Unusually, it was me who spotted this exhibition, in The Week, suggesting to Janie (who loves Zaha Hadid’s designs) that we should find time to see this exhibition before it comes off.
As we’d arranged to meet Lavender (Charlie) and Escamillo Escapillo (Chris) for dinner in Marylebone on the Friday, it seemed sensible for us to finish a bit early and take in the exhibition ahead of dinner.
The plan worked brilliantly. We arranged for Janie to get to mine at 16:00, which meant that she actually arrived just before 17:00, which in truth still gave us bags of time to see the small exhibition at leisure, wend our way gently to Marylebone on foot and still be a bit early for dinner.
Janie was originally a bit reluctant to walk all the way from the Serpentine to Marylebone, as it was a chilly evening, but once we got walking, she realised that it is a pleasing walk through Bayswater and Marylebone; worth it.
We had bags of time, so took in some shop windows and even open shops along the way. Neals Yard for some posh smellies and a bizarre tea shop with fancy tea pots, where Janie was finally able to replace a little glass pot in the style she likes to serve to her clients…jees she spoils them.
As we walked in, we saw, sitting very prominently at a table in the bar downstairs, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, holding court with some other besuited gentleman. I’m pretty sure he was spouting some very large numbers, but through the buzz of the downstairs bar I couldn’t tell if he was saying, “twelve billion” or “twelve trillion”. Nor could I tell whether that was pounds, dollars, euros or Indonesian Rupiah. Nor did I hear what the massive number referred to. Still, it’s always good to have heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Janie and I were grateful to be shown straight to our table upstairs, which was a large one and upstairs was much quieter at that hour. Soon enough the other two arrived.
Janie started with foie gras, I started with tuna three ways and the youngsters started with scallops. Janie and I both had the signature 100 layers lasagne, while Lavender had the lobster tagliolini and Escamillo Escapillo the sea bass. The food was all very good indeed.
Neither of the youngsters were drinking much; Lavender not at all (tut-tut; dry January hadn’t been invented when we were her age) and Escamillo Escapillo just one glass ahead of driving home from the station. Janie and I felt like lushes by downing a couple of glasses each over the evening.
Everyone was on good form, so we had a good chat about life, the universe and everything without letting much family-sh*t enter the conversation. Quite right on a Friday evening out too.
Kindly, the young couple absolutely insisted on picking up the bill, citing the “our turn” protocol, despite torrents of protest, in particular from Janie, who knows how to dole out generosity far better than she knows how to receive it. At one point I thought we might need the Governor of the Bank of England to arbitrate, but Janie eventually caved in and in any case Mark Carney had probably long-since left the place.
It was a very enjoyable late afternoon and evening all round.
Strangely, John chose The Providores. I say “strangely”, because Janie had suggested the very same place to Charlotte for the coming Friday, but Charlotte had rejected it in favour of 35 New Cavendish.
How likely was that?
I have booked the Providores and Tapa Room for 7.00 p.m. on Wednesday. I have a feeling it is a bit Modern Pantry, but once again I was seduced by the intriguing ingredient combinations and the New Zealand wine list looks fab… There is a pub round the corner called the Gunmakers in Aybrook Street.
Originally we planned for 18:00 in the Gunmakers, but mercifully John sent me an SMS around 17:30 to suggest 18:30 as better, which freed me up to clear my e-mails ahead of a couple of busy days (John’s reasoning was similar).
By the time I got to The Gunmakers, it was heaving with people, possibly a very popular traditional Marylebone pub, possibly the particular live sport on TV that evening – soccer football – how lovely. So, once I was sure I was first, I hovered at the front rather than fight my way to the bar. Once John arrived, it was all I could do to make him hear me say, “let’s go straight to The Providores, this place is heaving and I won’t hear a thing in here.”
The Providores and Tapas Room was much quieter. Janie reminded me a couple of days later that she and I had tried the excellent Tapas Room and Wine Bar downstairs a few years ago, after visiting Brian Fraiman’s offices nearby. But the restaurant upstairs, The Providores, also excellent, is very much a fine dining experience.
