When I popped in to Tavola on Westbourne Grove a few days ago, I expected simply to buy a few provisions.
I did not expect Al to exclaim, “ah, here’s someone else we need to tell” and announce to me that they would be shutting up shop and emigrating en famille to Sydney, Australia.
“Oh dear”, I said, “when should I start panic buying?”
“I wouldn’t leave it any later than Wednesday,” said Al, “Friday will be our last day”.
Given my timetable the following week, Tuesday was my only slot for panic buying so Tuesday it had to be for the final few purchases (a bit of freezer stocking) and fond goodbyes.
I shall miss the place of course. It must be…sorry, it must have been one of the finest delicatessen’s ever anywhere. It is very rare for a top, top chef (in this case, Alastair Little) to decide to run a deli rather than a restaurant. Here is a scratch or three from the now defunct Tavola website:
But more, I shall miss the Tavola people. Al and I became friends. We’d chat about food and cuisine. Al’s great strength is Italian cuisine and I found that, strangely, he could pick my brains for a tip or two on Chinese and South-East Asian cuisine. We also share a love for cricket, so we’d often chat about that too.
Alastair (in the guise of Big Al DeLarge) became one of the people/characters I write about in my occasional pieces for King Cricket. Much of the story of Al, me and cricket can be traced through the King Cricket pieces that mention him:
- England v Sri Lanka – throdkin report, in which Ged creates The Lord’s Throdkin, partly in honour of Al’s impending visit to Lord’s;
- England v Sri Lanka at Lord’s Day Two match report, in which Big Al DeLarge misses out on Lord’s, while several others partake of the throdkin;
- Lancashire v Middlesex in the County Championship – match report, which includes an example of me popping in to Big Al DeLarge’s Food Emporium to get some grub and talk some cricket;
- England v Australia at Lord’s, day three – match report, in which Big Al’s food (but not Big Al himself) makes a guest appearance;
Last but most certainly not least, is King Cricket’s own wonderful match report from 2016, in which Alastair finally did get to Lord’s with me and got to meet King Cricket himself and got to try The Lord’s Throdkin.
But returning to Tavola, I shall miss the whole Tavola team. Sharon (Al’s lovely wife), Sue (the perennial member of staff) and the friendly young folk who served in the shop from time to time. Also I shall miss the sense of community in that shop; the regular customers and that local vibe.
Of course, it is becoming nigh-on impossible for a place like Tavola to exist commercially in a street like Westbourne Grove any more. I understand it but I don’t like what that means for our community. I also realise that Alastair and Sharon’s reasons for taking their young family to Australia go beyond commerce; I wish them all well and respect the decision…
…although why anyone would go half way round the world to be a stone’s throw from the Sydney Cricket Ground when they are already merely a stone’s throw from Lord’s is a mystery to me.