We emerged from the underground, which, by now, was overground, onto a dark sketchy looking street in London’s west side…or was it east? Struggling to read, let alone find, the street signs, we finally saw a familiar name and headed down an alley with narrow sidewalks, graffiti covered buildings and few lights, around a corner to an unpromising door in the wall. We knocked hard. A woman answered, hair tied up in a silk scarf, she welcomed us in through to a small candlelit room with exposed brick walls, books lining the windowsills and a table set for nine. We were the first to arrive. She took our coats, poured champagne and we chatted lightly before the other guests arrived.
It wasn’t long before we are joined by a novelist, a conservationist, a manager of the Crown Estate, a music video producer, an economist, a journalist and a circus worker: all of us, with two things in common: our love for food and strangers for company. As we mingled we nibbled at Parmesan poppy seed biscuits, sipped our Cremant d’Alsace and spoke of writing, dreams and how we came to be where we are. I was in the right place.
Á table, we were served sourdough bread, made in house, with Bordier butters infused with algae and smoked salt. Followed by home pickled herring with cumin crispbread, sweet and hot yellow and red beetroot paired with Zubowka bison grass vodka.
While all the guests were completely lovely, there was one couple who undoubtedly had my attention all night. He was from Israel, she, from California, where they had lived before moving to Paris just over a year ago. When I asked why Paris, she said, “It’s his dream really, he has always wanted to live in Paris.” I was reminded of friends of mine who just returned home after a season in France. The difference: this couple at the table, had already had their children, whom they left overseas, and were in the middle of their careers, one of which, he completely abandoned, to write a novel.
The dinner progressed with a celeriac and chestnut soup paired with Pierre 1er Saumur 2010. It was warm and sweet and thick like a paste to coat your insides. Next, Hevridean peat smoked salmon, kiln roasted salmon, Loch Fyne smoked pate, smoked eel with samphire with poppy sead crispbread and a sweet Gewurztaminer. Swaledale blue cheese, wild confit fig and thyme tart with wild rocket paired with Chateau de la Thebaudier Muscadet sevre et Maine sur Lie 2010.
He gave some indication that he studied Philosophy before deciding to write but I was fascinated with his confidence in the decision. He had completed a first draft of what he explained, in his Israeli accent, to be the story of two women. “What if you knew you only had one year to live? What would you do?” He described the appeal of playing God, being able to dictate what a character does, or says, or how they react.
We cleansed our palettes with a sweet-sour roast parsnip herb salad with pomegranate paired with Chateau L’Hospitalet Blanc La Clape 2009. And continued the evening with Hake tagine with sicilian lemons paired with Chateau de Lavernette Beauiolais Rouge 2007. This dish was perfectly light yet full of flavour on a cold winter night. There were hints of tumeric and cumin in a tomato and olive gravy.
They had only intended to stay in Paris for a year, but when the time came, they decided it was not enough. They had come to London to see the David Hockney exhibit, why not, it’s only a 2 hour train ride. They were doing everything we are encouraged not to do after 30. Moving to foreign cities, because you want to, changing careers and dropping everything to write a novel. Another guest asked him if it was more difficult than he thought. He replied, “I thought it might be a challenge to spend eight hours a day writing, but its not.” They didn’t think it would be perfect or without challenges, neither of them even knew how to speak french, but they did it anyway.
By this time, it was almost midnight and the last train to Cambridge was at quarter past, so wrapping some Swaledale cow’s milk cheese in foil, we bid farewell, missing out on the salted chocolate tart with Pineau cream, a Bordeaux and fresh mint and rosebud tea with Campari truffles. I am sure we would have still be sitting there at 2 am if we hadn’t told our babysitter we were coming home. (Noted: next time, get a hotel room.)
Despite it’s hasty end, it was an evening I will never forget. Food has a way of elevating the senses, not only our physical senses but emotional and spiritual as well. It brings strangers together as friends, lightens our spirits and opens our minds. I felt encouraged and inspired as the conversation affirmed and contributed to my ongoing thoughts on dreams, inspiration and motivation which, I will share more in depth…soon. Until then, go grab a napkin to wipe the drool from your face and keep on dreaming.