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.
In early May I received an e-mail from John White, out of the blue:
I have been invited to the Oval on 19th July and have been asked if I would like to bring a friend! It could only be you Ian. Are you free? We will be the guest of WE Communications and we get to go in the members area.
My first thought was that this must be the test match, but when I looked up the date I discovered that it was an evening domestic T20 match between Surrey and Essex.
John’s e-mail was not terribly informative and (after accepting the invitation with relish) I didn’t give the event a great deal of thought again until it was imminent.
As it happens, on the day, I was working from home, interrupted only by a marathon session of tennis mid morning at Lord’s.
On reflection, I should have pipped John an e-mail about the extent to which this might be formal entertaining, mode of dress, etc., but instead I picked up Marcus’s e-mail, Googled WE Communications and decided for myself that this must be corporate entertaining of some scale and that I’d better turn up suited and booted. I even put my little case of business cards in my jacket pocket.
As it turned out, the evening was in fact a very informal set up with Marcus (who is a Surrey member), his colleague Josh (who is in fact a fellow MCC yellow-carder), me and John. All the others were in “dress-down, evening out” attire.
It was a very enjoyable evening. Really good company; people who know and enjoy their cricket while at the same time keeping the conversation suitably varied and interesting on many topics.
I really liked that feeling of neutrality at the match. I was watching cricket, simply hoping to see a good match, without any emotional equity in the result. It was strangely refreshing. In particular I think the neutrality worked for me because I was in good company.
After the game, although John was demob happy, he was keen to start his long journey home and I was keen to get home quite early as I had a long working day ahead the next day.
The evening was great fun; I’m sure we’ll do something like that again next season – perhaps at Lord’s, so that Marcus can experience that slightly oblivious feeling of cricket watching neutrality.
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.
I was about to send John White a thank you e-mail this morning, when I realised that, as John is an Ogblog subscriber, I could thank him here and now while writing the blog piece about our meal, rather than e-mailing him first and then cutting & pasting or rewriting.
Thank you, John, it was a tremendous evening.
There, I have literally saved myself seconds…
…(the author pauses for a minute or two, admiring his words, cunning and outstanding efficiency).
My thank you message to John would also have included these follow up points from our conversation:
you are quite right that the Innsbruck song should have guttural ichs and dichs, I listened to several versions when I got home and they all have flem aplenty – perhaps it’s because Heinrich Isaac was Flemish. Anyway, I have added a version for you to hear, towards the end of that Tallis Scholars concert blog piece – click here;
as we suspected, my CD version of I Love Music by the O’Jays is not the extended, nearly 7 minute long version, it is about half that length. The extended version can be found easily enough on line and I enjoyed listening to it.
But this must be confusing for anyone else reading this piece, so let me go sequential again.
We didn’t make it to a wine bar for a pre-dinner drink (we only occasionally manage those these days), this time because John was too busy hoity-toitying at the House of Commons until early evening.
Chor Bizarre was certainly a good choice for John – he loves his Indian food and this is absolutely top notch, British-style Indian. I started with Purani Dilli Ki Papri Chaat, a most amazing version of the type of snack lunch I ate so often in Drummond Street back in the day. John went for Amritsari Machhi, spicy fried fish pieces. We both tried each other’s starters, applauding both choices.
I went for a mild, yoghurty Kashmiri dish, Lamb Yakhni, while John went full tilt for a spicy Tamil Nadu style dish, Chicken Chettinad. Again we tried each other’s mains, pleased with our personal choices while recognising the quality of the whole meal. Rice, naan, cucumber raita…all excellent.
At one point, as we tucked into our delicious main courses, John asked if he could photograph me, as the gentleman he was with at the Palace of Westminster (I think John said it was his Chairman) didn’t believe that John has a friend.
Now I can understand the notion of, “I don’t believe you are going to meet a friend for dinner, I think you are merely making an excuse to get home rather than have another drink with me.” That’s fair.
But, “I don’t believe that you have a friend” is a very harsh suggestion indeed.
At one point John suggested that I had probably ruined his family life by choosing such a superb Indian restaurant; his family tradition of a takeaway curry from the local curry house in Saffron Walden will now seem utterly inadequate.
John even toyed with the idea of taking away from Chor Bizarre for his family, but that merely enabled the recycling of, “the wine will be flat and the curry gone cold” line.
