I’m ashamed to admit that for a second year running, Chinese New Year has somehow managed to slip my radar! If a friend hadn’t asked me what I had planned for it, I wouldn’t have known it was just around the corner… while we’re at it, which charming animal are we celebrating again?! This is quite an embarrassing confession considering I’ve celebrated this for as long as I can remember.
Five year old me was probably most excited about getting dressed up in a new outfit, most likely an attention grabbing red number, to ring in the new year. Ten year old me would have been eagerly anticipating the feasts my parents would put on, inviting all the aunties and uncles, both real ones and pretend ones (those of you from Asian families will know what I mean) for an evening of indulgence. Fifteen year old me would have definitely been hanging out for the little red envelopes filled with cold hard cash for that nice little shopping spree or day out with friends.
That opening question is a far cry from the usual, ‘would you like water for the table; still or sparking?’. I’ve also never been asked my age and gender just after being seated, hardly polite table etiquette is it? This start gave me an inkling that this was hardly going to be a polite dining experience, this was an experiment… and here we were, two tables of hungry, intrigued, and perhaps somewhat nervous guinea pigs.
Leading us through this experiment were two truly talented (but quite frankly mad) scientists; psychologist Charles Spence who has worked with another well known gastronomic experimentalist with a very expensive restaurant, numerous tv shows and even a range of appliances, and Jesse Dunford-Wood, creative chef extraordinaire and owner of The Parlour in which we were dining. When I received the invite with the rather ambiguous description of the evening I had no idea what to expect; after listening to these two enthusiastically introduce the concept, I decided there was no point trying to anticipate what was coming and just go along for the ride!
On a wet Wednesday night in 2012, I went on a date with a very nice man who took me to a very nice restaurant. We ate more than we needed to, drank more than we should have, and laughed so much more than I expected. I’m no dating expert, but in my opinion, it was a very successful first date – no awkward silences, no over-politeness, just comfortable in each other’s company. Three years on, I am still going on dates with this man to wonderful places, eating, drinking and laughing all the way, though we foot the bill together now!
I know people say you shouldn’t change when you get into a relationship but we have and I think it’s for the better. Sure, there’s all that emotional stuff like being a little more patient and understanding… blah blah blah… but let’s get down to the nitty gritty, the most significant change is in our culinary skills and tastes. Before a certain someone met me, he’d never eaten udon noodles (that’s a whole other story) and a generous sprinkle of pepper was the height of spice he could tolerate. I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere near offal and shamefully purchased pre-made pasta sauces.
I talk a lot. I love a good natter, can spin several yarns, have been known to embellish a little, digress a lot… basically I love telling stories. If you’ve been following along you might have guessed this already, while those who actually know me will no doubt be nodding your heads in agreement. Ask me what I thought about that restaurant we went to last night or where we ate during our weekend away and you’ll rarely get a simple ‘good or not’ or recited list- there’s always a silly tidbit or memory because it’s always more interesting that way.
This story starts like so… last Friday night I took a certain someone out for a birthday dinner at a surprise location, a much-lauded establishment that has been on our hit-list whiteboard for some time- Restaurant Story. This is where I usually launch into my tale before telling you about the dishes, what we liked, what we didn’t, what we would eat again, you know the drill, but the truth is, I am lost for words. The theatrics of the Full Story experience, the military precision with which we were served, the creativity of the food, the meticulous beauty of each plate, my story telling skills have been trumped by those of chef Tom Sellers.
For the last year, it feels as though there have been three of us in this relationship; I’ll confess, I’ve acquired another significant other. A certain someone isn’t too jealous though, they’ve been acquainted for years but to me it’s all shiny and new. Less tragic than the Diana, Charles and Camilla love triangle and definitely not as salacious as an affair which started life through a dodgy dating app, my other significant other is quite simply London.
I knew straight away we would get along. I relish in the occasional breath of fresh country air but I’m a big city girl at heart so gimme the bright lights, breathtaking skylines and unfortunate smog any day. Just as a certain someone figured out early on, London also knows the way to my heart is through my stomach. Over the last year I have been wined and dined for my affection and it’s been worth each and every calorie.
In this industry, making it this far is somewhat of a miracle considering the fickleness of diners, the revolving food fads, and ability of a scathing review going viral before the bill has even been paid. This year, kiwi chef Peter Gordon’s The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone turns thirteen and I went along to celebrate.