The food really was fabulous. Unusually, I was able to download the dinner menu from whence we chose – naturally this might not be the live dinner menu once you read this piece:
But while the fusions had seemed a bit gratuitous at Modern Pantry Finsbury Square (we loved the Clerkenwell instantiation btw, as will become clear once I get back that far in Ogblog), at the Providores the up-market New Zealand fusions seemed natural, well-balanced and basically superb. Every dish was unusual and utterly delicious.
Superb wine list – all Kiwi wines, in keeping with the food, many good ones available by the glass, a boon for us these days, especially if we want to food match starters and mains.
My only slight beef with the place is that the tables are very small and a bit close together for such a fine restaurant. I think it would feel rather cramped and noisy on a busy night.
It was no problem for us on a relatively quiet Wednesday evening, as we were able to spread out and the place was quiet. So John and I managed to have a jolly good catch up and try (unsuccessfully I fear) to solve the world’s problems from the comfort of a good restaurant. Perhaps John thinks differently – i.e. he might think that we did solve the world’s problems. John might well chime in with a comment in any case – I hope he does.
When I get deep enough into Ogblog there will be some patches of my playing bridge over the years.
My schooldays were my heydays for bridge; it has been a very patchy bridge career since then.
I did have a regular/occasional game for many years with a somewhat fluid group, with Andrea Dean, Marianne Tudor-Craig and me forming the core. We’d play a few times a year and not get much worse each time we played. That ground to a halt, I’m pretty sure on 25 June 2009. I can be precise about the date because I’m pretty sure it was that last time we played, at Maz’s place, that I learnt of Michael Jackson’s death on the news while driving home.
Anyway, one thing led to another and I got invited to join Stephen’s impromptu, occasional Monday night gang. This seems to be even more occasional than my old troupe, or at least my invitations to play are! This gang all seem to play quite a lot of bridge and take it quite seriously, although I think they see these Monday evening gatherings as a relaxing, social game.
Unlike my old kitchen table crowd, the food and drink side is very much secondary, although there is always a bit of a high tea-type spread at half time. That set up works pretty well.
They are a very pleasant and interesting crowd, as I’d expect with Stephen’s friends. It’s a fluid group, but the core seems to comprise Stephen, Michael, Graham and Irene. The first time I played with them, 19 October 2015 at Irene’s place, all five of us were there; we played a rotating Chicago with one person sitting out each of five rounds. They like to play Standard American, but tolerated my old 1970’s school Acol for that first gig only.
So I mugged up on the Standard American stuff, but we then didn’t get a group together until March 2016, playing twice that month, 7th and 21st, both times at Michael’s house. Four of us minus Irene both times, if I remember correctly. I stuttered through the bidding that time, making only a few bloopers but playing the cards reasonably, if rustily.
Then another long interval, until a gig at Stephen’s place on 31 October 2016. No Graham and no Irene; Lindy (Stephen’s wife) making up the four. Despite not finding time to mug up again, I played a bit better that night.
The next gig was at Irene’s place on 16 January 2017, Graham wasn’t there. Just the odd blooper. Similarly at Stephen’s place the next week, 23 January, with Peter making up the four in the absence of Graham and Irene.
Unfortunately my proper blooper of the night came on the very last hand – total brain fade once I’d worked out how I could slam dunk the contract, messing it up prodigiously.
So that’s probably the end of my bridge career again for a good while, until Stephen’s memory of the trauma fades and/or until his group is desperate once again for someone to make up the numbers.
Michael, poor chap, had his motorbike stolen from the street near Stephen’s house, while we were playing on this most recent occasion. Edgy neighbourhood, Chelsea. I drove round the corner after collecting Dumbo to see (as I imagined it) Michael having his collar felt by the fuzz – until Michael explained what had happened.
