Day 0 (17th July 2018)
I have never really felt myself to be one of nature’s travel bloggers. Nor indeed a food blogger, even though I ‘tweet what I eat’. There’s no denying my dream job would be restaurant reviewer, but it’s equally true that the review-writing part would be the drag that paid for the pigging-out aspect that would be its sole appeal. I just want to be paid to eat well, basically, not waste energy writing about it.
Even so, having recently spent four days in the South East of England, partly on a gastronomic pilgrimage, I felt I should give it a go. Maybe I’ll actually get a few readers, as this sort o’ thing seems awf’y popular. I think I’ll even break it into instalments (it could get quite lengthy, as the Bishop said to the actress), to give the illusion that I have much of interest to say … so here goes.
My recent visit down South was a mixed bag of goodies and no mistake. Ludicrous extravagance, high society drifting, and all rounded off with a bit of my more customary ‘slumming it’. From the sublime to the ridiculous, as they rightly say.
On Tuesday night I caught the Caledonian Sleeper, having got a great deal on a first class berth (less than I could have paid for a standard class single the next day). But ’twas not the best start, as the promised boarding time of 10:30 came and went and disappeared over the horizon, long before we were allowed onto the train and even longer before us first-classers were allowed into the saloon car, despite the whole thing sitting there when I arrived at ten fifteen. Not many of the waiting passengers had much gruntle left as we accessed our cabins a mere ten minutes before the 11:35 departure.
Nonetheless a blether with some Yanks and a Ginger Laddie cocktail improved the mood no end, and I turned in for a wee read and sleep about 12:30. I slept none too badly and was sufficiently refreshed to enjoy my bacon roll and coffee in bed before heading out into Euston at 7:30.
Oh, I do miss That London. I feel a kind of energy in the air that is absent from many other cities. It could be a feeling of endless possibility or maybe it’s a feeling spiced with nervous caution, as one wonders if everyone who passes is a pickpocket and every moped carries a potential mugger, I don’t know. But at that time in the morning, I felt happier walking through the waking streets than I might have late in the evening.
I strolled happily through Fitzrovia into Mayfair, and, but for a brief stop for a cappuccino in a typical side street Italian caff, went straight to the Savile Club near Grosvenor Square to leave my bags. Taking advantage of the reciprocal arrangements with the Scottish Arts Club (and a recent and essential financial windfall, which I’m forbidden to explain for now) I had planned my visit round two of our affiliates. Despite its sexist membership policy (it has had only one female member, when an existing male member had his existing male member removed, without, after much discussion in committee being him, sorry herself de-membered), it has a policy of conviviality and amenability which gives it compensatory appeal. And it’s in an excellent location between Grosvenor Square and Claridges (looking at whose £500+ a night room prices also makes it feel very reasonable).
Then to the RA for the Summer Exhibition. Very bright, very Grayson Perry. Art as feel-good experience. Actually I’ve always found the SE a feel-good experience as there are always lots of paintings by amateurs and ‘lesser’ professionals which have me saying “I can actually paint a bit”. If I go round a Goya or a Picasso show, I wonder why I even bother.
“Take photos and post them on our site,” said the posters. But when I tried to photograph one of David Hockney’s large composite pieces, I was beaten to the ground by attendants who sat on my chest and wrested the Huawei from my cold dead hands (ie told me not to). I expected better of Bradford’s finest. His works which celebrated and summarised much of his career were particularly interesting, as they quoted and referenced his dictum that perspective is tunnel vision. With this in mind I was keen to photograph them with the long gratings in the floor stretching towards their wall. So, also in t’spirit o’ t’man ‘isself, I bought the catalogue containing the pics (which are already in the public domain all over the web anyway), photographed the gratings from the other end, and photoshopped (well, GIMP’d) them all together, to make a much better and more in keeping piece (also without all those pesky visitors), which I like to call Tunnel Vision …
And then for part one of the gastronomic pilgrimage. To the Reform, club of Churchill, Lloyd George, Asquith, and the starting point for Phileas Fogg’s literary circumnavigation. As well as the place where, c.1840, Alexis Soyer invented the eponymous lamb cutlets, a dish I have often cooked for guests. Of course I had to sit in the expansive garden with a pink gin (traditional drink of the English gentleman’s club: Plymouth gin, Angostura bitters and Malvern water) before my cutlets (with excellent house claret), all rounded off with a fine trifle.
And those cutlets? As my little Chinese friend, would say, ‘so-so’. The chops and the crust on them were spot on, but the sauce lacked the tang of a good poivrade and the beetroot (not actually in the original, but a standard part of the garnish now) rather dominated, not to mention over-coloured it. Delicious, but it’s nice to know I can do better. And, seeing it on Facebook, master chef Brent Castle said he was “a little shocked at the presentation standards” (not to mention the lack of truffle), which he would not let out of his kitchen. But as Woody says, club food is and should be a strange mix of haute cuisine and public school dinners.
Back to the Savile to check into my room and nose around. Good to find the Fly Fisherman’s Club on the top floor. As a friend commented, he won’t catch much there (another said he looked pleased to see me).
I loved the rules in the snooker room for ‘Savile Snooker’ played annually against the Garrick for over a century now. Fifteen reds in the usual triangle and the colours placed around them, some at a ‘Buckle’s Length‘ from the points. One point for potting a red, but penalties of 5, 10 or more points taken off for anything involving contact with the coloured balls. Rules involve gathering one’s team members when the opposing team is striking, so as to spot fouls and try and put them off, and, when any foul involves the yellow ball, a compulsory cry of Bollocks! from everyone watching. Apparently new, young members tend to win easily until they realise that none of the older contingent gives a hoot and nor should they. Love it.
Then to the Prom for Turangalîla. Nice to see the old place again, though there seem to be even more stairs than ever and it was very warm. Some of the old crowd are still there too. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing; as long as they’re happy.
Old favourite Polish eatery Daquise is still there in name, but a posh restaurant from the Old Town in Warsaw took it over years back, so the hoped-for stuffed cabbage, sausage or bigos are no longer on the menu (nor are the old prices), so I went round the corner to the really good Italian place, now under new owners but still with the excellent pizza oven in the basement.
Then back to ‘my Club’ for a good night’s sleep under a print of a work by William Orpen, a former member and an old favourite of mine, since I discovered the full range of his works in Dublin’s National Gallery.
To be continued…
Meanwhile, anyone in Edinburgh wanting an evening’s great entertainment should get along to our wee show, Well, It’s Woody. More on which also next week …