December 08 2011
It is Wednesday morning, and I have a glamorous day ahead of me. First obstacle overcome (getting out of bed), I tackle the second – adopting some semblance of smartness. I take out a suit (who am I kidding – I take out my only suit) and lay it on the bed. It is grey, sharp and boring in equal measure. I go to the closet to select a shirt and find only one there. Our cleaner, who comes twice a week, apparently couldn’t face the ironing yesterday. Neither can I today, so that’s the shirt I’m going to wear. It too is boring. To liven things up a little, I put on a pair of vivid magenta underpants.
I take the tube to work and, walking through Chinatown from Leicester Square, notice a dead pigeon on the pavement. It is grey and drab. I think we go to the same tailor. I arrive a little late, at 10-ish. I must avoid going into Bocca di Lupo at all, lest I get stuck there, and I have to bow my head so as not to be seen and pounced on as I creep into our office, directly across the road at Gelupo. About half the people there applaud my snappy dress, the rest deride me that I’m not my normal slovenly self. I have about an hour free to work and I spend the time calling each of our 28 food suppliers to inform them when the restaurant will be closed over the Christmas period (we close on the 25th, reopen on the 4th), to check when the last day is they can deliver before Christmas and the first after New Year. I have a longer discussion with a couple, where I need to discuss some important new ingredients I’ll be needing for the menu changes planned in January. I don’t quite get through the list, but will in the next few days.
11:30am, and we have to leave. Victor and I have, by some miracle (actually by Colin, my spider-crab-and-Welsh-lamb man), been invited to Clarence House to a lunchtime event with the Prince of Wales. It is to promote the Cambrian Mountains, and in particular their rather sumptuous lamb. We walk along the Mall, too fast, get there early, and decide to take a stroll in St James’s Park. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. Heading in, the house is all very impressive – very English, very smart, and slightly frumpy; reminiscent of its main resident. Mingling with a mostly-male, mostly-grey crowd of restaurateurs and lamb farmers, we’re arranged into groups and served an oh-so-appropriate standing meal of leek risotto followed by Cambrian lamb on couscus. It’s actually quite delicious.
I become aware of a certain personage approaching, and apparently display some nerves. Colin leans over, and whispers “They’re not going to shoot you, you know.” If I didn’t feel uncomfortable before, I do now. Prince Charles comes to us. Nerves were unnecessary. I am bowled over – the man exudes an intelligent, inquisitive but above all loving warmth. We’re set at ease immediately, and chat for a few minutes about lamb, mutton, restaurants, our work history and even what it’s like to live and work together as a male couple. Prince Charles? More like Prince Charming!
Back to Bocca and I have an hour-long meeting with Vicci, our reservationist and private functions manager, who’s feeling the strain of the season. We have a lot to get through – 12 parties next week that need their menus checking, a few changes to make, a few wines to recommend. I’m done by 3pm and about to sit down to the scintillating experience of my weekly hygiene review – every day, the kitchen fills in a number of sheets reporting on cleaning, stock rotation, food safety and the like. It is as appealing as revising for an exam, so I postpone it until tomorrow and head instead to the gym.
In the changing room, surrounded by male torsos that would make Michelangelo’s David blush, I feel much more like a dumpling than the prime hunk of beef I sometimes imagine I could be, or would be were it not for my Jewish mother and food obsession. This feeling of inadequacy could be inspirational, but for me it is more demotivating. I psych myself up and head onto the floor. I used to do cardio but it takes a lot of sweat to burn off a plate of pasta. Now I do weights, so all those calories I eat go somewhere useful. The more I work out, the more I can eat and yet avoid obesity. My muscles are growing, but still covered in a finger of fat. I’d make a great roast.
I have a little time back at work and use it to review the wine list with Massimo (bar manager) and Bruno (sommelier). I am the wine buyer, and run the list, but work closely with them both. It’s a little like the EU – run by committee, where the Brit has the veto. Unlike the EU, we are on good terms, efficient, and doing a good job.
7pm and my dear friend Nan arrives. He’s just back from South Africa and has clearly had a good time. We prop ourselves in the only available space at Bocca di Lupo – at the fireplace in the entrance, and toast each other with a glass of Franciacorta (Italy’s defiant answer to champagne). We are standing under a striking portrait of Mark Rylance in costume as Rooster Byron, painted by my mum, the artist Haidee Becker. He’s hanging there until Christmas, to celebrate the return of Jerusalem to London’s stage. The painting is the link that enabled me to wrangle our two tickets in the stalls tonight – we’d better get going, curtain is about to go up.
The painting also gets me thinking that my mum should paint Prince Charles – it would be great for her profile, and he could auction the portrait for one of his charities. I wonder who would be harder to convince – my mum (incredibly stubborn, and equally loath to do anything self-promotional) or Prince Charming (high royalty who has no time and knows neither of us from a bar of soap). The walk to the theatre takes about 20 seconds, but is easily enough time for me to work out that my mum would definitely prove the bigger obstacle.
Jerusalem is a long and utterly brilliant play. I go rarely to the theatre, but I saw it twice in the previous run. It loses nothing, even on the third visit. For three hours I am nowhere near my seat, but miles away in a corner of Wiltshire woodland, conjured there by Mr Rylance’s spiritual force. We laugh and laugh and laugh and cry. This is not theatre, but dark art. I am in bliss.
We leave just before 11, and rush to Bocca as the kitchen is about to close. Seated on table 15, which is a lovely one, we are back in Jerusalem – the walls are lined with portraits of the cast in character. Half the audience seems to have come with us. On table 11 (next to us) are the owners of my mum’s gallery, the Redfern, who also saw the show. On another are some members of the production.
We order almost at random – rock oysters with seaweed; fried squid, fresh anchovies and lemon; grilled scallops; tripe alla romana; pumpkin tortelloni with butter & sage; puntarelle with anchovy. I am so proud of this restaurant, and the many staff behind it. Nevio is managing the kitchen tonight and doing a truly brilliant job – he started with me almost three years ago as a kitchen porter and is growing into as great a chef as any, despite the added pressure of being a father-to-be. I now have a very large family, which grows with every employee we recruit. I cannot imagine a restaurant I’d rather eat in, let alone cook in, let alone own.
Nan and I stay drinking Aperol spritz and negronis respectively until almost 3am. Alberto (who was cooking for a private function) joins us when he’s finished and we sit and chat and drink and relax. Alberto and I leave to find a cab together, as we live in the same direction. As we trawl the streets for a lit yellow light, he tells me how indebted he feels to me and to Bocca, and I tell him how indebted I and the restaurant feel towards him. We almost cry. He tells me he’s minded to accept the promotion to chef de cuisine just as we find that elusive taxi, which is the best news ever.
I get home, and finally crawl into bed next to Victor, trying not to disturb him. He stirs just enough to snuggle up. How many people have a chance to create all we have together? If every day was like today, I’d die of liver failure. I’d also die happy.