12 March, 2008

Cafe Anglais (and Ye Olde English Upholsterer)

Yes, I've tried a new restaurant, believe it or not! I know, I can get in such a rut with the few restaurants I feel loyal to, but unfortunately today's lunch, while very nice, just confirmed my curmudgeonly attitude toward most restaurants. Let me explain.

My friend Gigi and I met up today at the much-hyped Cafe Anglais in Bayswater for a gossipy lunch out. I think I am not alone in preferring lunch out to dinner out, almost every time. Why? Well, look at it this way: you don't need a babysitter because your child is gainfully employed at school, you tend to eat less at lunch and so feel less guilty, you're (at least I'm) not tremendously tempted to drink a cocktail or wine as you would be at dinner, so you spend a lot less, and maybe my favourite bit, you can walk the longish walk home afterward and work off some of your gluttony. Plus most of my girlfriends are not really interested in girls' dinners out, since most of them hardly ever see their husbands (not a problem in my 24/7 state of wedded bliss). It makes me laugh to remember something my GP said when John quit his job. "My husband can never retire. I have told him, I married you for life, but not for lunch."

Well, 29 days out of 30 or so I'm happy to have lunch with my beloved, but then there comes a day when it's time for a spot of girlfriend time. And Gigi's one of my favourite lunchtime companions. Whether it's kvelling about our remarkable daughters (hers at age five is an absolute reading prodigy), catching each other up on films and television series that each other simply has to see, or dissecting the food, we always have fun. And as you well know, I'm no intellectual snob, but there's something to be said for raw intelligence in a lunch companion. She's just clever. We had a great time.

However... the food. It was all nice, I don't want to mislead you. The menu is interestingly constructed: lots and lots of hors d'oeuvres each priced at 3 pounds, so it was tempting to order about six of them. Then a number of fish choices, lots of gamey roast options, and a surprisingly large selection of side vegetables. I was attracted by all the various potato options: Bordelaise, dauphinoise, Anna. But I didn't really want the roast that they would naturally accompany, and I didn't want to look like a freak and order three potato dishes and nothing else. So I opted for two hors d'oeuvres (anchovy toast soldiers with a pot of parmesan custard, and cubed yellowtail tuna with a dot of wasabi and soy) and a terrine de foie gras. And here was my problem. Everything was nice, but I could have made it all at home, and greatly enjoyed doing it. And I'm no rocket scientist when it comes to cooking. I just find increasingly that all I want to eat out at a restaurant is something I couldn't conceivably pull off at home. Asian deep-fried softshell crabs, a real Indian saag paneer, creme brulee de foie gras.

That being said, it's a lovely, lovely place. It's located in what was, unbelievably, a McDonald's in the iconic Whiteley's department store building in Queensway and the ambience is very chic and yet peaceful. We were the first diners today, and I was quite skeptical at the notion that all 170 chairs would ever be filled, but they were. So go along, do, and bring a large appetite because then you can order up one of the roast entrees and have all those potato side dishes, and report back to me.

Let's see, today brought us a visit from arguably the most English person I have yet met here in our adopted land. As you may remember, crazy Keechie has caused an awful lot of family strife, to say nothing of hundreds of dollars in dry cleaning, by her inclination to use the furniture as a litter box when she gets stressed. And ironically, while she used to get stressed by people, now she apparently gets stressed by... no people. As in when we try to go away. Over the summer she had an absolute field day with the sofa cushion, and at Christmas with the lovely bench covered in suiting fabric. This has not made her popular with her father who is always looking for ways to reduce the number of cats in his household. At any rate, for months now we have been trying to find an upholsterer, and actually did find one, who took our sofa cushion and then apparently went into the witness protection program, for he's never been seen or heard from again. I just can't imagine that the sudden acquisition of one very smelly sofa cushion would drive him from his home and business, but he never answers phone calls or the bell if we visit him. Fair enough, by now I don't think we want the blasted thing back.

My friend Susan is a decorating marvel, with a truly deserving house, and so I turned to her. And up surfaced her little man today, one C.H Frost of Abingdon Road, with a pullover AND an ancient suit jacket (but not the suit trousers to go with it, you understand), a very conspicuous hearing aid and a wonderful turn of phrase that took me right back to, oh, say 1939? Well, it took me there, if not BACK. "Oy, I'm a mean man myself, sir, not wanting to spend other people's money. But you'll get every farthing's worth from a good fabric," disregarding the disappearance of this currency from the realm. Shall we have to pay him in shillings?

And when his mobile phone rang, "If you'll excuse me, sir and madam..." and then when he finished his conversation, "Now I don't 'old with these things as a general rule, because people can ring you any time. Mind you, there was a day when I was a young man when a client called me on Christmas Day! Christmas Day! People will take liberties, they will take liberties." He caressed our sofa and admired its proportions, albeit cushionless, and asked if we'd like the material on the arms replaced by the material under the cushion. "Just as well use it, since folks won't be seeing it, 'idden as you might say it is under there." Now that's common sense! John and I felt that we were lying safely in the lap of competence and frugality, and he went away with assurances that he would be back soon with samples for us to choose from. Whew. I don't even care about the cushions: I feel we got our money's worth just to meet him. I do love elderly English gentlemen.

Well, homework beckons. I can't make the last class next week, so I've got to produce my writing samples for the final now, as well as tomorrow's bit. Get this exercise: first you choose a neighbor, someone you know but not well, and list his or her salient qualities. Then you make a separate list of people you know who have had "bombs" in their lives. That is, events that define them, that change their lives. Then you have to give one of those "bombs" to your neighbor and write up the moments before the "bomb" and after. It's so difficult! I can describe my neighbor (I chose Janet who borrows Tacy) with no difficulty, and I can think of any number of people I know who have had "bombs," but somehow the assignment to combine them is totally throwing me. As well, why do I have no problem producing thousands of words for this blog, but the necessity of thousands of words for my homework is so daunting? I think it's the fictional aspect of it. Also it's the dreaded adage, "Show, don't tell" that I find completely impossible. I have to tell! Don't know how to show. But I must buckle down. It's very hard to turn my attention to fictional matters when real life is so... interesting!

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