The only corkscrew you really need-11th Mar 2022

The Waiter’s Friend

Also known in the music business as a “gig spanner”.

There was a time when the very thought of trying to open a bottle of wine with one of these things filled me with terror. Yes, it really was that bad. On so many occasions I tried and only managed to pull out half the cork or ended up holding the bottle between my feet while using brute force to PULL the cork- it was all just embarrassing and depressing and it usually ended in my needing to call the husband in to finish getting it out. I always thought it was just that my dodgy hands were not strong enough. Oh, dear. Give me one of those cheeky-chappy corkscrews that look like a sort of head on the top and the arms come up and then you press them down again while the cork is extracted, you know the sort? Give me one of those every time.

Then I read an article somewhere about this particular, most simple, corkscrew. The Waiter’s Friend. Everything about it appealed. Simple, elegant design. Nothing added that was not strictly needed. No plastic bits to break and drop off. It came highly recommended from a source I trusted..but no instructions. They just said it was the best. Hum…I was left to think about that one.

On another trip to France, not the 2018 Chinon trip as described yesterday, before that- I made a point of studying how wine waiters opened the bottles. They all seemed to have these most basic corkscrews and they made it look like just the easiest thing on the planet. Why on earth was it such a struggle for me?

I can remember exactly where we were when the penny dropped. Not the town, not the area of France, not the name of the hotel we were staying in- none of that. I DO remember the restaurant. It was dark and moody but not in the least pretentious. I remember a very particular bit of the decorations that I had never seen before and have never seen since to this day. Imagine with me, if you will, a room with chestnut brown panelling halfway up the walls all around the room with a little four inch lip or shelf along the top of the panelling. The walls above were richly painted and the owners had made a special feature of this part of the walls by displaying a collection of original art works in beautiful frames. In such a dark room, lighting was needed. Picture lights, the sort that are usually hung above paintings, were wired into the gap behind the panelling, mounted on the little shelf and then angled upwards so that the paintings were lit from below.

It works. Really.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the wine. Our sommelier that evening was a charming young woman. I am hoping that things have improved, but certainly, women doing this job seemed to be fairly rare in France at that time. She was not only young but slight of frame and when she whipped out her little Waiter’s Friend, exactly like the one pictured above, I had my doubts. My personal memories with one of these gadgets came flooding back to me. But, no. Not a bit of it. She just made it look so easy. No effort needed whatsoever. What on earth was I doing wrong?

My eyes followed her all around the restaurant the rest of the evening and finally, as she was opening a bottle at the table next to us, I twigged what I had been missing all along.

We see the screw. We get it into the cork in the bottle. We think we are supposed to just pull it out. Er…no.

Enter- The Thumb. The one on you non-dominant hand.

Put your thumb here and hold

Yes. Once the screw is in the cork, that little notched thing goes on the lip of the bottle thus, the thumb HOLDS it there and doesn’t move.  Then-

Et voilà!

as the handle is raised up, the leverage created (“Archimedes! Get over here!”) eases the cork out of the bottle effortlessly.

Well, I never!

It is one of those things that when you know, you KNOW and it is no big deal.  But, if you don’t know-and why should you know unless you’ve been taught or just happened to notice as someone else was doing it, it’s huge.

I had lunch with my friend Liz not long ago and we watched the managing hostess of the restaurant do battle with one of these corkscrews. Bless her. She didn’t know. Much huffing and puffing was exhibited before she finally got the cork out of the bottle. I felt so sorry for her. No one had ever taught her and she wasn’t even aware that she needed to be taught. She thought that it was just the way things were with this sort of opener.

It is no wonder that corkscrews now come in such a bewildering array of “easy to open” tomfoolery. And they don’t mind charging some considerable sums of money for their “new and improved” versions as well.

My friend Richard again: “There’s them that know and them that don’t know. Them that know, know what they know. Them that don’t know, may NEVER know they don’t know. ” This saying was applied in many situations in our place of work and almost always found to be accurate.

Anyway, now you know.

The closest one I can find to the one I have is found on Amazon.

The Grunwerg 28/SS Aperiti Barware Waiter’s Cork Screw, Stainless Steel

£5.31. Free delivery. Be with you tomorrow. You’re welcome.

Oh, yes. Another favourite wine from Lidl. This one is what we call our “glugging red”. Less than £5 a bottle and perfectly acceptable as an everyday red.

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