Business & Pleasure: 48 Hours in Aberdeen

Published on The Arbuturian on 13th December 2011:

“What’s in Aberdeen?” That’s the first reaction I received on mentioning that I was heading up to this Scottish city for a weekend. Let’s face it, Aberdeen is not exactly the top of any tourist lists and, given the time of year that I was visiting, November, expectations were pretty low. The scene in my mind was all set for grey, dreary, cold and unforgiving – all in all, rather bleak. Even I had to wonder for a second if I was going there for some light-to-medium masochism.

Glen Garioch 86 vintage

But in fact, an overwhelming wealth visits Aberdeen every year. Known as the oil capital of Europe, it’s home to offshore rigs, three heliports and visiting oil magnates. Donald Trump’s jet is frequently spotted when the tycoon drops in to assess the progress of his luxury golf course. With low unemployment and high net worth, the recession, it seems, has scarcely touched this part of Scotland.

So the city’s booming for business, but how is it for pleasure?

By some surprising stroke of luck the sun shone as I arrived and Aberdeen appeared to be a state of perma-green. Rows of almost overwhelmingly grey granite buildings sparkled slightly as their mineral surfaces reflected the sun. The friendly taxi driver volunteered his best Aberdeen chatter en route to The Aberdeen Malmaison, my home for the night. Unprompted, he offered: “The wife and I save up to go there for our anniversary dinner every year.”

Not quite sure why, but that fact pleased me somewhat – clearly The Aberdeen Mal held esteem with the locals. And with an afternoon of whisky tasting at Glen Garioch and a massage before one very sumptuous steak dinner at the hotel waiting, the weekend was looking rosy.

A flute of champagne and a quick bite of dainty lemon sole goujons, accompanied by crispy chunky chips, served well to line my stomach for the whisky tasting that came next. Or at least that’s the story I’m sticking to.

Glen Garioch, pronounced Glen Geery, holds the title for the most easterly distillery in Scotland. Situated in Oldmeldrum and named after the Valley of the Garioch, which grows the finest barley in Scotland, the distillery produces a portfolio of whiskies with sharply contrasting profiles. The Founder’s Reserve was buttery vanilla while the vintages projected a spectrum of preserved fruits. As a child born in ’86, I, of course, have to say that it was a fine vintage. But its softly smoky and lightly peaty allure certainly offers something to savour.

A quick tour and tasting later, it was back to the hotel for a relaxing hot stone massage in Le Petit Spa. The masseuse here will knead the knots out of your shoulders leaving you both calm and energised. Perfect, in fact, before settling into a feast in the private dining room.

The Chef’s Table at Malmaison is for those who seriously indulge in food. A glass divider softly draped in sheer satin separated the room from the bustling main restaurant on one side and the intense heat of the kitchen on the other. A mellow blend of metallic pewter and rotating scenes from the kitchen, live-beamed to the viewing screen, gives every sense of the action without the pressure-cooker environment. Then there’s the window to the meat room which stores the Donald Russell prime cuts, Malmaison’s meat supplier of choice. The fore-ribs hang by the window, the steaks rest on the butcher’s block and a live butchery demonstration is available if desired. Provenance is clearly high on the agenda.

Fish and chips at Malmaison Aberdeen

Indeed Malmaison aims to source all its ingredients from within 30 miles of the hotel. I suppose that means game from Royal shoots at the Balmoral Estate 48 miles away is out of the question. But that doesn’t mean my crispy frogs’ legs, Josper grilled rib-eye and theatrically flambéd Alaska were any less impressive. The frogs’ legs were moist and silken, the flavoursome Donald Russell steak was perfectly medium rare and the dessert  as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Such good fare in fact, despite the insurmountable challenge posed by the generous portions, it was impossible to say no. And all were washed down with a robustly fruity Italian red, expertly chosen by the enthusiastic sommelier.

A very slow waddle back to my suite to soak up the warmth of a roomy bath was about all I could manage after such a feed, before a restful night’s sleep.

Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon braced me for a mid-morning historical tour. Old Aberdeen, made entirely of sandstone, bore the marks of religious struggles and restorations through the ages. As I was led by the guide from artefact to artefact, a fine spray of misty rain descended. The sun, it seemed, has decided that a viewing of sandstone didn’t require its service. The silver lining was that the wintry introduction to the ancient city worked up quite an appetite in me.

Back on the cosy banquette of the Malmaison brasserie, an iced seafood platter followed by pan-fried trout was served up along with a much needed pot of Earl Grey. The long lunch allowed just enough time to relax with the Sunday papers and coffee before it was time to head back south, but not before a drive down Union Street to Aberdeen’s illusive seaside where, if the fog and darkness hadn’t set in, whales and dolphins can apparently be spotted.

After landing in London, barely a couple of hours later and in time for bed, I considered the weekend. Though only a short stop, it managed to be both relaxed and packed with activity – frankly I’m not sure where the weekend went. And Aberdeen, I guess, had a surprising amount to offer for the pleasure seeker.

Surf’s Up, Dude

Published on The Arbuturian on 26th August 2011:

In a recent interview with Simon Hulstone of the Michelin-starred Elephant Restaurant, I learnt that he takes his children to Cornwall for holidays because they love “the adventure and the sea and rocks”. Indeed, it’s at this time of the year that parents all over the country bring their mini-me offspring on escapades around this southerly county, but there’s also a whole hoard of young adults and old-but-young-at-hearts who flock to Cornwall every year too for adventure; the thrill they seek, is that of the surf.

Sea view at Watergate Bay, Cornwall

After braving the bashing waves in Lagos, Portugal, last year, I know just how they feel. Having attempted kitesurfing over the last few years, and failing quite miserably due to lack of skill and lack of wind I decided, almost on a whim, to tag a surfing trip on the end of a week’s kitesurfing in Tarifa, Spain. As a complete beginner, the online community tells me that Lagos has some of the best waves for learners as there were plenty of white water breaks to start with and bigger swells to progress to.

So there I was wading back and forth between the beach and the waves, swallowing my share of the briny liquid and being forced by my board to do underwater somersaults when, out of nowhere, I was riding a wave. That first moment when you realise that you haven’t “wiped out”, the wave hasn’t passed you by and you’re just sailing smoothly towards the beach with the wind in your hair is really quite incredible. It’s a bit surreal. Ok, the wind in your hair part is surreal. The reality is more like strands of wet hair matted to my face but the feeling and the great sense of achievement is the same.

Of course after that one success I was hooked. Watching surf docu-films like Bustin’ Down the Door only affirmed the addiction to the whole experience. Unfortunately, living in London and following a bee-hive schedule means that surf trips are more like the occasional glance at old photos and the odd indulgence in Youtube videos. Luckily Cornwall, as a no-fly option, has some of the best surf beaches in the world, including the surfing mecca Newquay. With the arrival of warmer weather, it was definitely time to tear away and hit the waves.

Qin Xie heading out to surf

Tedium from the five-hour journey, punctuated by a visit to Little Chef, Popham (of Heston fame), was soon forgotten when the stunning seascape revealed itself. The Hotel at Watergate Bay, my haven for a night, boasts even more spectacular sights from its sea-view rooms. From here, it is possible to see the perfect waves and the surfers who are attempting to conquer it. A short walk down is Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, offering my first Cornish meal – a five course Italian.

After a restful night to the lull of the rolling waves, I am woken early by the gulls outside. Already, at 8am, there are surfers paddling out determined not to miss a single wave. The morning’s plan had been to attempt some kitesurfing with the Extreme Academy based at the hotel, but after breakfast and a quick call to the instructor, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen – no wind. So it was time to move on.

The next stop is Mawgan Porth where the Bedruthan Steps is located. This family-orientated hotel sprawls across the sea view hills sharing access with its sister hotel, the eco-friendly Scarlet, to a semi-private beach. Although the surfing conditions are perfect, I decide to use the day to explore the other parts of Cornwall a little – a stroll around Padstow, some relaxation in the hotel’s HydroSpa, then some dinner at the Ferry Boat Inn in Falmouth.

