me and I’ll buy her a glass of champagne and a slice of battenberg. Even when my ex-husband, who lives in Dubai, comes to town, he’ll just say, “Can you book?” The word Wolseley doesn’t pass his lips, because he knows that’s where it’ll be.

Thomas Hewitt, 26, is a student. He eats at the Company Inn in Nottingham three times a week

Thomas Hewitt at the Company Inn.

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. My dad brought home a leaflet about it, and I think he expected me to go off on one. But I went to the doctor and had the tests done, and a week later the results came back that I had mild Asperger’s. My grandad introduced me to the Company Inn around the same time. I don’t normally like going to pubs and clubs and parties. I’ve got highly sensitive hearing, so I like this pub because it isn’t too loud and I can relax there. Once I get used to something, it stops being overwhelming.

I come here three times a week for lunch and always order the quarter-pounder with cheese and bacon, and a pint of Guinness. My grandad used to get the fish and chips and a pint of ale. He passed away earlier this year, but I know he’d be happy that I’m still coming here.

I’m a big Notts County supporter, as is my younger brother Adam, and we always go down to the Company on a Saturday together before football. He’s 24 and he’s got his own family and works full-time; that’s the one time we know we’ll always see each other. I’ll sometimes bring mates from uni, but I’m really happy just to come and sit on my own.

I like routine and order. I will sometimes go to new places, but once you’ve tried something and you know you like it, why would you go anywhere else?

I see my diagnosis as a blessing. I was bullied at school, and it’s helped me to understand who I am. Being told I’m on the spectrum has only made me more determined.

I’m doing a master’s degree in journalism, I have loads of friends and I volunteer with an autism charity. Just because you’ve got this label, it doesn’t mean you can’t do whatever you want in life.

Ahmad Al-Masri, 31, is a radiopharmacist. He goes to Diwan Damas Deli in Paddington, west London, three times a week

Ahmad Al-Masri at Diwan Damas Deli.

I’m originally from Damascus, but I’ve been living in London for almost a decade. My grandfathers were active in their opposition to the Ba’ath party, and we were forced to leave. Although I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the US, wherever we were, my parents created a Syrian bubble around us.

I discovered Diwan Damas about four years ago. As soon as I stepped in, it was like being back home. The smell of orange blossom water, the heaviness of the ghee in the air, the Damascene dialect, familiar-looking faces: it was almost overwhelming. Even the way the desserts are laid out is very specific to Damascus. It’s hard to explain why, but you wouldn’t have seen them like that in Aleppo.

I started chatting to the guys who own the place, because I spotted a dessert called madlou’a, which literally means “spilled”. It’s semolina on the bottom with raw cream spilled over it. I’ve never seen it anywhere but Damascus. I used to make it with my mother when I was a child. It’s very simple and has a subtle flavour, so it really shows the artistry of the person who makes it. I buy some every time I come here.

Some days I’ll pop in and get something small like a milk pudding or, if it’s a hot day, bouzza, which is Syrian ice-cream. It’s very thick, because they beat all the air out of the cream and then sprinkle it with pistachios. I’ll always buy a lot of sweets if I’m going to a friend’s house for dinner. I think it’s an act of love, saying to another person, “Hey, this is a thing that I like, this is where I’m from.” With the situation at the moment, I think it’s very important to show people there’s another side to Syria.

The last time I was there was in 2011, for my mother’s funeral. I always say I lost my country and my mother at the same time. It’s probably no coincidence that I discovered this place around the time of the crisis. You start to feel that need for something, without even realising what it is, and then you start searching for it, and I found it here. It’s unfathomable to me that I won’t go back to Syria one day. As soon as I’m able to, I want to get back to help and build in some way. But, until then, I’ll get my tiny taste of Damascus here.

Eva Braithwaite, 23, is a restaurant manager. She goes to Shears Yard, Leeds, at least three times a week

Eva Braithwaite at Shears Yard

I first came here when it opened in 2013, and it seemed like just my kind of place: informal and independent. I work in a busy restaurant and live on my own, so I come here after my shift ends to wind down. Sometimes I don’t want to go home to an empty flat, but I don’t want to feel obliged to socialise with people, either. It’s like a buffer zone between the intensity of work and the calm of home. I like having the hum of people around me while I read my book or write, or just sit and think.

I’ll usually have a glass of merlot and a cheeseboard, and sit at the bar. I don’t need to order it: when they see me come in, they start pouring the wine. Other times, I’ll pop in for an espresso and just have a few minutes to myself before the working day starts. I’ll also sit down for a full meal; they change the menu every few months so it doesn’t get boring. I’ve become really good friends with Simon, the bar manager, and he’s constantly coming up with new cocktails and getting me to test them. He’s promised to name one after me.

I grew up in London and came to Leeds for university, and it started to feel like home. I love how diverse, progressive and creative the city is. But it can sometimes feel lonely. I’m single, and a lot of my friends have office jobs, so their hours are different from mine. Sometimes I’ll spend a bit too much time by myself or on Facebook, and I have days when I feel I’m just staring at my phone, then I know I need to be around people again.