“You’ve ruined my family life by choosing such a good restaurant” could be a friendship-ending remark of course, so perhaps the Westminster gentleman had a point about John and friendships.
Mind you, earlier I made my own potentially-friendship-ending suggestion to John; namely that his question, “what have you been up to lately?” is no longer appropriate in my case. He simply needs to read Ogblog regularly to find out.
Indeed, we really don’t need to make conversation any more at all. We could be like many of the other people we see in restaurants these days – just studying our smart phones individually while we eat.
Anyway, all good things must come to an end, so we wandered back to Bond Street together, from whence we went our separate ways.
En route to the tube, I set John a quiz, the answer to which is “Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel”. A huge accolade to the first Ogblog reader (John White need not apply) who comments in with what the question must have been.
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.
We had so much fun last time John and Mandy came over with John’s cajón, we thought we must do it again this time. Between-times, I procured (at enormous expense) a tambourine and a pair of maracas, which I thought might work better than the spoons and ashtray percussion the girls provided last time.
I also had an exchange of correspondence with John, asking him to make some song choices for me to prepare.
Any Leonard. Ruby Tuesday by Melanie. Going to a go go by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…
I especially liked that final idea. Very easy chords for me, too. Ruby Tuesday’s a bit slow for percussion, as is most Leonard (Cohen, John means). For some reason, I thought we might be able to speed up Sisters Of Mercy with its waltz rhythm. I also recalled that John knows all the words to Suzanne, so mugged up on that one too.
I prepared a few others, not least Give Peace a Chance, which Janie and I had seen at the Revolution Exhibition the previous week and which I had twigged was simple and very percussive. That worked very well.
As it turned out, Janie decided after a couple of the slower ones, to put on the 60s Tropical/Latin/Jazz set from the party for us to accompany, so for a while I had to try to work out keys, chords, words and rhythms without preparation and at speed. I didn’t do well at that, but it didn’t really matter; those lively tunes certainly suited the percussion instruments and at times I simply used Benjy the Baritone Ukulele as a percussion instrument myself.
Soon we realised that this music making was quite a workout; indeed John and Mandy jokingly complained that they were all dressed up for the evening but now wanted to shower and change.
But they didn’t do that; instead we all went off in John’s motor to Kensington, towards Babylon at the Roof Gardens. Bit risky booking that place in mid September, as a great deal of the charm was the idea of pre dinner drinks and post dinner digestifs on the balcony/terrace overlooking that beautiful garden. But we needn’t have worried, because the autumn weather smiled on us wonderfully that night.
Strangely, despite the gloriously mild evening and the fairly heaving place, not so many people chose to use the balcony/terrace, so we were able to chat and enjoy the atmosphere and the stunning view in relative peace. The restaurant itself was quite noisy. The food was good without being in any way exceptional. The staff were friendly and attentive; much better than most such gastrodome-type places.
We didn’t stay on too late; John and Mandy needed to get back to Saffron Walden, otherwise we might have all tried the club. But I’m pretty sure that club wouldn’t have been our scene. Bring back the old Town and Country.
In short, we had a great time – what else is there to say? We always enjoy spending time with John and Mandy; we’re already looking forward to doing so again.
John was able to get away from his desk in good time, so he popped round to the flat first. I showed him my baroq-ulele (he had previously only met Benjy the Baritone Uke) and I demonstrated the sweet, quiet quality of the mock-baroque instrument.
Then we went to the Uxbridge Arms for a quick drink on the way to Portland Road. I find it hard to believe that John and I had never had a drink in there before, but it is possible. We rarely meet around my way.
Then on to Six Portland Road, where the food and the wine was wonderful. I felt a bit fishy, so I started with a scallop & pancetta starter and went on to a brill dish with a crab what-have-you. John also felt mainly fishy, but he tried a ham hock terrine followed by a cod dish, his main being lighter than mine.
Great food. Interesting wine list too, with helpful staff to navigate us through the list.
It was John’s turn to pick up the tab. Pricey for a local, but then the locale is Holland Park. Certainly much better value than the City eateries.
Meanwhile John and I of course gave Brexit and Corbyn a good airing, with a fair bit of spleen to vent on both of our parts of course. It’s been that sort of month. At least we had both got past the “total sense of humour failure stage” which made discussing the subjects bearable.
