Scene set: A London Summer; Friday Early Evening 7.00pm. Corner table in the dimly lit but always adequately bright main room at Le Cafe.
Him: To even the most obscured eye — she is beautiful. Gentle, radiant, warm and open to the wonders of the world. Childlike in her fascination of everything she encounters. It’s a rare quality and one not often observed. Innocence.
Her: He is certainly well put together, if a little skinny for my taste — I love a sturdy man who enjoys his food. These rakish modern young men; no time for them! I like an older man, a man who knows who he is; comfortable in his skin and knows how to treat a lady. Oooh I hope he likes wine! Mandy did say that I should look at his shoes, one can tell a great deal about a man from his shoes — must not make it too obvious…nice suede loafers — he is a brave one — the forecast was for rain. He is a man who takes risks! Sidebar — not too sure about his waistcoat — but I guess if Jimmy White turns up then at least my man is best placed for a quick few frames ! STOP IT Ruth — appear professional and not your usual silly self — men do not like funny women and he is not yet YOUR man. Fact.
Formalities over, first impressions done, pleasantries enacted. The menu is printed on lustrous decadent parchment befitting the elaborate yet non suffocating choices. The waiters are befitting of an establishment renowned as Le Cafe — its pedigree ensuring patrons are well looked after by a seemingly invisible army of courteous young gentlemen.
After minimal deliberation Thomas beckons the omnipotent server and places the order; Ruth will take the halibut with seasonal greens. Thomas momentarily contemplates porterhouse but he quickly refrains and selects the easier to manage braised lamb shoulder in a luxurious red wine gravy. A portion of thick cut paprika accosted chips to share closes out the interaction.
The wine list comes enveloped in an elaborate burgundy folder with a manila insert; Thomas takes charge of wine selection with vigour; carefully surveying the menu like a quartermaster; evaluating the optimal choice to balance fish and game; Pinot Noir is crowned the winner — homeland New Zealand. His energy is short lived; the selection ordeal appears to visibly drain him — the waiter is quick to observe and takes his leave.
The restaurant itself is large but cosy and accommodating; the staff inform that it’s busier than a typical Friday. There is a modern looking open kitchen area around which there are clusters of tables of activity which are just beginning to be seated early for 8 pm reservations. Ruth and Thomas glance over; Thomas places his arm on Ruth’s in a reassuring manner.
Hers: Really, I am getting sent out like this…diabolical. I am a fish chosen for my ability to absorb flavours and handle anything! Bake me, grill me, poach me — heck even sauté me! Fine. Fine. Let’s go with the basics — steam me and drizzle with lemon. I mean now that I am settled — I can see why. She IS rather plain; a real steamed fish with lemon kinda gal. Why why why — what I wouldn’t give to be sautéed in a lovely brown butter sauce, pan roasted over a sea garlic or baked — HARD! Guess she would need two more shades of cherry lipstick and ten inches off that skirt/poncho for that to happen!
Seasonal greens are not known to be shrinking violets and Le Cafe’s lived up to every inch of that reputation. Brazen, flavoursome and as was their description of Thomas — positively al dente. The only limp thing in this corner of the restaurant is the napkins.
His: Cooked slow and tender — I begged for it. I make it look effortless but holding on to this bone when one is as flaky, succulent and manic on claret as I am, is not easy. Giggle. My toes are dipped in a lovely red water foot bath, the kind you get in Singapore! But enough about me! What! Ooh he is a young one. Watch out ladies! His eyes betray him; the cool calm exterior gives way to a soft underbelly!
I like her! Pet and owner. Halibut — classy! A demure look that does not give much away. An assured lady with cute but not pixie features teasingly playful and definitely mischievous — cheekbones placed not too high, not too low — goldilocks level ‘right’, complimented by the most deep large hazel light gatherers. Yes she will most definitely do. A warmth which is inescapable. Intriguing…
Theirs: We don’t mind being jazzed up and papped like the A-list. We don’t need it mind. We are the first thing that gets reached for. Carb reduction ha — from our cold dead yams! Grabbed, dipped, salted, shared — you name it — we have seen it. She was first in, had to split us and let us cool. They have a rapport — it’s nice to see that energy- rarefied air no less. Started well — our table mate and always the premier bet for who makes it out of the kitchen first will surely help loosen things up.
I am a bon vivant — oft cited new world but I assure you there was no world of which I was not a part. They call me fickle but spend ten minutes with a millennial ordering breakfast and I will show you the redefinition. I am light of body and quick of tongue and to that end what have we here. Liver me timbers — a first date!
Ruth and Thomas eat in mostly comfortable silence, breaking only to discuss the attire of the waiters and the cutlery on the table or to glance at one another and exchange a chuckle. Ruth’s interest appears to dwindle manifested by her facetious method of eating. Thomas is ever vigilant. He takes her hand in his from across the table and gives it a soft squeeze; Ruth smiles acknowledging the comfort it provides and reciprocates clasping it. Knowing smiles are exchanged. Thomas surveys the leftovers and appears to take a napkin to his cheek briefly and furtively before replacing it back to the table.
The restaurant is now nearly full but does not seem at all crowded; Thomas smiles and this appears to also please Ruth who is enjoying the space and lack of commotion compared with the earlier seating of large parties.
