Passersby stopped and stared, was it a joke? The start of a flash mob? Where was the camera? Sarah jigged about on the spot and started to shake as the tears dripped down her face.
Then, the question I had fretted about since I chose it. Would it fit? Of course it did!
An old man stopped and smiled as we hugged and ran off in the general direction of nowhere in particular.
( she said yes by the way, but you already knew that.)
Sarah kept looking down at her finger, examining it from each angle, holding it up to the light.
I can’t, can’t believe it. It’s, it’s beautiful.”
It started raining, we ran through the streets of Islington back to the hotel. Past the tramps, the shopkeepers, the backpackers, the locals, the office workers, all indifferent to our new status.
And so we were engaged, after all the difficulties of the past few years, of tragedy, of upset and turmoil, we had done it.
That night I had booked dinner at Le Caprice, a restaurant in the heart of Mayfair. As the taxi driver, sworn to secrecy, drove us along Park Lane, Sarah held my hand tight and peppered me with questions about our destination, to which I replied, all will be revealed.
Le Caprice is at the end of an unprepossessing cul de sac, with only two artificial trees and a understated blue neon sign to give it away.
The building opposite, covered in scaffolding, was temporary home to a couple of rough sleepers. Stepping into such opulence whilst someone hunkered down against the cold a few steps away made me feel uncomfortable, but I allowed myself to rationalise this poor guy’s misfortune by accepting that macro economics and the politics of poverty and wealth would have to be left to the morning.
Inside the restaurant, we were immediately greeted by an immaculate young man who, after relieving us of our coats, invited us to take a stool at the bar; a raised black granite slab that ran the length of the room. We nestled on our perch and took in the view. The black and white theme extended from the bar to the tables and walls where dozens of black and white portraits of the rich and famous hung. This place oozed money. But not vulgar cash – proper, asset rich, portfolio, trust fund, inherited capital. One lazy looking diner in a crushed velvet jacket sat in the corner munching, whilst absent-mindedly chatting to some pencil thin ingenue half his age. Was she simply his daughter out with Papa for a catch up? Or perhaps she was some hopeful starlet out with a Producer lobbying for her place in the chorus line?
Our champagne arrived. Crisp, with a grainy, biscuity finish (that’s enough bullshit wine chat. Ed)
we sipped parsimoniously and held hands. The barman, dressed in an immaculate white tunic looked up from his limes and lemons and asked how we were this evening? His argot as precise as his uniform, he elicited from us our new-found circumstances with three brief questions. Incredibly, our flutes were recharged with some of the same stratospherically expensive bubbles. I was quite getting used to this.
Then the American arrived. In his early forties, dressed in preppy Ralph Lauren with a lean personally trained face, he eased himself onto the stool and snapped out an order for a Manhattan. Our barman complied instantly.
Then, the instant we looked like we were ready to eat, we were temporarily relieved of our champagne and guided to our table. The older guy with the velvet jacket and the young women were just within earshot as Sarah implored me not to earwig.
As far as I cold make out, it was this chap’s niece who had spent the summer in Geneva. As the conversation dribbled away into blind alleys about friends, aunties and her mother, I tuned out and concentrated on Sarah, who wanted to know the gist of my eves- dropping mission. Sarah ordered the sea bass whilst I plumped for the pork belly, a rustic peasants cut of pig that has risen recently in the gastro rankings. It was presented perfectly by a waiter who took efficient service to an altogether different level. Immaculate and crisp like his colleagues, he was super fast with his service and just the right side of curt, a default demeanour best suited for the patrons of this place.
There is no doubt about it, for obvious, special-occasion-Out-of- Towners like us, this place can seem intimidating. The staff are used to people with money telling them in no uncertain terms if things are not to their liking.
Take the yank sipping a Manhattan at the bar. Just before we left to take our table, he looked up at the barman and with a menu waving in his hand said, ” Can I get something to eat?”
The barman replied straight away, “certainly sir ”
Then he returned to the aluminium sink hidden under the counter to drain the water and wash his hands? This delay was obviously intolerable to our American friend, who raised his eyebrow and said, “is that ok for you?”
Which translated meant, get your ass over here and serve me now!
Was this guy a typical rich American, or was he just an everyday arsehole (asshole)?
Whatever he was, the barman sped over and set his place with efficient speed. I guess if you’re paying these prices, you can demand the best.
As the double bass player from the jazz band started his anonymous gentle thrumming, and as the keyboard player launched into the least offensive opening rag time number, we sipped a spicy white Rioja and held hands. My pork belly on a bed of mash was well cooked without setting the place alight. Sarah’s sea bass was a delight, fresh as a quayside box of ice, it’s fleshy slices slipping away from the skeleton as though they were starring in a M&S advert.
Five minutes after our last morsel had disappeared our telepathic waiter appeared to clear away. He stood and mimed his intentions, waiting for my grunt to continue clearing. I noticed the start of an elaborate tattoo peeking from under his shirt cuff. I imagined him sat in a gay bar swirling his swizzle stick and regaling the barman with his favourite Caprice war stories.
We shared a chocolate pudding so sensual I didn’t know whether to eat it or smear it all over our naked writhing bodies (I must apologise for that image).
Then the bill arrived. £ 164.00. Ok not cheap but what do you want in Mayfair?
We said our goodbyes and exited the restaurant. The homeless guy had settled down for the night under the scaffolding opposite.
We decided to head off to our next destination. Now, if you want indulgence, go to Le Caprice, if you want opulence, head for the Ritz.