After a day of cultural adjustment, I was more than ready for some adrenaline pumping wave riding. Well, the adrenaline pumping part would only apply if I was any good or if I was terribly bad and out of my depth. Luckily the latter was unlikely – I had a lesson lined up with The Surf Club, run by pro-surfer Nick Tiscoe, catering almost exclusively to guests of the Bedruthan Steps and The Scarlet. All the instructors are qualified British Surfing Association coaches as well as beach lifeguards – a reassuring fact. It’s also reassuring to find that the groups are small enough, two in my case, for that to mean something.

I meet Johnny, my coach for the day, outside the surf shack at the bottom of the Bedruthan garden. The weather’s not looking great, in fact, rain seemed almost certain. Recently crowned champion at the Saltrock Open, Johnny is a pro-surfer, which makes me feel rather privileged. And also embarrassed about imminently displaying my lack of skills.

After pushing and pulling my way into a wetsuit, I struggle down to the beach with surfboard under arm. A big, yellow, foamy kind familiar to anyone who has dabbled in beginner’s surf. En route, I tell him about my flirtation with surfing and how the majority of my surfing days were probably spent lazing in the sun after lunch. He tells me that he’s very strict so there will be no such slacking on his watch. I immediately envisage that some “drop and give me 50” will be involved – I knew I should have gone to the gym more often.

True to his word, I am dispatched to warm up as soon as we get to the beach. A swift run around followed by some stretching begins the lesson. The sun emerges from the dreary cloud cover basking the beach with sudden warmth. This, coupled with the awkwardness of the wetsuit, makes exercise rather difficult. Thankfully the unpleasantness was brief; though as far as I was concerned the walk down to the beach had warmed me up quite enough.

Surfers in Lagos

Johnny got straight to the point: how and when to catch a wave; how, when and where to stand on the board; what to do with your hands. Everything, but brief and concise. Then it was into the water to put it all into practice.

As I’m not strictly speaking a beginner, most of it was recap. That said, out on the water, Johnny gave more specific instructions on how to improve my skill. For my counterpart, though, it made the perfect introduction to the sport. The aim was ultimately the same – to get us standing every time.

Well it wasn’t a perfect score but I certainly managed to ride my board a couple of times as did my novice companion. It’s fantastic to realise that sense of achievement is still the same. More importantly, for my partner in crime who was more or less blackmailed into participating, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. In fact, he tells me that he would consider doing it again; not right away of course.

That’s unsurprising because two hours of attempted wave riding is hard work, even with success as reward. Even more difficult perhaps is the walk back up hill with board once again tucked under arm. That’s rewarded only with a cold water shower to wash away the sand and sea water and the difficult escape from the encapsulating wetsuit. That tight struggle reminded of the reason why I spent so many afternoons reluctant to get back into the water.

As I slog back to my sea view room to sleep off the morning’s exertions, all I can think of is what I could eat to fill my ravenous hunger.

The best time to visit for beginners is September – crowds get thinner, there are powerful autumn swells and the water and air are still warm. The Surf Club runs daily surf lessons at the beach within walking distance to The Bedruthan Steps and The Scarlet. For more information on the lessons visit The Surf Club of Cornwall. For details on accommodation, visit The Scarlet Hotel or The Bedruthan Steps Hotel. The Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay Hotel runs kitesurfing lessons by arrangement and is weather dependent.


Published on The Arbuturian on 20th July 2011:

It’s curious, the life of a Chinese expat – if indeed you can call me that. Despite being born in China and raised in a typically Chinese fashion, to the beating drum of the Tiger Mother, I have lived in the UK most of my life and hold only a British passport. When the Census comes round and asks me how I describe my “national identity”, I want to say “a citizen of the world” or failing that, at least “none of the above”. The reality is I probably copped out with something standard like British Chinese.

Soup dumplings

The thing is, no matter how British you are, if you’re Chinese there’s no denying it. For one, you look Chinese. At best, you can pretend you’re Japanese or something but where’s the sense in that? While I haven’t done my best to embrace my Chinese heritage, I don’t exactly reject it either. I’m Chinese but not really Chinese, like being Jew-ish rather than Jewish.

The other thing about being Chinese is that people automatically assume that you know all the best Chinese restaurants to go to, especially when they discover that you write about food. The reality, of course, is very different. I almost never visit Chinese restaurants for fear of spoiling fantastic memories of Chinese food. Also I firmly believe that my mother can do better.