Him: I have always had healthy relationships, with food, with money with women. They — all three and I know this will sounds absurd, speak to me. The latter sometimes too much. THOMAS. Stop. Focus. You don’t always need to lighten the tone. Levity in calamity; is that even a mantra…
We are all playing roles in life; rarely does one get to enjoy both puppeteer and puppet; a last act of remembrance to cheer a soul…anything for her…
Ruth is everything she was the first moment I met her — loving, responsible, kind and easy to talk to. Le Cafe would you believe it was her choice — it’s an old family owned spot popular with locals and with a solid clientele of regulars. I had called ahead to request a table in a quiet part of the main dining room — but they had already reserved us a tranquil corner spot…We have a great view over the other diners and the restaurant. The bar runs along the right as you enter with its beautiful onyx worktop accompanied by 5 expensive looking high top stools and a expansive drinks selection that would not look out of place in Las Vegas. Hard left and you enter the formal dining area via a small entrance hallway opening out into a welcoming floor space. Our table is on the outer raised set of tables — protected, safe — it feels good to be sat here. It feels good to be sat here with Ruth.
Her: The wine. Am really starting to feel it. Sandy did advise I should have a big lunch and pace it tonight. Food is delicious — he was so gentlemanly picking out the wine with me to complement the dishes. The halibut seems like it has ambition! Why did I pick steamed! It’s a great fish. It deserves more. I am tired my thoughts drift and Thomas is the least of my concerns, life, the week ahead not to mention the mountain of laundry I must do. I wanted my relationship to be organic — how about I stick to that for my food (I think I read that in a magazine- how funny)…I am tired…Thomas is a nice boy. He smiles a lot and is patient. He has great hair and smiles a lot. He is nice.
Theirs: Mushed, squished, manhandled; I thought this establishment was classy; if they wanted mash all they had to do was ask. She had impressed me but the manner in which she eats. Well let’s just say opinions can change!
My grip tightens. Not much I can do here in the stomach but hello small intestine. Let me widen your blood vessels; feel my gentle flow, aha Ruth tut tut — no lunch — not to worry you are in safe hands…if only you would imbibe — please just a drop. Thomas — one glass is terribly self-controlled — let me in…a second won’t hurt; leave my starchy table mates alone; they are clearly not au fait with a Vedic manner of dining!
Hers: Why does one order and barely eat? I have been pushed, prodded and poked and seen all corners of this plate and remain very much uneaten! Feels like everyone’s cutlery has been all over me. Yuck. Why can one not stick to their meals? It’s a most undignified way to eat. I knew I would be better baked!
His: I feel appreciated; mopped up and danced in the red; short-lived and down the hatch; I do wish one would not mix fish and game. Most undignified. Ugh the view in here…not pretty. Not to lament my calling but it is definitely one of the downsides of this business. We start of so enticing — almost equals and then well, it gets quite disgusting.
Him: A pleasant uneventful evening; Living to eat; but a whimsical dream when meal times are but an act of subsistence; this is the epicentre of eating to live…my culinary ground zero. Traditionally sensory inducing occasions of joy and frivolity reduced to banal timed feeding rituals…
Thomas summons a waiter and politely requests the bill; dessert is offered and declined and the only remnant of the meal is soon the lone Kiwi, one glass light of its cargo. There was a time when the bottom of the glass was alluring to him; but of late losing oneself has little value; finding oneself is the treasure.
Thomas can see the waiter snaking his way expertly around tables pirouetting around other servers in what looks like orchestrated theatre. It is entrancing and Thomas’ mind begins to drift; recollecting memories of past years where his mind was not soo heavy. Robert the young waiter presents the bill, ‘thank you for joining us Sir, I sincerely hope you and your mother enjoyed the meal — we hope to see you again’.
I started to lose her around autumn of 2013; little things such as overt focus on the inane and mundane. A fire in the sitting room left on longer than it should have been, an errant comment about the day’s plans often leading to confusion and anger. No direct pain, no binary change, just a slow ebb and flow of human consciousness from this world into the next. Dementia is one of the few afflictions under which we talk about our loved ones as though they are already deceased, she was, he was, they were…
Nurses — ever gentle and caring — administer futile tests to monitor her; find the big and little hand on a clock; try to remember your birthday; try to remember your name…just try to remember.
For sure, some part of mother and son dies daily, the disease is monotonic; once it catches hold it is unrelenting — yet she remains strong; she is steadfast, indomitable and rich. An unfathomable richness that can reduce a grown man to tears with a simple smile, a gentle kiss or a warm embrace.
She IS great. She IS loving. She is forever mum.
Your Son — Thomas x
one night, the first time,
no reasons given,
no need to rhyme,
one has to try,
boys and girls we all do vie,
well wishers, they want to help,
find a mate, make them yelp,
come along just take a pew,
settle down its quite a view,
the view of man,
as of plate,
leaves each hungry,
both back home, sullen sent,
‘food and eve — turned excrement’.
His: Braised Lamb Shoulder in red wine gravy
Hers: Steamed Halibut drizzled with lemon butter and seasonal greens
Theirs: 2016 Pinot Noir Cloudy Bay New Zealand & paprika dusted chips