The copper must have been on the beat on that street, as only two or three minutes had passed since we had said goodbye at Stephen’s door. Anyway, I was able to wait for Michael while he gave his statement and then give him a lift home.
We’ve been in Noddyland for more than five years now, would you believe, but this weekend was the very first time we have been visited by a pair from this charming species…
…but enough about the charming pair of blackbirds that turned up on Sunday morning, tweeting more vociferously than Trump. I’m getting ahead of myself.
As it happens, Saturday evening was also Caroline and Alan’s first visit to Noddyland. Let’s not talk about blame here for so many years passing without us getting together; at our age most of us are equally rubbish at keeping in touch.
Caroline and I have known each other since our youth; Janie met Caroline soon after Janie and I got together nearly 25 years ago. We’ve known Alan only since he and Caroline got together a mere 16-17 years ago. Yet strangely, in recent years, I have seen more of Alan (through cricket at Lord’s and slightly tangential business connections) than I have of Caroline. Janie had seen neither of them for years.
It was about time we put this matter right, so when Caroline got in touch a couple of months ago on matters unrelated to pleasant Saturday evenings, I responded by suggesting a pleasant Saturday evening in Noddyland instead.
So that’s what happened.
Janie pushed the boat out with:
mini open sandwiches based on Helga’s exceptional Irish smoked salmon from her local smokehouse in Kilcolman, West Cork – which we sampled with delight when we visited Helga a couple of years ago – click here . Subsequently, Helga has generously treated us to packages of same periodically – e.g. this Christmas. If you are reading this – thank you once again Helga – it was lovely to share some of your present with good friends;
additional nibbles of goose rillettes on black oat crackers, together with carrot sticks and tomatoes so we didn’t feel quite so indulgent;
Janie’s classic roast fillet of beef served with wasabi mayonnaise, roasted potato slices and salad;
apple strudel with cream and/or custard (most of us went for the latter).
Not ridiculously boozy, but we started with Prosecco (for three) and decent white wine (for me), followed by an Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon named cover drive (well we all like cricket) and then a rather special Argentinian Malbec once the Aussie wine had been lofted through the covers for six (glasses).
One running theme of the evening was young Alex, Caroline and Alan’s teenage son. Alex was enjoying an early experience of going out with his friends on a Saturday evening while his parents were out seeing theirs. There was a bit of parent/child message exchanging towards the end of the evening. Caroline and Alan won hands down – i.e. they steadfastly remained at our place until after Alex reported that he had got home safely.
Soon after that, we all realised how late it was, so off went Caroline and Alan. We all swore we wouldn’t leave it so long again next time.
The next morning we rose a bit later than usual – we knew that it would be futile to attempt tennis at our regular time as it was so cold and frosty. But we were treated to an especially magnificent dawn chorus, probably as a result of so many birds visiting that morning, including the new pair of blackbirds who were the bird equivalent of Simon and Garfunkle on tour, visiting Noddyland, perhaps only briefly.
All our regular visitors, including many parakeets, collared doves, blue jays, starlings and the woodpecker turned out to see the show, join in the chorus and eat from the feeders.
Before I was allowed my feed, we went off at lunchtime to the tennis courts where Janie continued teaching me a lesson on how to play slice and cut touch tennis properly. I worked hard at it and improved as the hour went on. That improvement doesn’t show from this picture, whereas the fact that it was still blooming cold does show:
The headline is the diary note; the rest is delightful detail.
Jamil and Souad very kindly and generously wanted to treat us to dinner at Zafferano on the Friday evening. It would have been hard to refuse such a kind offer.
They usually like to treat us to Lebanese food, but they love Zaffs and we had never all been there together. Indeed Janie and I hadn’t been to Zaffs for yonkers, so it seemed like an excellent idea for a change; it was.
The other three were all talked into a delightful veal cheek dish. I felt a bit “vealed out”, having spent much of the midweek eating the most wonderful leftovers from last Saturday’s Daisy special – click here. So I tried a delightful roast guinea fowl dish.