You see back in the 90s when I first moved to the UK, my parents thought that visiting Chinese restaurants was like a taste of home. It was said that wherever there were people, there was a Chinese restaurant and more often than not, it appeared to be true. Unfortunately in those days the food was just so awful – everything seemed to be sweet and sour gelatinous orange blobs, resembling some grossly exaggerated bacterium from Pluto. It really pained me to go to these restaurants and I made a point of avoiding them like the plague.

Lamb skewers

Fast forward a decade or so, I found myself going to my first sort-of Chinese restaurant for a review (Goldfish, Gresham Street) and I wasn’t horrified by it. In fact, I was even impressed by some of it. I was beginning to warm to the idea of Chinese restaurants again – the food has certainly improved and gained an air of authenticity. A few more choice spots later (Yauatcha and the likes), I felt like I was finally ready to step into Chinatown, where there is the highest concentration of Chinese restaurants in London, for something other than the Prince Charles Cinema.

Coming from the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, I am familiar with and often crave its restaurant and street food so I made a beeline for the Empress of Sichuan where spicy is the word. At the Empress of Sichuan, the chilli oil didn’t disappoint and neither did the quality of their Sichuan peppercorns. If you can brave the chillies, the pork in spicy soup is the thing to have but otherwise go for the milder lamb skewers.

If you can’t handle spice at all then it’s probably best to go for something milder, like the soup-filled dumplings (Xiu Loung Bao) at Dumpling’s Legend. Each hot-pocket of deliciousness is hand made in the kitchen, to order, and comes in a whole selection of different flavours. There is an etiquette to eating these, I am told, for both grace and safety.

You see the snowy steamed pastry holds a piping hot filling as well as its cooking juices, scoffing the whole thing in one go will surely leave you an injured tongue. So the thing to do is to carefully pick up the dumplings by their pointy top and place its base on to the Chinese soup spoon provided, then bite off only the top section in your first attempt. This will release some of the steam trapped inside and allow the cooking juices, or the soup, to cool a little. I suppose this helps you to savour the flavour too.

For a real mixture of Chinese cuisine, both the spicy and mild, Leong’s Legend is a good choice. The menu isn’t extensive at this cosy little venue but you can order the Xiu Long Bao and some of the spicier dim sums too. But of course there are lots of others offering a similar selection in the vicinity.

Assorted skewers

What is surprising is that it’s not all Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, there are also a fair few Japanese restaurants. Take Ikkyusan on Gerrard Street for example, it’s quite well known for shabu-shabu, a Japanese variation on the Chinese hot pot, but it also serves some impressive sushi. The “dragon roll” is the house special and tastes as good as it looks. And then there’s Sushi Ga Ga round the corner which serves sushi and ice cream in a much less informal environment. Neither is Chinese and yet, somehow, they feel quite at home in Chinatown.

Am I pleased about these gastronomic discoveries in Chinatown? Definitely. The Chinatown today certainly serves up a much more impressive fare than it did some ten years ago. And with an abundance of other venues to explore, there’s plenty of opportunities for experimentation. As to whether I’ll be embracing Chinese restaurants from now on, I’m still not sure about that one. But at least I feel a little less afraid of venturing in and giving it a go.

London’s Cocktail Clubs: An Aperitif

Published on The Arbuturian on 4th June 2011:

They say that cocktails are great lubricators of conversation and amazing catalysts for fun times. True, but they should do all that and more. Cocktails should inspire you. And, when drinking fabulous cocktails, one should expect the venue to be as interesting as the cocktail itself. Why would you want to sip an outstanding drink somewhere that’s duller than the patina on a Bronze Age statuette? It would be like drinking Château Latour 1982 with your blueberry pancakes in a shed-like Texan diner: utterly unthinkable.

So, here are some suggestions for suitable venues in which to imbibe a cocktail or three. Let’s start with something gentle to ease you in.

