This was Lisa Opie’s idea…and a jolly good idea it was too.
Several of her friends and clients had recommended this pop up restaurant in West Ealing, currently popping up just once a month at The Orchard Cafe, serving the sort of haute cuisine tasting menu food you’d normally expect to find in a far more sprauncy location than the regenerated former Green Man Estate.
First up was a tipple with mystery snacks – the snacks comprising straw-smoked potatoes, a chicken parfait tart and a cauliflower soup – all good but the latter was outstanding.
The tipple, it seems, came whether you went for wine matching or not. We did opt for wine matching with the food. The tipple was a cocktail shot of flavoured liquor (brandy we think) that tasted mostly of lemongrass – probably to lull us into a false sense of healthiness – not least because it was served in a sort of test tube thing. Janie said it looked like a urine sample.
I’m not selling the whole experience very well, am I? Because actually every aspect of the meal including the way it looked and was served was very elegant and thoughtful.
Perhaps best I let pictures tell most of the story – with thanks to Janie, Lisa and Toni, all of whom provided some pictures. All three of them went a bit berserk with their smart phones once the courses and wines started to flow:
The food was superb, the service delightful and the wine matches well chosen and very generously sized doses…
…perhaps a little too much so for part-timers like me. After Janie and I had been home for about five minutes, Janie rather cruelly snapped me taking a short nap on the bed before completing all of my pre-slumber procedures…
…but after a ten minute snooze I got up and sorted myself out properly. Someone else, who shall remain nameless, didn’t brush her teeth and come to bed properly until about 4:00 am…
…and still I couldn’t beat her on the tennis court the next morning.
We had a great evening and really look forward to trying The Phantom Pig again. We’d highly recommend it; the young and innovative Phantom Pig team are top notch and deserve to do really well.
After dinner, back to Noddyland for a baritone ukulele recital and some more chat before bedtime.
We also had a rare opportunity to chat some more in the morning before John and Mandy set off on their way. It had been a really enjoyable get together – let’s hope we can do something along these lines again quite soon.
…but this was a day/night test match, so instead I arranged to have a music lesson with Ian Pittaway in Stourbridge. It bucketed down with rain on the way to Stourbridge, which made me wonder whether Edgbaston would be fit for cricket by 14:00, but I needn’t have worried. Day/Night One of the match turned out to be a very sunny although slightly chilly affair.
Daisy and I walked to the ground in dry, improving weather. Security was tight but well organised this year, so we joined the others at about 13:40. The others were Charley The Gent Malloy, The Boy Malloy, Nigel “Father Barry” White and Harsha Goble.
Mrs Malloy had made a splendid picnic for us all, consisting mostly of an extremely plentiful supply of big bap sandwiches. Chas went into major-domo mode, insisting that we tuck in at regular intervals, saying:
“I cannot report back to Dot that any of these sandwiches remained uneaten.”
The weather forecast for Day Two was not so special – indeed it was obvious that the weather would close in sometime between 19:00 and 20:00 and there would then be no further play that day.
Daisy, Nigel and I went over to Chas and Nick’s hotel on that Day two morning, hatching a plan that we should eat relatively light at the ground that day with a view to eating a good meal together in Colbeh to make up for the session of cricket that we looked likely to lose. If the weather by chance relented, we could always stay at the ground and eat from the selection of increasingly interesting and decent food outlets at Edgbaston these days.
Harsha had, unfortunately, needed to return to London for a funeral on the Friday, but was expecting to arrive back at Edgbaston around 19:00.
The rain arrived as expected around 19:30. We had redirected Harsha towards the “dining at Colbeh rather than watching the rain come down” plan.
In truth, it was great to have the opportunity to have a meal together and “chew the fat” after the cricket – this aspect (which would normally be absent for a day/night match) is the biggest down side to such match timing…the colder evenings being less of an issue, although…
…Day Three did turn out to be a chilly day.
Daisy and I walked to the ground all three days; Day Three being the most pleasant walking conditions of the three – sunny but a tad cooler than Day One.
We saw an interesting sight on the way to the ground:
For some reason, perhaps it was finding herself in a strange town, perhaps because she recently discovered that one of her preferred suburban Persians, Boof, has a food hygiene rating of merely 1, she went into “are you sure” mode, trying to check Birmingham hygiene ratings for herself and all sorts. She discovered that Johnny Wongs, a few doors down from Colbeh, has a hygiene rating of 0, which didn’t add to the allure of a Hagley Road eatery.
