This week when my alarm clock went off there was no sunlight streaming through the crack in the curtains, putting on the 50 deniers was a no brainer, and there was an unmistakeable autumn chill in the air as I walked out the door. This, I told my sun-loving-self was the final nail in the coffin for summer and winter, my least favourite season of them all, is on its way. Sigh. Followed by a little shiver, and then another sigh. Goodbye summer.
This is also about the time everyone chips in their two cents worth about what an average summer it’s been, but as we’ve spent the whole season confined to this island, I can say with some authority that this great British summer hasn’t been all that bad. While our friends were road tripping in Albania, checking out the pyramids in the smouldering desert heat or even downing drinks on Moscow’s rooftop bars, we enjoyed picnics in Clapham Common, sunny afternoon beersies in our backyard, and a much needed escape to the countryside.
When a certain someone and I moved to London we agreed to do four things every month to help ensure we were making the most of our time here; it’s all too easy to slip into a comfortable routine, take this city for granted then next thing you know, you’re on a plane back to NZ and you haven’t even had an exorbitantly priced cocktail up the Shard?! It’s still on the list. So anyway, every month, alongside trying an ‘out of the ordinary’ restaurant (smugly overachieving), travelling somewhere (top marks for effort with a special commendation for some random locations), and getting a dose of culture in the form of a show or exhibition (failing miserably), we also aim to throw a dinner party…
For someone whose parents constantly had people over for meals, both planned and impromptu, the idea of having friends over for dinner is one that excites rather than daunts… to the point where I’ve been known to get a little carried away, neglect to count how many people I’ve invited (ten), decide to throw a slider party (four types with roughly two per person which equals a lot of teeny tiny burgers) which then results in a certain someone putting his foot down and saying never again! Of course he was only joking and there have since been more dinner parties; the compromise is a cap on the number of guests and a ban on having mini burgers on the menu! I’m ok with both these caveats.
Every couple of weeks, a certain someone likes to remind me he’s just a working class man, a man of the people… a man with a humble upbringing… you get the drift. He usually launches into this spiel when I’ve unknowingly (ok, sometimes knowingly) bamboozled him into dining at a restaurant you might call pretentious or poncey. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear to all and sundry, my working class man is not a fan of these establishments, but let’s not confuse his distain for the pretentious with a dislike of fine dining because you can have the latter without the former.
We are actually quite fond of fine dining; I like beautiful plates of food, I like luxurious ingredients and elaborate techniques, and I, rather frivolously, like using more than one set of cutlery throughout a meal. It’s not something we do every night, but of course there is a time and place for it. What we don’t like is a sterile dining room where everything is fifty shades of white and the lighting has gone a step beyond dim and romantic to just plain dark, or an atmosphere so cold that you’re longing for the coat the frigid maitre’d just whisked away. We don’t feel at ease, there’s absolutely no desire to be there any longer than we have to.
I used to dread people asking me when my birthday is because I knew that once I told them I would be faced with those pitying looks and sympathetic remarks assuring me it’s not that bad. You see, I have what most people deem to be an unfortunate birthday. All you late December babies out there will feel my pain, but only those of you who also have birthdays within days of Christmas will truly understand the suffering. We generally get upstaged by Jesus.
Throw in the fact that my birthday is smack bang in between Christmas and New Year and you get the idea why I don’t usually celebrate it. There’s no point organising a shindig because people are either away on holiday or too skint to come toast to me getting another year older but none the wiser. So sometimes I like to celebrate my half birthday instead because June seems like a much more civilised time of year to have a birthday and in case you’re wondering, it was yesterday. Yep, happy half-birthday to me… all belated birthday wishes and gift are welcome, particularly if they involve food or drink.
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.
My drinking habits have certainly changed over the years. Back when I was a bright, young thing recently let (legally) loose on the town, my drink of choice was vodka. That blissfully tasteless spirit was well masked by lemonade with a squeeze of lime, or red bull for the nights we were dancing well into the wee hours of the morning. Wine was strictly cheap, white and to be guzzled at BYOs and beer was always a last resort. By the start of my working woman days, I had graduated to ciders in the afternoon, cocktails in the evening, however the wine guzzling at BYOs was still very much a thing.
Now that I’m a fully fledged adult, quit your sniggering, my main alcoholic squeeze is wine. Though I’m not adult enough to ditch the cheap and white completely, I have expanded the range considerably and a glass of wine with my meal is now the norm. And just when I thought my drinking evolution was complete, I recently discovered a fondness for dark beers such as stouts and porters. My 19 year old self did not see this coming. But rest assured, younger me, they haven’t knocked wine off the top spot in my affections, though that love was tested a few times at The Selkirk’s Beer v Wine Supper Club.
A lot of people shy away from a tasting menu; some are overwhelmed by the number of courses, a few are put off by the cost. Others might even think it’s only reserved for the food snobs in our midst, but I’d like to convince them otherwise. I am a big fan. Obvious reasons aside, my seemingly insatiable hunger and that horrible plate envy, I like a tasting menu because it not only tells you about the style of the restaurant, but gives the chefs a chance to show off a little. It’s one thing to create a menu for the whole restaurant, it’s another to pull together a handful of dishes that flow cohesively to form the perfect meal.
It also saves me from the mental arithmetic of weighing up the pros and cons of each dish, mixing and matching course options for the ideal combination, then finally factoring in a certain someone’s choices to maximise our exposure to the menu. I know it’s a product of my own making but it can be a little tiresome and quite frankly sometimes (rare but it happens) I don’t mind having the choice made for me. Proof that it’s possible for control freaks to have a day off.