I say gentle but it’s really quite dramatic. Good Godfrey’s at the Waldorf is the epitome of the glamorous hotel bar with a West End twist. In fact, it’s positively theatrical. Nestled among the cream of the theatrical crop, the bar screams opulence with its original, listed panelling and illuminated marble and chrome fixtures. It’s named after Howard Godfrey, the bandleader of the ‘Waldorfians’ house band back in the 1920s – and everything else is inspired by drama.

Take Very Very Pretty; the name is a reference to the only stipulation of the ‘Gaiety Girls’, performers at the neighbouring Gaiety Theatre, who didn’t require any particular skills. And Thé Dansant, inspired by the tea dances at the Waldorf’s Palm Court. Then there’s the Hot Gin Punch and the Astor Hip Flask, which are served up in a giant teapot and a hip flask respectively. All, rest assured, are expertly created by the award-winning Nelson Bernardes.

Elsewhere on our map there is something thoroughly modern. Not the Millie but The Folly, a garden-themed venue with multiple bars and endless space for eating and drinking. It’s probably the biggest venue within the Square Mile and it could be the greenest place in EC3 too with its Norwegian Spruce tree trunk at the bar, the plant pot lighting over the restaurant and the potted plants in the deli-come-bar. You can pick up a gardening kit with your customised cocktail or a bunch of flowers with your sandwiches. And that’s just upstairs; there’s another whole level downstairs with even more subtly different pockets of microcosms.

Those conscious of alcohol calories will be pleased to hear that there’s a range of ‘skinnies’ to choose from, complete with calorie count to help you make an Informed Decision. The Watermelon and Raspberry Ripple is simply bursting with health, but the Ziggy is the one that’s been created by Ezekiel Maledon at The Folly – call it the house special. If you want something outrageously left-field though, there’s always the Thai Tini – it comes with a prawn.

Speaking of left-field, the London Cocktail Club has a courageous cocktail list with a décor to match. Where else can you enjoy a Bacon and Egg Coupet under spidery glow lights? The LCC is tucked away in a Goodge Street cellar space, but there’s also a sister venue on Great Newport Street called The Covent Garden Cocktail Club (which was formerly, and confusingly, also called the London Cocktail Club). Although each venue has its own unique character, both follow “that classic LCC/CGCC theme”. I’m still trying to work out what that is exactly but their outrageous wall paper and extensive cocktail list simply intoxicate me; the Brixton Riot (peach, cranberry and lychee liqueur, flamed with Wray & Nephew overproof rum) is a real flaming eye opener.

It seems that every other cocktail here comes with a helping of food for garnishing (bacon, bread, shortbread, ice cream and so on), but if you did fancy something a bit more substantial, the bar snacks are Raymond Blanc-approved. That is, the LCC co-owners JJ Goodman and James Hopkins were the winners of the third series of the BBC’s The Restaurant and have since been working with Raymond and other notables to create these unexpected cocktail clubs.

If the upstairs lounge is more your thing then you might enjoy Tempo, the Curzon Street Italian. It speaks Mayfair in volumes in the restaurant downstairs but the first floor bar is a whole different Regency period, all decked out in original Rococo Revival panelling and mouldings. The plush and contemporary seating will leave you in no doubt over the modernity of your cocktail. The Tempo Punch isn’t bad and the Basil Grande adds something extra to your strawberry purée – ground black pepper and basil to be precise – but there is one cocktail that defines this venue: the Mayfair Gem.

There’s a gem in the East End too. When you walk down Rivington Street in search of the double C of Callooh Callay, you’ll probably wonder what could possibly entice anyone not wearing brogues, skinny jeans and an oversized t-shirt with safety-pinned sleeves to tackle this part of town. It’s in the heart of Shoreditch with The 100 Club in one direction and some ‘invitation by word-of-mouth only’ abandoned warehouse rave in the other. But when you brush past the bouncers, doing your best to refrain from attempting a secret nod, and push through the heavy double doors, it’s all shirts and frocks inside.

The first room will be so dark that you’ll barely be able to read their outlandish menus but even if you could, you won’t be sure what you’re going to get. What does violet liqueur taste like anyway? Beets Me! is the thing to have either in the back room (much brighter) or upstairs in the Jub Jub bar (the seats are velvety). Of course, if you are a member of the Jub Jub bar – and that helps if you hope to get into Callooh Callay when it’s really busy – you could always order something on the Jub Jub menu or go off-piste.

