One of the first London life lessons I learnt was that one should plan ahead to avoid disappointment, which makes it even more hilarious that one of the last lessons I learnt was that even the best laid plans can be thrown into disarray. All it takes is one mistake, one mishap, or one big misunderstanding and the next thing you know, Oxford Circus tube station is closed and the restaurant you had your heart set on visiting for months decides to follow suit. And all because two drunkards got into an argy bargy, some noises were heard, and Chinese whispers ensued… but that’s another London life lesson right there.
So that was ‘goodbye big blow-out meal at Bonhams’ and ‘hello to plan B…’ which consisted of changing out of the glad rags, throwing a ‘why are people so silly’ tantrum, heading down to the cosy local bistro, and frantically scouring Opentable for a decent Saturday night reservation. I wasn’t hopeful but my luck was in and hey presto… hello to The Frog E1! Both of Adam Handling’s amphibian offerings have piqued my interest for some time now but they just kept being buried deeper and deeper in ‘the list’ so I thought Friday night’s woes might actually be Saturday night’s blessing in disguise.
This time last year I defied convention and proudly proclaimed that I had no fears about turning thirty. I was excited to start a new decade and experience all the thrills and inevitable spills that come with it, particularly as we had an inkling that it would most likely be our last year in London and I wanted to make the most of it. A year ago, I believed that I was entering my thirties content, happy, and hungry… and now that I have merrily made my way through the ups and downs, that statement still stands. Content with what I have in my life, happy with what I have achieved both online and offline, and hungry to eat, explore and create more. To me, this is what it means to grow up, not grow old.
For the last five years we have celebrated my birthday abroad either jetsetting to Hong Kong enroute to the Philippines, catching sunsets from the Malecon in Havana, or wining and dining in two of my favourite countries in Europe – Spain and Portugal. Last year’s celebrations were particularly special as they involved not only a certain someone but some of my closest friends in what has now become one of my favourite cities, Seville. This year we are back in the Southern hemisphere after packing up our London life and I was preparing myself for a low-key celebration back in New Zealand but true to tradition, we made the last minute decision to head abroad and we are currently in Melbourne!
As I hoisted myself into position at The Test Kitchen, a slight apprehension began to creep over me. What does one open themselves up to when they choose to dine in a restaurant where a ‘test’ is so crucial to the concept? Who is being tested here, the diners or the chefs, I wondered? A dear friend of mine thrives on ‘interesting’ dining experiences, so I imagine that he would be in his element, playing guinea pig to chef Adam Simmonds and his team. Whereas I, despite my fascination with ingredients, provenance, culinary wizardry, still dine by a much simpler litmus test – does it taste good and would I want to eat it again?
I would prefer dishes to have been tried and tested before they got to me, but then a certain someone rather pointedly reminded me that I also enjoy giving my two cents worth and this time the chefs actually welcome it. Touché. With no response, I pulled myself together and settled into my seat, which by the by, was not designed with petite people in mind, bracing myself for what was to come. The opening gambit, a small bowl of roasted pearl barley was an easy pass. Parsley gave the nutty barley a green glow and freshness, the garlic was faint yet warming, and all finished off perfectly with crispy shallot rings!
There is a lot of truth in the old cliche that ‘food brings people together’. Without food being involved, it is likely that I would never see half of my friends, nor would I have met half of the new ones I have made in London. Any food usually works, but I think it is the most familiar and comforting ones that do the ‘bringing together’ the best. My proof is in the pizza. I can think of nothing else that would bring four food-loving, photograph-taking, blog-writing ladies together more enthusiastically or religiously than the simple pleasure of a good pizza. Meeting for pizza has become such a ritual, we turned it into a club and happily hold our meetings anywhere a decent slice is served.
Our latest meeting took us all a little out of our ways (these are the extreme lengths we go to for Pizza Club) to a cosy corner of Fulham which has been transformed into a slice of the Italian south. Meridionale, which literally translates to mean ‘from the South’, aims to showcase the best of the Southern regions such as Naples, Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia so we were excited to discover some new dishes or curious tweaks to well-know favourites. But first, we had to pop the prosecco to adjourn the meeting… we don’t have too many rules at Pizza Club however that is definitely one of them!
I have settled into my new status as a ‘lady of leisure’ with the enthusiasm of a child starting school holidays and the breeziness of a trust fund baby. It took me a couple of days to get into the swing of things but my days of sweaty tube scrums and clock-watching in the office are now distant memories. Instead, I am luxuriating in this sudden abundance of spare time. I can sleep in, I can stay up late, I have time to read the books I’ve been hoarding from the library and do the exercise I never got round to. Or… I can just do absolutely nothing and not feel one single iota of guilt. In short, my time is mine to do as I choose and it is all strangely liberating and deliciously luxurious.
So with all this freedom, what do I actually choose to do?! It turns out that being a lady of leisure can, at times, be not very leisurely at all… despite having no office to go to and no deadlines to meet, I am still very busy. But the fun kind of busy that involves indulging in all the things I love and embracing the lady of leisure stereotype by also transforming into a lady who lunches. I never understood nor had I truly experienced the joy of long, lazy midweek lunches until now, and for extra status points, I now occasionally do long, lazy Michelin star lunches.
I am still dreaming of a white Christmas… just like the ones in all those feel-good movies and devastatingly catchy Christmas tunes. I can imagine the scenes now; everyone is dressed in their best Fairisle jumpers, looking all smug and cosy, there is always a roaring fire, and smiles all round from those Baileys-spiked hot chocolates… and all the while, the snow falls gently outside. Oh Santa, now that is the Christmas of my dreams! It is the Christmas I once foolishly thought I would be having when I moved to the Northern hemisphere, but here we are… three Christmases in London later and not a single snowflake has fallen in my presence!
So this year, to save me from tears, I decided to take matters into my own hands and improvise with a little help from Harrods, who might as well be the next best thing after Santa anyway! Harrods still couldn’t make it snow but they did manage to shower the UN Ballroom at the Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square with so much festive spirit that even the biggest grinch could be converted. Needless to say, I was giggly with glee as soon as I walked in and saw the opulence and flair that I would expect from a Harrods Christmas!
I recently spent an afternoon eating my way through course after course dedicated solely to showcasing the magic of a certain Italian cheese and vinegar. Both are well-loved and often used in all sorts of dishes, but rarely as the main event. The more I ate, the fuller I became… full of delicious food and full of enthusiasm for these two ingredients. So much so that by the end of lunch I had vowed to use my Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena with the respect they deserved, and that did not mean a little sprinkle over pasta or drizzle over salad. My intentions were pure, but it turned out that my devotion was not and a few weeks later, I found myself sprinkling and drizzling as I had always done.
So it seemed like fate when Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano told me to don my apron for an evening where I could actually do what I vowed I would: cook a dish where Parmigiano Reggiano was the star, and not the supporting act. The prospect of having another opportunity to eat an obscene amount of cheese was enough to get me in the kitchen, but when I found out that the kitchen was the one and only Le Cordon Bleu London, I was deliriously excited. Many of my office daydreams involved trading in my convoluted project plans and business cases for days filled with mise en place and hours in front of the stove at this culinary institution.