In the end, my persuasion (that Colbeh really is a top quality restaurant) and Daisy’s hunger held sway, so off we went. Daisy was not disappointed – in fact she loved the meal, as did I.
If anything, I thought the place had improved since last year. Chatting with proprietor Arsalan you could understand why; fanatical devotion to getting the right ingredients and improving the menu over the year. Daisy enjoyed looking through Arsalan’s Persian cookbooks too.
Daisy and I shared the platter of mixed grills, which were outstanding, along with some mast-o-musir and salad shirazi. A lovely Aussie shiraz wine to wash it down, coincidentally with a cricket ball as its label image – very apt.
I said in my Ogblog last year that I would add a TripAdvisor review when I got home. As it turned out, it was impossible to do so last year as the place wasn’t listed on TripAdvisor yet – I tried two or three times over the following weeks then gave up/forgot about it.
on Tuesday 8th August, about half way through the evening, I went from ‘absolutely fine’ to ‘really not fine at all’ and I had to go to bed with no story. And today I’m properly better after the nastiest bout of ‘flu I’ve had in many a long year. This was proper delirious flu – unable to even think of getting out of bed… So there were many reasons why 8th August was not the right night for us to meet!
Having been brought up to think of others before myself in times of crisis, I responded with all the altruistic empathy my soul could muster:
OMG I might have caught the lurgy from you and then where would I have been?…I mean, poor old you, that must have been awful for you, my first and only thought is for your welfare.
Simon enjoyed the hand cured smoked salmon starter, while I tried the crispy squid. Simon went for the Bavette steak while I went for the Cod with fregula…
…what do you mean, you don’t know what fregula is? Surely everyone knows what fregula is!
For desert, we were persuaded to try the signature peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel tart, which we cut in half to share, along with a plate of presumably also-signature bitter chocolate and manuka honey truffles. While these desserts sound especially yummy by description, they were, in fact, incredibly yummy.
Janie was very excited a few weeks ago when her friend, Toni Friend, made Janie a Friend of the Chelsea Physic Garden for her birthday. A very generous and friendly gesture. This enables Janie to book the delightful cafe/restaurant in the garden for members-only dinner evenings during the summer weeks.
Janie arranged for us to celebrate birthdays with John and Mandy White later in August. But a few days later, out of the blue, Janie texted me to say that there was also a table for two free on 8 August and she had grabbed it. Was I available?
As it happens, I had arranged to meet Simon Jacobs that evening, but then the realisation began to dawn on me that 8 August was actually a rather auspicious date. Checking back through the notes I had made ahead of doing some anniversary Ogblogging, I realised with horror that 8 August was the 25th anniversary of the day Janie and I first met.
I messaged Simon:
I have goofed bigly (as the POTAS might put it if he could ever admit to a mistake). Can we possibly move our evening meet up…
Naturally/kindly Simon said yes.
Janie found the whole thing rather amusing when I told her. She has no head for dates, anniversaries and that sort of thing, so had no idea that the date was significant – only that there was a table available and so was she. But my memory lapse would have taken some explaining once that 25th anniversary of meeting piece went up on Ogblog had I not put matters right.
So Janie and I didn’t particularly want to stroll the garden on this occasion, although no doubt we shall with John and Mandy when they join us later in August. But strolling the gardens before, during and after the meal is very much part of the Chelsea Physic Garden deal.
The set starter (which can just about be seen in the top photo) was prosciutto with fontina cheese, a sort-of celeriac slaw plus a beetroot and chickpea thingamebob.
Plenty of choice for the mains, but we both went for the duck confit.
I was pretty full by this stage, but Janie fancied some cheese and so we agreed to get a plate of cheese and one desert – a summer pudding – to share:
The cheeses were Neal’s Yard – always a good sign – and the summer pudding was home made and delicious, as indeed were all of the dishes.
The waiting staff are all charming and helpful without being overly-attentive or unctuous. The other dinners seemed mainly to be of the Old English Chelsea set (see above photo); this might be another of the very few places (along with Lord’s and the Wigmore Hall) where I might still be regarded as a young man.
We are already really looking forward to our next meal at the Physic Garden. This evening was a really delightful way to end an enjoyable day and to celebrate such a big anniversary.
Janie and I arranged a short trip to Sussex, primarily to visit cousin Sidney & Joan Pizan, but cunningly co-ordinated with Janie’s desire to see the Charleston Farmhouse and my desire to see Middlesex’s only game at Sussex-by-the-sea this season; a Friday evening T20 fixture.