After all the dimly lit venues you will need The Botanist on Sloane Square. The quirky ‘nature’ theme here is subtle and reminiscent of sunny days out in Kew Gardens except, instead of the sun, there’s floor-to-ceiling glass to make the most of that natural light streaming in from the similarly proportioned windows, and the plants engraving the walls give all the air of botany without any of the hassle of hayfever. Of course, that is not to say that it doesn’t offer the usual trappings of Sloane Square. After all, more than a few young Royals have been spotted propping up the bar.

That fact has definitely rubbed off a little on the cocktail menu, with the suggestively named Indigo Royale and God Save the Quince. I’m partial to a little Tea House Martini myself, but I hear the non-alcoholic (gasp!) Boost is also a popular choice. Should you happen to find yourself ravenous and the attractive clientèle not quite sating your hunger, there’s always the option of eating from the bar menu or popping next door into the restaurant.

Similarly Royal-inclined is Awana, down the road. The gourmet Malaysian restaurant has a bijoux alcove opposite a well-furnished bar looking out onto Sloane Avenue. If you’re not a member, this is the perfect place to spot who’s stumbling in and out of Bart’s next door while sipping on cocktails and enjoying a satay something. (I hear Prince Harry has been seen deep in conversation with a ‘mystery caller’.) The house classic is Havana-Banana-Awana but if that’s a bit of mouthful, go for Blooming Hibiscus.

For something that’s a bit more grown up, maybe even old fashioned, try the bar at The Zetter Townhouse (ZTH for those down with acronyms). It’s the latest venture of Tony Conigliaro, the man behind the now infamous and award-winning bar with no name at 69 Colebrooke Row, in collaboration with The Zetter. Inside is a boudoir of dramatic nick-nacks including taxidermy and old paintings. The dolled-up cat is a bit disconcerting and you wouldn’t want to get into a boxing match with the kangaroo on your way to the bedrooms after one too many, but the staff have the most adorable little outfits; you’d wish they were minuscule enough to pop into your pocket and take home. Figurines should definitely be the next thing on their agenda.

The Master at Arms is the drink created for ZTH, which will be adored by all port lovers, but the Harvard is just that bit more aromatic. If you discover their games room with the ping pong table, you will almost certainly need reinforcements. The food at ZTH is provided by Bruno Loubet, chef/patron of Bistro Bruno Loubet just across the square. In fact, you can probably spot him dashing between the two once in a while. The charcuterie platter is particularly good, but just make sure you order plenty of bread.

Of course if you don’t mind venturing further afield, the bar with no name comes highly recommended, by everyone. In the lab above 69 Colebrooke Row, Tony concocts some of the most interesting cocktails around. With mini distillation devices and water baths to play with, there’s certainly a lot of experimenting going on. There’s even a Manhattan up there that’s five years in the making. The menu is completely different from ZTH, of course. If it wasn’t so seasonal I could drink the Rhubarb and Hibiscus Bellini forever, but for now there’s a Lipstick Rose and a Liquorice Whisky Sour to keep me company.

Now that you have a handful of recommendations to take you through at least a week and half, I hope, go forth and explore. But please, report back interesting findings. And do drink responsibly; fabulous cocktails aren’t made for binging, you know.

Good Godfrey’s, The Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, WC2B 4DD. Tel. 020 7836 2400. Website.
The Folly, 41 Gracechurch St, EC3V 0BT. Tel. 0845 468 0102. Website.
The London Cocktail Club, 61 Goodge St, W1T 1TL. Tel. 020 7580 1960. Website.
The Covent Garden Cocktail Club, 6-7 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JA. Tel. 020 7836 9533. Website.
Tempo,  54 Curzon Street, W1J 8PG. Tel. 020 7629 2742. Website.
Callooh Callay, 65 Rivington Street,  EC2A 3AY. Tel. 020 7739 4781. Website.
The Botanist, 7 Sloane Square, SW1W 8EE. Tel. 020 7730 0077. Website.
Awana, 85 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DX. Tel. 020 7584 8880. Website.
The Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ. Tel. 020 7324 4545. Website.
69 Colebrooke Row (the bar with no name),  N1 8AA. Tel: 07540 528 593. Website.

