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.
When did cooking become a spectator sport? I can just remember the days when chefs had reputations for being sweary, pot-swivelling hot-heads who were best kept behind the closed doors of the kitchen. In my youth, I had ventured beyond those doors into my dad’s restaurant kitchens a few times… they were hot, sweaty, generally loud, and usually frenetically paced. To the uninitiated, they were chaotic, but my dad assured me that there was always a rhythm in amongst the noise. Times have changed since those days. I’m sure that many chefs are still as hot-headed but the doors have been flung open and not only do people want to taste their food, people want to see the chefs cooking it too. How many restaurants have we all been to where the kitchens are visible from the dining room? How many times have you not so subtly rejoiced in that discovery?
Perhaps not as many times as me but admit it, you enjoy being a beady-eyed kitchen watcher as much as the next person because the inner workings of a professional kitchen can be fascinating. More and more restaurants are being designed with these ringside kitchen seats in mind, while others are choosing to let a select few be up close and personal at the chef’s tables they put inside their kitchens. Then there are restaurants like Kitchen Table who really take it to the extreme – one kitchen, one u-shaped bar wrapped around it, twenty chairs – that’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but there is a bum on every seat, every night the restaurant is open and diners willing to pay a not so insignificant amount for the pleasure of sitting there, especially when you throw caution to the wind and opt for the wine pairing too.
This will come as a surprise to absolutely no one but dining alone in a fairly well to do establishment like Ormer Mayfair will elicit some cursory side glances from almost everyone in the dining room. All the neighbouring tables thought they were subtle with their pitiful looks or curious nods in my direction, but I saw them, oh yes I did. As they duly noted, I was dining alone so what else did I have to do but to glance right back? Their mistake was not in getting caught, their mistake was in thinking I was sad, lonely, or stood up; quite the contrary actually. A weekend flying solo is a rare luxury, so it deserved to be kicked off with a luxurious dinner with just me, myself, and I.
When faced with the prospect of a dinner for one, people like my dining neighbours might have settled for a takeaway or a quick bite somewhere they could slip in and out of unnoticed, but nope, not me. I wanted my three courses and the bread basket all to myself. No need to fight a certain someone for the last slice of warm crusty bread, or more accurately, the last smear of the butter. With the help of the sommelier, I opted for a crisp English sparkling wine to start and raised a glass to myself; dinner for one definitely isn’t dreary when you’re dining like this!
How many successful restaurants does it take to build a restaurant empire? Five, ten, twenty, or something in between? Asking someone like Jason Atherton could be a smart move, the man has fifteen restaurants in The Social Company. That sheer number alone would constitute an empire, but then you also consider their locations – London, New York, Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cebu, and Sydney – and wow, that’s what I call a proper empire. In a climate where opening one successful restaurant in any of those major cities is an achievement, having fifteen under your belt is quite a miraculous feat.
Whether he managed it through sheer skill, hard graft, or dumb luck, I was curious. So where better to start my investigation than Atherton’s flagship, Pollen Street Social, the first of three Michelin star restaurants, in The Social Company. We arrived on Pollen Street to find a refined and much larger than expected dining room, it was well-kitted out but not ostentatiously so; I like that sort of restraint.
Getting dressed for a dinner date when you have no idea where you’re going can be a little tricky, am I right, ladies? I hate being overdressed or underdressed, but will err on the side of over if necessary. I like to consider my shoe options depending on the distance we will need to travel on foot, and my bag options depending on how long I’ll need to carry it for. I don’t really care for putting slap on my face, but I do put some effort into what I wear, even if it’s often done in haste.
So with twenty minutes to spare, the novelty of surprise wore off, the suspense was killing me, and I finally asked a certain someone for a hint as to where we were dining that night. Next thing I knew, Fred Astaire was belting out ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ from our front room and I just had to double check I had got the right end of the stick. Mistakingly thinking you’re being swept off to The Ritz when you’re actually going… well, anywhere else… is a disappointment I wouldn’t even wish upon my most treasured arch nemesis. But I wasn’t mistaken; it was a dress and heels kinda night…
When I told a certain someone we were going out for an Italian dinner he was a little surprised… and I sensed, a little unimpressed. Unless we’re actually in Italy, we very rarely choose Italian over the 101 other cuisines and styles at the tips of our tastebuds here in London. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think my first instinct is that it’s a safe option, even perhaps a boring option.
Hands up, who’s dismissed Italian food because it’s just pizza and often sub-par pasta? Yep, me. Have you also been a little smug and thought, why would I order that in a restaurant when I can make it at home myself? Me again. And have you also realised that of course, you’re very wrong because Italian food is so much more diverse than that… think of the beautiful cured meats and cheeses, think of the rich ragú, think of the gelato!
Exhaustion has overtaken my body and brain. Three weeks into a new job after having been a lady of leisure since Christmas, the 9 – 5.30-ish grind sandwiched between one hour commutes is a shock to the system. I’d be lying if I said there hasn’t been at least five minutes in every day where I’ve yearned to have my funemployment lifestyle back… No morning alarms, cups of tea in bed while I indulged in my morning dose of social media, then the rest of the day to do as I pleased; living the dream!
January was reserved for holiday mode while the start of February was all about blog makeover mode, but by the time mid February rolled round the reality sunk in – there were no wads of cash in our mattress, no big lottery wins, and no wealthy spinster aunt had come out of the woodwork to declare me her sole heir. It was time to start looking for a new job, which in London, is almost a part time job in itself.