In truth it is always good to chat stuff through with John and I hope we’ll be able to get a four-way meal and chat together with Janie and Maddie very soon.
Janie and I arranged to see John and Mandy in their home town of Saffron Walden. They were keen to show off their new Saffron Hall. Luckily, we were able to find a suitable Sunday for all of us, with an appealing afternoon concert scheduled that day.
Janie and I played tennis in the morning at 9:00; an hour earlier than our usual Sunday slot. I was hoping to get away at 12:00/12:15, which didn’t seem too ambitious in those circumstances. Anyway, we set off just after 12:30 hoping the traffic wouldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t.
We checked in to The Cross Keys, where I had booked a luxury room. We parked Dumbo a bit awkwardly on arrival, as a large group of cyclists/diners had taken up one of the few proper parking spaces. When John & Mandy arrived, I managed to persuade one of the group to help me by moving the bikes a little so I could park properly, which she kindly did.
We were warned on arrival that Alice Coote, the intended soloist singer, was ill, so had kindly been replaced at short notice by Ruby Hughes. I think we have heard Alice Coote at the Wigmore Hall more than once; her CV is hugely impressive and her voice superb.
I looked at the addendum piece of paper (see above), half expecting it to say that Ruby Hughes is one of the better singers in the lower sixth, who has almost managed to get through Dido’s Lament without pausing for breath or singing too many wrong notes…
…but actually Ruby Hughes also has a most impressive CV and her voice was also superb. There was a small change to the programme, so we got the pieces shown on the scanned piece of paper above; similar to the original programme really.
It was a bit of a Wigmore Hall outreach gig, as Mahan Esfahani played the harpsichord in the Bach Keyboard Concerto (probably our highlight) and directed the Britten Phaedra (probably our lowlight). Janie and I are seeing one of Esfahani’s recitals at The Wig next month.
We also got two encores:
an orchestral version of a Bartok Romanian Dance
a version of a Chinese Fishing Song, orchestrated by someone who works in the Britten Sinfonia office, apparently.
The Britten Sinfonia had just returned from touring China. Slightly ironic, as John and Mandy were hoping to hear from Yining (their informal protectee) who is currently in Hong Kong trying to get back to Europe from China.
After the concert, we went on to The Tickell Arms for a really pleasant early dinner. Really good food and an interesting Languedoc-based wine list. A great opportunity to have a proper catch up and chat. Highlights were a pea and rocket soup and a superb roast pork dish. Mandy started with scallops and had room for some cheese as well; good for her. John was supposed to be on an alcohol holiday but the smell of the beer in The Tickell soon tempted him to break his fast.
After dinner, we showed John and Mandy our super room at the Cross Keys, then parted company reasonably early (perhaps 21:00 or so). I played Benjy the baritone ukulele briefly and then put on some 60s music, at which point Janie and I both fell asleep. I woke up at gone midnight to realise, to my horror, that the rather loud music was still playing. Just as well that luxury room of ours is quite isolated from the other rooms.
Monday morning, we had a superb breakfast at the Cross Keys and then, following John and Mandy’s advice, took a stroll around the stunning Bridge End Garden to walk off our breakfast. We even succeeded in entering and escaping the maze. What a pair of troopers. We won’t mention that the maze isn’t at all difficult, nor that we had to ask a couple of gardeners the way to find the maze in the first place. I admitted to one of those gardeners that needing directions to the maze is not an ideal qualification for a budding maze explorer. He replied, with a smile that “where is the maze?” is the most frequently asked question in the garden.
Enough excitement for one day – we headed back to London and spent the rest of the day picking up some items we need and sorting out some things that only seem to get sorted when you have a day off.
The reason for Pady’s visit was most unfortunate (the sudden death and funeral of a friend of hers), but the timing proved to be fortunate for us, as the trip made her available to meet us in London on 11 April.
Pady arranged to meet us at The Wiggy after the concert. She arrived a little flustered about 30 minutes after the concert ended. But hanging around at the Wigmore Hall is hardly a hardship for me and Janie (Daisy). It is one of our favourite places. In my case, it is now one of only two places in the world (the Lord’s pavilion being the other) where people still address me as “young man”.
It was lovely to see Pady again. Janie hadn’t met her before, but they hit it off straight away, as I sensed they would.