Jamil and Souad are always both delightful company. Jamil likes to pick my brain and debate matters of political and economic importance; gently but shrewdly. You need to keep your wits about you when debating with Jamil; he usually sends the odd curve ball into the discussion, not least a playful tendency to do the devil’s advocate thing unexpectedly and see what happens.
Souad is much quieter but you can tell that she takes everything in. When she does chip in to the discussion, her points are always incisive, decisive or both.
Jamil is a very keen tennis player (proudly so despite advancing years), so we chatted about modern and real tennis – mostly the former. He had seen the latter (at his club, the Harbour Club) but never played it.
Both Jamil and Souad seemed mighty impressed that Janie and I intended to play tennis (modern variety) the next morning at 9:00. It wasn’t an especially late night, but we’d certainly had plenty to eat and drink by the time we left Zafferano and agreed that we should all meet again quite soon.
But of course it was too cold for tennis the next morning. I say “of course”, but Janie and I couldn’t resist going down to the courts just in case; it was borderline temperature-wise but definitely just below freezing and therefore still like an ice rink on the courts.
Only one thing for it; emergency rations on the outdoor table tennis table. We always carry the equipment in our tennis bag for just such an emergency.
Janie usually wins at table tennis, having mis-spent more of her youth on that game than I did, But on this occasion, I was victorious three games to one. Perhaps the extra speed of reactions and cocked wrist needed for real tennis has had unintended benefits on the table variety for me.
Simon and I had intended to meet up before Christmas, but as December hove into view, we both felt that a get together might work better after the seasonal holiday, rather than before.
Simon suggested the Old Suffolk Punch in Hammersmith, which seemed a suitable enough venue to me, so that element was agreed and Simon said that he would book it.
What I didn’t realise, until the day itself, was that Simon had committed us to a very particular activity for the evening. Here is part of Simon’s message on the day confirming the details:
…cute online booking form that requests to know what the occasion is… it gives options to choose like: ‘family gathering’, ‘to watch the rugby’, ‘TGIF’, ‘just because’ – but I opted for ‘good old chinwag’. I guess they’ll be watching to make sure that’s what we do…
This had me worried for the rest of the day. I thought we were meeting up, “just because” and I had been looking forward that.
I tried to do some chin-wagging training at the gym that morning and indeed at the office that afternoon, but frankly I didn’t do very well at it during the day and wasn’t at all sure whether I would be up to the task that evening.
I did gently reproach Simon in my reply to his message:
I’m not sure you were authorised to make a decision on that scale, Simon, but I forgive you this once…
I then had an awkward journey to Hammersmith. Despite the tube announcers constantly telling me that there was a good service on the lines, it took 40 minutes for me to get the four stops from Notting Hill Gate to Hammersmith. As Simon said when I arrived, “thank goodness that was a good service”.
But there was far worse to come.
We got our food order in quickly. While we waited for our food, we made a start on the rather tasty bottle of Rioja we had chosen. Within a couple of minutes, Brexit was on the chinwag agenda; indeed before I had even taken off my coat Simon named a particularly venal Brexiteer; a recent Work and Pensions Minister who years ago had briefly been leader of the Tory party.
Simon didn’t merely say his trademark initials or “…Whatsit” (as the Daniel Blake character refers to him in the movie I, Daniel Blake. Yes, Simon uttered the full name. Without so much as a trigger warning.
On hearing THAT name (IDS, not I Daniel Blake), I immediately realised how extremely hot I felt in my coat and how much I wanted to wash my hands, especially before eating, having been on a crowded tube. So I rapidly took off my coat, made my excuses and dashed to the washroom.
By the time I returned, Simon had realised his mistake; indeed he thought he might have triggered a more profound reaction than mere hand washing.
But the truly extraordinary thing about our gathering was that, despite those desperate depths in the run up and start to the evening, in the end we had a most enjoyable time.