The cricket and some other interesting touring will be written up in Part Two of this piece.
So, we stopped off at Charleston, a short detour on the way to Brighton. The sun shone that afternoon, which was good news for the visit as the place comprises beautiful gardens as well as the fascinating house.
The house was the home of Vanessa Bell and her entourage and has been restored/preserved in its Bloomsbury artists form. In the modern parlance, the whole house is a kind of installation art work, with many of the walls, furnishings, artefacts etc. having been decorated by one of the many artists who lived or hung out at the house over the years.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but Janie did buy a book with lots of pictures (as well as words), so if you ask her nicely she can show you pictures of the interiors.
We took lots of pictures in the lovely gardens – see Flickr album. A few of the best of them follow.
It is always a pleasure to see Sidney and Joan. The Jetty seemed to be a good choice of restaurant for this gathering; interesting dishes aplenty but not overly fussy food. Sparing Sidney the cooking job (which was his original plan) allowed the four of us to concentrate on catching up on each other’s news and chatting about all sorts.
Sidney and Joan cabbed it back to Hove while Janie and I chose to walk off a bit of our dinner. It had been a really pleasant evening, which had passed all too quickly.
This was Lisa’s idea – she spotted that Restaurant Oklava was doing a couple of special tasting menu evenings and thought that sounded like such a good idea that she would book first, find companions later.
When Lisa suggested the idea a couple of week’s earlier, Janie said yes straight away without checking her diary – whereas I was sure that there was something about that date. When we did check, oh joy, that “something” was the fact that we had booked the day off, either to recover from or as the reserve day for The Women’s Cricket World Cup Final.
Janie and I were still full of the cup on the Monday evening, until we got into the meal, at which point we were soon getting full with the meal. Modern Turkish food – but this is Turkish as we’d never tasted it before; really subtle flavours and fascinating combinations.
Each dish was delicious, with the octopus and the lamb in particular being the standout dishes for both me and Janie; perhaps indeed all of us. We enjoyed the wine matching idea, which gave us a chance to try several Turkish wines at a modest additional price.
Chef Selin Kiazim must have been exhausted at the end of the evening – we had a late booking, but she didn’t show it…
…she even signed the back of Janie’s menu as a keepsake to insert in the excellent Oklava book, which Toni had kindly given to Janie a few week’s earlier…
…and even kindly posed with us for a picture or two before we left:
I’d been an honorary girl for the evening. This restaurant gathering, the day after The Women’s World Cup Final (have I mentioned that Janie and I went to that?), brought a very successful girlie long weekend to a most enjoyable conclusion.
It occurred to me as Janie and I were driving back to London from Southport, on the Monday, that I hadn’t yet heard from John about our arrangements for the next day. But by the time we got home and I got round to checking my e-mails, John had written:
I have gone traditional and local – The Bleeding Heart. I don’t know if you have eaten there before but it has become one of my favourites since moving to the area. We can have a drink in the Mitre beforehand also one of my favourite pubs in the locality; a real proper boozer although I don’t think you could call it a local unless you include all the local people who work here but reside elsewhere.
Anyway it’s booked for 7. Why don’t you pop round to my new gaff when you are ready. I can give you a quick tour of the offices now they are fully furnished and occupied, then head for a pint before determining whether to gamble on the wicket gate being open to Bleeding Heart Yard.
John had obviously forgotten that I used to work for Binder Hamlyn in St Bride Street and that The Bleeding Heart had been the staff canteen (for special occasions) back then…and indeed the Mitre was one of our regular haunts too in the Binders days.
So we implemented John’s plan to the full – I managed to get to the BACTA offices in Ely Place around 18:15. The guided tour of the offices didn’t take long.
Then we retired to one of the little snug bars at Ye Olde Mitre, finding a good corner table for ye olde gits to swap stories over a drink. John was very pleased to learn of our meeting with Frank Dillon in Southport. I showed John the pictures (the write up was not yet writ). We also discussed the election and plenty else besides, before moving on through the wicket gate to Bleeding Heart Yard.
We were in the main Bleeding Heart restaurant that evening. John started with a raviolo of ricotta cheese, herbs, pine nuts and stuff, I started with a smoked salmon and Dorset crab thingie. I then went on to try the calves liver, while John opted for the roast fillet of Scottish beef with slow braised cheeks. As oft we do, we swapped samples of each other’s dishes before tucking in. All the dishes were predictably excellent, as was the service.
We both enjoyed a dry-but-fruity German Riesling with our starters, with John moving on to a Malbec and me moving on to a Barbera D’Alba with the main.
