A Tragedy Of Epicurean Proportions, Saying Goodbye To Tavola, 25 April 2017

Goodbye, Tavola

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:

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.

So farewell then, Tavola

Lunch At Harry Morgan With Richard Goatley, Dinner At Mine With John Random and Rohan Candappa, 5 February 2015

Things were different back then, I realise at the time of writing (January 2017).

For a start, Harry Morgan was on the list of places I definitely wanted to eat, rather than (as now) a place that has gone downhill but still is my last local source of Jewish-style chicken soup and chopped liver, both of which they still do reasonably well.

Secondly, meeting up with Richard for lunch back then was simply a general catch up and chat during the cricket off-season. Richard was Deputy Chief Executive of Middlesex then and little did any of us know that he would find himself in the hot/top seat just a few months later. It’s hard to recall what we discussed; probably some aspects of the team and the clever new commercial arrangements with the MCC, which seemed to me (still seem to me) hugely beneficial for both clubs.

Update:

I now realise that the above lunch was postponed and took place on 12 March before dinner with John White – click here.

I had considered buying some “Jew food” for John and Rohan, but thought that twice in one day might be a bit much for me…and possibly that once in one day might be a bit much for them. Chopped liver is a wonderful, heart-warming dish for the initiated but can seem like a rather crude pate to the uninitiated.

So, even before Richard cancelled, I planned instead to serve them food from Tavola, Alistair “Big Al DeLarge” Little’s splendid deli. I guess I went on my way home from the gym, buying enough tempting Italian dishes, making the meal extremely quick and simple to prepare (once Al and his team have done almost all the hard work).

I know John Random from comedy writing at NewsRevue, i.e. since I was in my late twenties. I know Rohan Candappa from Alleyn’s – i.e. since I was eleven. They are both very good, very funny writers. Both are at stages of their lives/careers where the writing has taken a bit of a back seat, perhaps for too long, while providing for themselves and their families comes to the fore.

I simply thought that these two ought to know each other, without any particular agenda or ideas about why they should or what they might do about it. I also thought that it would be a pleasant evening for the three of us.

It was.

I especially recall one bit of the conversation when Rohan and I reminisced briefly about a big sporty lad at school known as Jumbo Jennings. Seemed able to turn his hand to any sport. Terrifyingly quick and bouncy bowling, I especially remember. Fiendish fives player too. John remarked that they didn’t have schools like Alleyn’s in Hartlepool, but he had always imagined that nicknames such as “Jumbo Jennings” were more the stuff of fiction than reality.

I should have instantly retorted that I’d always imagined that disappearing acts like that of John Darwin, the Hartlepool Canoe Man, were more the stuff of fiction than reality, until that fraud was exposed and we learned that John Random’s cousin was the subject of that proto fake news story.

I’m getting my witty retort in nearly two years late, aren’t I?

There was also some business with John’s bottle of Bulgarian Merlot, which I have documented in my Ivan Shakespeare note from a couple of weeks later – click here.