The food was very good, in a “good ingredients cooked quite simply, but well” sense. The bottle of Rioja did a grand job. The evening flew by and we weren’t chastised by the staff for inadequate levels of chin-wagging even once. Indeed it is quite possible that we were in fact chin-wagging rather well.
We haven’t yet been invited back to chinwag competitively for the Old Suffolk Punch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we got the call.
And I’d be even less surprised if we find a suitable opportunity in the not too distant future to meet up again.
I even had a stellar tube journey back from Hammersmith to Notting Hill Gate, at a near-record speed of 20 minutes or so door-to-door, without so much as a single announcer telling me that the service was good.
There was one small problem though; a tube strike. In the interests of practicality and sanity, I put my principled doubts about Uber to one side, down-loaded the app and organised transport through Uber. The transport only cost a little more than the concert tickets that way.
But we got there and I’m so glad we went.
Once we were at the Wigmore Hall, the music transported us to a happy place without any difficulty.
This was the first Radio 3 Lunchtime concert of the year at the Wigmore Hall. Sara Mohr-Pietsch came on the stage to explain how it works to the live audience and started her little spiel by saying, “hello and good afternoon to both of you”, seeming to address the remark to me and Daisy in the front row.
Perhaps she realised what an effort we in particular had made to get from W3 to W1 on a strike day. Seriously, the hall was pretty much full, so I suppose Sara meant to say “all of you”. Her spiel got better after that.
The audience doesn’t get to hear her radio introductions, so I struggled to work out exactly which piece was which and exactly when Richard Egarr’s short breaks were taking place, until I listened again again on iPlayer.
Which reminds me to tell you, if you get to this Ogblog article quickly enough, you don’t have to take our word for it how lovely this concert sounded.
Clearly, the Daisy Garden did not look like the above photo on the evening that DJ and Steph came to dinner. For a start, it gets dark around 16:00 in London early January. Secondly, Daisy (that’s Janie for the uninitiated) has invested in some fancy new garden furniture since the photo was taken – painted hard wood rescued from old houses in India, recycled as garden furniture, as it happens.
The idea for the dinner started to germinate back in November, when a few of us gathered for an informal Z/Yen/alumni get together – briefly described if you click here. Janie chatted with Steph, phone numbers (or WhatsApp accounts) were exchanged and the rest is history.
Janie has long wanted to try her hand at matchmaking, possibly because she and I were (initially inadvertently, I think) match-made by Kim, DJ’s sister, back in the day. “The day” was the late summer of 1992, which is approaching its 25 year anniversary, so I’m planning a fair bit of retro Ogblogging about that era as this year, 2017, unfolds.
But returning to the evening of 7 January. Possibly in a nod to our own early interactions, Janie cooked one of her signature dishes as the centrepiece of the meal; shin of veal in a clay pot. This dish is quite similar to the ossobuco (traditional style – none of that tomato-laden sauce) Janie cooked the very first time I went to her place for a meal.
But the shin of veal was merely the centrepiece:
preceded by goose rillette and vegetable nibbles;
accompanied by rice and sprouting broccoli;
followed by a platter of fresh fruits and/or chocolates…
…then followed by cheeses.
Prosecco (for three)/decent white wine (for me);
Some fine gran reserva Riojas, which (as it happens) DJ gave me for my birthday and I had been saving for a suitable occasion with suitable food;
A bottle of vintage port for the cheese, to more or less guarantee “payback” to some extent in the overindulgence department.
Daisy and I were grateful for a quiet day the next day and an extra day off Monday before returning to the day jobs.
So why a photograph of the garden to head up this piece? Well, one of the most memorable characteristics of the evening (putting aside what good company everyone was, what a superb meal it was and how much we all enjoyed ourselves) was the mildness of the evening. So much so, that we were able to take our drinks and nibbles at the start of the evening in the garden, under the glow of the patio heater, which felt quite magical in January.
Stop press! Update!
Daisy has just seen this Ogblog posting and kindly taken a picture of the magical garden tonight, so readers might see what it looked like (except without the wine, nibbles and the four of us enjoying the evening, of course).