John went for the cheese afterwards, while I chose a strawberry parfait served with the recommended Tokay.
It was a super evening, albeit an indulgent one. I would have slept very well on the back of all that indulgence, indeed I did so until the sounds of sirens and helicopters (attending to the Grenfell Tower Block tragedy) woke me up in the early hours of Wednesday, making reality and disparity bite.
Perhaps this illustrates the popularity of Rich “The Rock” Davis, who was visiting from Canada for the first time in a while and around whom the event was planned. Organised by Johnny Eltham – who else? – based on an original idea by David Wellbrook.
Or perhaps the high turnout was simply relief that, for once, our guest of honour visiting from the great dominions was not Sir Nigel Godfrey.
The plan was…the usual. 7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter, 8.30pm Rajasthan curry shop. I was fashionably late again this time, arriving just before 8.00, with no real excuse other than getting bogged down in whatever forgettable thing I was doing late afternoon.
Another glorious weather evening so everyone was drinking outside the Walrus and Carpenter. I got a chance to chat with Rich on arrival; also Paul Driscoll and Perry Harley. The conversation soon got to Brexit and how Britain is increasingly starting to resemble Weimar Germany. Soon after that I was tapped up for the drinks float.
The drinks float is a great idea. It discourages late arrival – the price is fixed – £20, not ℛℳ500,000,000 in case you were wondering – and if those arriving late, like me, don’t drink their portion, the remainder of the drinks float becomes a bodmin-avoiding contribution towards the dinner. You can tell that some fine economic brains have got to work on this one over the years.
Soon enough, Johnny Eltham commandeered two or three of us to form an advanced party to seize vital territory in Rajasthan. This we were able to secure without bloodshed or unpleasantness. In fact, the Rajasthanis greeted Johnny like an old friend and welcomed us to the downstairs area, which to all intents and purposes became our private room for the rest of the evening.
By my reckoning fifteen of us sat down for dinner; Chris Grant, David Wellbrook, Ben Clarkson, Martin Cook, Simon Ryan, David French, John Eltham, Ollie Goodwin, Paul Driscoll, Rich “The Rock” Davis, Paul Spence, Nigel Boatswain, Perry Harley, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth…and me.
If you are struggling to imagine what this gaggle might look and sound like, struggle no more. David Wellbrook shot a nifty ninety second vid while no-one was looking and posted it on Facebook – it is embedded and viewable below:
I had no idea that I wave my arms around quite as much as that. It’s a miracle that I don’t send food and drink flying.
As fortune would have it, I was sitting near Steve Butterworth, Perry Harley, Paul Spence and David French – all of whom are people I either haven’t seen in ages or didn’t get to speak with properly on previous occasions. It was really good to catch up with them properly after all this time. I had a brief conversation with Paul Spence about nuclear power, which led to this recollection and Ogblog post about Ringroad revue – click here.
Returning briefly to earlier in the evening…although I was late, I was not the last to arrive. Chris Grant and Nigel Boatswain turned up after me. Soon after their arrival, Johnny Eltham came up to me and said, “have you seen what Nigel is wearing? That jacket…those trousers…they look like a pyjama suit…you’ve got to write about it on your blog”.
I explained to Johnny that I don’t notice what anyone is wearing, so any sartorial references on the Ogblog would, to the regular reader, e.g. Janie, quite obviously not be mine.
“Oh that’s easy”, said Johnny, “it was David Wellbrook who spotted it and asked me to tap you up”.
“Ah yes,” I said, “as long as I make that point, all will be explained. I’ll need to take a photo of the outfit with my iPhone, though, it almost defies description.”
As the evening wore on, I was surreptitiously asked a couple of times when I was going to take the photo. Johnny even offered to provide cover, pretending that I was taking a group photo while in fact taking a photo of just Nigel and his pyjama suit.
I quietly suggested to Johnny that Nigel, as an Apple bigwig, would probably have the savvy to know what sort of photo was being taken with an iPhone (other brands of smart phone with camera are available) and in any case I would only blog a photo with Nigel’s explicit consent; I certainly don’t want the full weight of Apple’s legal department on my case.
“Just leave it with me”, I said.
So late in the evening, I told Nigel he had won a sartorial award for the evening and asked if I could take a photo for Ogblog. He giggled and said yes.
A few minutes later, as Nigel and I parted company at South Kensington tube, I thanked him once again for the photo and assured him that he would enjoy the blog piece. “Oh gawd, what have I done?” was Nigel’s reply.