Sunday, November 16, 2008

Entertaining The Cranes and A Slap-Up Dinner at The River Cafe

November 15, 2008

Llew decided to enjoy a lazy late-morning lie-in as his cough had kept him awake almost all night. I nipped out to Paul's Patisserie to pick up an almond croissant for Llew and then to Marks to purchase a few ingredients for the luncheon meal we were putting together for my cousin Cheryl and her husband David Crane who, bless their hearts, traveled from their home in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent to see Llew one more time before his return to the States.

David enjoys a very limited repertoire of foods and since minced meat in any form is something he will eat, I purchased Moussaka from Sainsburys for our meal. Neither Llew nor I feel enthusaistic about cooking for parties here in London as I have very limited kitchen equipment--enough for a couple, perhpas, but certainly not for a party. In keeping with our recent return from Greece, I planned the menu around Mediterranean Island cuisine and decided to serve Greek salted pistachios, mini scotch eggs (something David will eat) and Wensleydale Cheese with ginger together with walnut and apricot bread for appetisers. I threw together a Greek Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and onions and topped the lot with thick wedges of feta cheese. Then I dressed the whole salad with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar and dried oregano. For dessert, I had planned on Greek style yogurt with honey topped with roasted chopped nuts and figs.

When Llew did awake, he helped me with the cleaning of the flat and the bathroom as my maid Felcy has deserted me completely. There is simply no sign of her and I feel like one of the housewives in India who always complain to me about their maids every time I visit them. Now that I do have one, here in London, I finally understand their anxiety! After I lay the table and rustled up the meal, we actually found the time to relax for Cherry and David did not come in until a little after 1 pm.

We had such a lovely afternoon with them as we told them about our holiday in Greece and heard about their visit to the Channel Islands--they had recently returned from Guernsey. I really do enjoy their company and feel sorry that they live so far away--Cherry is my Dad's late sister Alice's daughter and when we were growing up together in Bombay, our families were so close and met frequently. Still, I feel pleased that I am still in contact with so many of the members of my extended family and that I see them wherever in the world I travel.

Soon, too soon, darkness had descended upon Holborn and the Cranes made a move. This left Llew and me about an hour to clear up and put away leftovers before we got ready to leave for our big meal out. I have been looking forward to this evening for ages as I had made reservations at The River Cafe months in advance of Llew's arrival in London. It is difficult to get a table at this very popular and very well-reviewed London eatery that set new standards when it was first opened in 1987 by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers whose husband is Lord Richard Rogers, one of England's most famous architects. The duo work hard to source only the finest ingredients and have created an Italian menu that changes frequently in its emphasis on seasonal ingredients served with flair and expertise. I was eager to share this dining experience with Llew and was so glad that I could get seats while he was visiting London.

Getting to the restaurant in Hammersmith proved to be a Herculean task indeed. It involved a long Tube ride to Hammersmith and then a cab ride into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. It seems that the restaurant which is located on the Thames Path East is based in the former Dickhams oil storage facility that was converted into a restaurant by Lord Rogers. It featured an open kitchen (something rather revolutionary for England at the time) and recently went through another renovation. Llew and I were fascinated by a huge wall clock that is projected by a camera on a wall and that somehow keeps time. We were unable to fathom how it worked. Is the clock in the camera? Is the mechanism of the clock behind the wall? It was quite uncanny.

When we did get seated and were taken care of with immense finesse--our coats stashed away in a cupboard, the loo pointed to--the wine waitress appeared with the wine list. Llew went for a Cabernet Sauvignon, I chose a drier white, a Verdeca Farone. Bread was passed around with olive oil for dipping in true Tuscan style. The menu is not extensive, but every item sounded delicious and we spent a long time debating possible choices. Finally, we chose to split as a 'primi' a Linguine con Granachi with Devon crab, fennel seeds, chilli flakes, parsley and lemon, a dish so subtly flavorful that it is hard to describe. But for the fact that we still had separate 'secondi' to savor and I wanted to save room for dessert (or 'pudding' as they say here), I could quite easily have eaten a serving alone. Keeping with the seafood theme, I opted for Cap Santa Alla Griglia, a platter of chargrilled Scottish scallops with roasted squash and sweet potatoes on a bed of lentils. Llew, on the recommendation of the waitress, went for the Coscia D'Agnello, chargrilled marinated leg of lamb with Bagnet sauce, artichokes romana and Swiss chard leaves and stalks.

Both of us thought our meal was superlative. The scallops and the lamb were grilled to perfection and the accompaniments were paired brilliantly with the key ingredient. What's more, portions were quite substantial indeed and though we were rather too full, we decided to split a dessert and forgo coffee. So, out came the dessert list and instead of choosing the Chocolate Nemesis which would probably have been our first choice, we went for the Amaretto Walnut Cake that was out of this world--the cake was chocful of roasted chopped walnuts and the amaretto liqueur had soaked so well into the cake as to flavor it entirely. A light chocolate sauce formed a fitting topping to the very inventive pudding. Llew and I sighed when it was over. We had spent a lovely evening together, watching the beautiful people around us, all dressed to kill for a night that was clearly special to each of them. There were older couples with their younger children and women diners who looked like models from a fashion magazine. I tried to do some celebrity spotting but have to admit that I do not really recognize any of the local celebs, so though there might have been a few around, they made no impact on me. Despite the fact that his cough had made Llew feel out of sorts all day, his spirits were lifted immensely by the meal. I was glad that this was our parting dinner, the last one we would enjoy together until we meet again in the States when I return to Connecticut for Christmas.

We obtained directions to the bus stop and outside, in the mild night air, we walked the five minutes to it. A bus showed up within five minutes and we were soon at Hammersmith Station. For the first time since my arrival in London, I fell asleep on the Tube--blame the wine, I guess--and was glad that Llew was with me to wake me up at Holborn.

It had been a fulfilling day and as we fell asleep, we savored our last night together. I tried hard to forget that Llew will be leaving tomorrow.

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