But there’s a big difference between loneliness and solitude. I have a big circle of friends, and my job means I’m constantly in contact with the public, so I like my own company sometimes. I look for places where it doesn’t feel inappropriate to be alone, and this is one of them.

Samantha Earl, 38, is a full-time mother. She goes to the Larder in Wanstead, Essex, every day

Samantha Earl at the Larder

Daphne was born in January 2015 and we were in hospital for a week. I remember on the third day of being back home with her, I went to the Larder for a coffee. I bumped into an old colleague and she said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re out and about already. I was on my sofa for weeks.” But almost straight away, I had cabin fever, and going to the Larder was a way of feeling a bit like my old self. From that point on, I started going every day, often three times a day.

I’m quite Gina Ford in my parenting, and I got into a routine really early with Daphne. She’d go to sleep only when I was pushing her in a buggy, so every morning at 8am, I’d push her up to the Larder, she’d fall asleep and I’d sit in the window and have a decaf soya mocha. I started getting it in a takeaway cup, so that if she started crying I could run out and push her, and that habit has stuck.

After that morning coffee, I’d take her home, change her, feed her, then she’d be ready for another nap, so I’d push her back up to the Larder. In the evenings, when my husband got home, we’d go back to the Larder because I felt like I’d been in the house all day.

I must have spent thousands of pounds in there. Sometimes I’ll have lunch, too, and I’ll always order the same thing: the toasted wrap with pesto and goat’s cheese. I always sit at the same table by the window, so I can look out and see people. If someone sits at my table, I feel annoyed.

I feel like part of the community when I come here. They get a lot of regulars, so I see the same people every day, and they stop and ask how I’m doing. In the early days, it was really encouraging seeing other mums with older kids, and they’d say, “Don’t worry, this phase doesn’t last for ever.” Having a new baby can be really lonely and boring, so just grabbing 10 minutes for a coffee became therapeutic.

Sometimes, on the weekends, we go to another cafe up the road, because they open slightly earlier. But the coffee’s just not as good. I always feel like I’m cheating.

Jay Warn, 23, is a sales assistant. He goes to the Toby Carvery in Woodford, Essex, three times a week

Jay Warn at the Toby Carvery with boyfriend Jordan.

I didn’t even know what a carvery was until three years ago, when my mum mentioned it to me. I love a roast dinner, but the meat takes for ever to cook and I can’t be arsed with all the washing-up, so a carvery sounded spot on. I Googled it and this was the nearest.

I always come here with my boyfriend, Jordan. We’ve been together six years, and we’re living with my mum while we save up to buy a place: going to the Carvery is a way of getting some time for ourselves. We go at least three times a week, and I always get the roast. I haven’t tried anything else. Jordan sometimes tries to be healthy, so he’ll just get a soup.

We don’t smoke or drink or really go clubbing, so this is our treat. What I like about the Carvery is that it’s a bit more upmarket than a takeaway, but not as expensive as some restaurants. It’s like a country pub: it’s got an open fire in the corner, and you see the same faces propping up the bar.

We’re really good friends with the waiters now. Jordan proposed to me in Dublin last summer, and he told one of the managers that he was going to do it before he told anyone else. When we came back, all the staff knew and were congratulating us. There are perks to being regular customers, too. When we come in, they’ll have our drinks — Diet Cokes — on the table for us.

If I’m being honest, I don’t feel that we could walk into any pub on the high street. Where we live, people are not accepting; there is no way we would hold hands on our street. We’ve had homophobic abuse, and had to call the police. So we’d rather drive 25 minutes away and feel welcome and safe. Coming here isn’t just about the food.

Ned Vaught, 46, runs a PR company. He goes to Mission Burrito in Bath five times a week

Ned Vaught at Mission Burrito.
I’ve had a veggie burrito for lunch every working day for the past two years. I got invited there by someone and I stuck with it. I’m a creature of habit.

I have to make a lot of creative decisions all day for my job, so I find that I work best if I eliminate all the other choices from my life: I take the same train every day; I work at the same desk in my co-working hub. My most productive days happen when I’m in my routine. It helps me stay focused. It’s not because I’m boring; I’m just saving my exciting stuff for other areas of my life.

I remember reading an interview with the director David Lynch, where he said he went to Bob’s Big Boy Diner in LA and had the same meal every day for seven years. He’s from Missoula, Montana, and I used to live there, so I’ve always felt an affinity with him. If David Lynch does it, maybe it’s OK.

I also wear the same thing every day: jeans, shirt and a black hoodie. There are other people who wear the same clothes, such as Mark Zuckerberg and I think Einstein, so I feel like I’m in good company.

I always go for lunch at 11.30am and a guy I work with refers to it as “burrito time”. I know the staff pretty well now, even though I don’t know their names, and I’m pretty sure they don’t know mine. Sometimes I’ll see them elsewhere and say hello.

One of my first jobs was in Starbucks and people would come through every day for years, getting the same drink, and we used to call them by their drink name. Years later, I saw one of my customers in England and I was like, “No way! There’s double tall non-fat vanilla latte!” I’m sure the guys from Mission call me “veggie burrito”. I can’t take offence at that. I am there every day.

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