It was a sunny early afternoon when Janie and I had arrived at The Wiggy but it was raining quite heavily when the concert ended. By the time Pady arrived, the rain had subsided but still looked a bit threatening, so we decided to retire to the new Ivy Cafe in Marylebone Lane for some tea. A very suitable venue; quiet in the afternoon and geared up for dining or snacking.
Pady had checked in to a nearby hotel for the London leg of her journey, so we resolved to find a suitable restaurant nearby. Strangely, Pady doesn’t get to try Lebanese food in Boston. As she is a vegetarian, we thought the major mezzes followed by lesser mains tradition would work well.
John was able to join us at the Ivy around 16:30, by which time I was on to my second little pot of jasmine tea and we other three had already “done scones”. Getting to know you chat then switched to catching up chat.
Daisy and I did some thorough research and latched on to a restaurant named Levant – very nearby, as a good contender and one we hadn’t tried before. The promise of nightly live entertainment didn’t please us, but the idea of the entertainment starting no earlier than 20:30 did, as we were proposing to eat early. In any case, we could always fall back on Maroush if we didn’t like the look/smell of Levant.
As it turned out, we did like the look and smell of Levant. We very much enjoyed our meal and chat there. Very quiet at 17:30/18:00 when we arrived. Staff very pleasant. The mezzes were excellent. The grills less so, but still did their job. John drank beer; Lebanese and Moroccan varieties, while the rest of us showed no mercy to a tasty bottle of Côtes du Rhône.
After dinner, Daisy requested an arabic coffee but was told that, regrettably, the machine wasn’t working and that it would have to be regular coffee. We had a short debate about whether we could be bothered to go elsewhere, which was resolved by the realisation that it was nearly 20:30 already, so the live entertainment was due to start soon.
Where did all that time go? In chatting, reminiscing and catching up, that’s where.
So we ventured out into the mercifully dry evening, soon to find Comptoir Libanais on Wigmore Street. “They should have arabic coffee,” declared Daisy, marching across Wigmore Street, grinding taxis, bicycles and other vehicles to a brief but sudden halt. “Do you have arabic coffee?” asked Daisy as she breezed into the cafe. “Yes, come in sit down,” said an unidentified member of staff.
But it turned out that Comptoir Libanais didn’t do arabic coffee; never does, never did. None of us could be arsed to move again; we mostly wanted to carry on chatting for a short while. So we made do with regular espressos, cappuccinos or, in my case, rose-mint tea.
All too soon, we realised that it was really getting late for John, who still had a couple of hours journey ahead of him, so we walked John down to Bond Street tube and then Daisy and I walked Pady back to her hotel.
John and I arranged this evening ages ago, without finalising time and location. It was John’s turn to choose and he opted for The Modern Pantry’s new venture in Finsbury Square. This was well located for both of us now John works in the City. In any case, we had enjoyed a fine meal at the Clerkenwell parent restaurant not all that long ago.
In truth, we really wanted to talk about Pady Jalali’s impending visit, our families, leisure, work, UK politics, the Europe vote, the US elections, life, the universe and everything. Naturally, we talked about all of those things.
We even chatted about little speaker thingies you can now get for less than £20 that come with woofers, tweeters, the lot. I made the mistake of looking my gadget up on Amazon for John when I got home and I am now being bombarded by Amazon with spam and personalised ads for little speaker thingies. (Other sources of spam, personalised ads and speaker thingies are available).
The food at Finsbury Square was good without being outstanding, whereas we remember the Clerkenwell place being genuinely outstanding. The latter was a sort of middle-eastern fusion, whereas this new venture is more an Asian fusion idea.
John started with a smoked salmon sashimi (contradiction in terms but lovely dressing) while I had a soft shell crab starter in a sort-of Indonesian style. John had a very subtle monk fish main, which was tasty but not exceptional. I think I did a little better with a curried duck leg – again up-market sort-of south-east Asian style. John followed with some cheese, while I tried a black sesame cheese-cake which I rather liked as it was not too sweet. I could see why the waitress said that some people love it while others don’t like it so much.
In truth, I would return to The Modern Pantry Clerkenwell but probably not to this Finsbury Square branch. If I have a crazy craving for Asian fusion, I think I’d stay closer to home and dine at E&O. Of course, Janie and I dined at the latter with John and Mandy years ago and had a great evening…
…as indeed did John and I at The Modern Pantry Finsbury Square. Always a treat to try these places and always a pleasant evening when John and I catch up.