A little knowledge/research can be a dangerous thing, when exploring a field in which you lack expertise. I realise that, in our post-truth, post-expert society, that statement is controversial, but here is a cautionary tale to prove my point.
Many months ago, when I read in the Wigmore Hall brochure that Vijay Iyer was to be the next artist to hold the Jazz residency at the venue, I read his mini CV in the brochure and Googled him. I thought; “looks diverse and interesting; let’s book his first Wigmore Hall concert and see if we like it”.
What I didn’t do was look more closely at the spec. for that first concert and think about whether that particular concert would be to our taste.
I called Janie, wondering why she hadn’t even read the Whatsapp message I sent her about this evening’s arrangements. She was clearly in a stressy mood. “I’m so frustrated with my morning. I can’t get hold of anybody. I have wasted so much time. I’m starting to really stress about getting to the flat on time for the concert this evening…”
There was no point prolonging such a call.
By the time Janie was sufficiently unstressy to call me back to try and finalise the arrangements, I was all stressy because, as I said to her, “I need to wrap up warm and leave the house in five minutes to get to the doctors’ surgery on time for my jabs”.
“You’re not having jabs,” said Janie, “you are having one jab. Jab, singular. No-one but no-one makes as much fuss about having one jab as you do.”
Well, actually, that’s not what the new practice Nurse, Liz, said to me a few minutes later.
I apologised to Nurse Liz on arrival for being a big baby and she said, “just don’t look at me”, then distracted me momentarily while she did the job. “That was easy enough”, said Liz.
I explained to Liz that my mother had an anecdote about me, which she used to tell all-too regularly. When I was very small, on one occasion the doctor and my parents had to chase me around the house ahead of one of my jabs, only for one of my parents (probably mum) to pin me down under the dining room table, allowing the doctor to get down on her hands and knees to vaccinate me right there.
“The NHS was a truly community, personalised service back then, eh?” I said. Nurse Liz laughed and said that she’s had to chase a fair few people around her surgery room in her time too.
In the end Janie got to the flat in good time and I had almost calmed down from the ordeal of my jabs…sorry, I mean jab.
We got to the Wigmore Hall in good time. Despite the stresses of the day, neither of us wanted a glass of wine before the concert – we both had juice. Surely the music would be our de-stressing therapy.
We sat in our seats, where an enormous, beaten-up looking electronic keyboard instrument/speaker was blocking our view of the Wigmore Hall’s exquisite Steinway. Janie tackled a poor unsuspecting young steward on this point, only to be rebutted.
Then Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith emerged. Vijay switched on his electronic instrument, which made a loud hum which reminded me of my father’s old Grundig TK35 reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I loved dearly (the machine, not the hum). I always attributed that hum to the thermionic valves within the machine.
I guess the pairing of Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith is not entirely “free jazz”, more like BOGOF – “buy one get one free” jazz.
Anyway, that noise was not going to calm us down and make us feel relaxed for the weekend.
Worse – unlike our experience at the Festival Hall nearly 10 years ago, tonight’s concert was primarily a one piece wonder (80 minutes or so) and we were sitting front row central, so the type of early escape we had managed from the Festival Hall in 2007 was out of the question without being rude and disturbing to other punters.
Neither of us were in the best of moods when we left after two encores and some unintelligible speechifying, which put a proverbial cherry on top of our concert experience.
We consoled ourselves with some delicious Persian food from Mohsen and some more soothing music back home as we ate.
I broke it gently to Janie that there were tube strikes planned for Monday, so we would need carefully to plan our trip to the lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall that day.
“Who are we seeing Monday lunchtime?”, asked Janie.
“A solo recital,” I said, “I believe it is the trumpeter from this evening.”
“YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN”, hollered Janie.
That was a poor choice of joke for that moment. Actually we’re seeing a harpsichord recital, which should be lovely.
We know a lot more about early music; we didn’t need research or third party expertise to choose that one.