The Ebury

Published on The Arbuturian on 11th April 2011:

Whispers exchanged between passing Porsches have it that The Ebury counts a Royal-to-be as one of its regulars. The truth is, the well-heeled crowd that lounge in this Chelsea brasserie probably wouldn’t bat an eye if Kate and Wills strolled in arm-in-arm.

It’s not that it’s ridiculously posh. Well, I suppose it is a bit when you count the number of pearls adorning the necks of cashmered ladies; that is, if you haven’t been blinded by the light reflecting off their diamond knuckle-dusters first. But rather, there’s an overwhelming sense of privacy when you walk in, from the low lighting to the window blinds. You feel sort of safe and just blend in among the crowd, especially if you’re a Sloane. Besides, everyone seemed to be preoccupied with their own business which, for a privacy conscious individual like myself, is just fine.

I arrived first and scoped out a seat in the corner by the window – perfect for people watching or to plot domination of the London food scene in private. At 7.30pm, there’s a real buzz in the air and the place was filling up. For some obscure reason, Jonesy seems to think that it’s an obscenely early time of the day to be having supper, which, while I muse over the menu, I imagine was the reason why he’s keeping me waiting.

I began a slow tap on the table with my left hand, starting at my pinkie and working towards my index finger and then back again. Looking over the menu, I cast a furtive glance around the room for the first time. Considering the furore upstairs that was the joint 21st birthday of Tim and Ed, or some such young guns (who were all dressed in tuxedos, you understand, and smoking cigars, outside of course), downstairs was a mellow sea of families, young professionals and post-nesters. An eclectic mix I’m sure you will agree.

On my ocular exploration I happened to look out of the window. There was Jonesy. He has spotted me too, somehow, through the blinds and waved. I felt slightly duped by the false sense of privacy that the blinds offered – don’t sit by the window if you don’t wish to be seen.

“Have you been waiting long?” Jonesy asked breathlessly. Another one of Jonesy’s quirks is that he refuses to use public transport and instead prefers to either walk everywhere, as in this case, or catch a cab.

“No, I just got here actually” I say as I rose to greet Jonesy. It’s true, it’s only been five minutes.

As we sit down, Jonesy tells me he’s starving and tucks into the bread and butter offered while I stick to my water. I had already decided what I was ordering having looked over the menu at lunch.

Jonesy wants to get a burger.

“I’m not judging you,” I say with an unmistakable tone, “but you know if you get the ox tongue to start and oxtail for main, you would be eating from nose to tail?”

But Jonesy wasn’t having any of it. Clearly the Bohemian spirit from the ICA party the night before had caught up with him and he needed something comfortingly normal. So we both went with the chicken liver and foie gras parfait with grape chutney and toasted brioche to start. I’d like to think that I inspired Jonesy’s choice actually but I’m sure he will deny it. The parfait was great though, perfect you might say. And the grape chutney wasn’t half bad either except I kept imagining that they were mini pickled onions, which of course they tasted nothing like.

For main, Jonesy stuck to his guns and had The Ebury burger while I went for the confit rabbit leg with parmesan gnocchi, roast artichoke and tapenade sauce. I am probably mistaken but I detected a bizarre hint of soy sauce in my main, which in all honesty could have just been the complex fusion between the tapenade and the artichoke. The rabbit was fabulous, as was the gnocchi. It’s been some years since I last had rabbit and all those things you say about meat literally falling off the bone were all applicable here. Jonesy munched his way through that burger in no time at all so I guess that means he’s given it the thumbs up too.

Then it was on to dessert.

I have a mouth full of sweet teeth and Jonesy has precisely none. I was sure he was just entertaining me when he suggested getting a dessert so I could have two. It was too perfect to be true. Not so. Jonesy nibbled at the apple and Guinness fritters, probably so I would feel less greedy, before pushing the barely touched plate towards me. How could I resist? That said, after finishing my rhubarb crumble I was more than stuffed. Still, I made an attempt at it but try as I might, I couldn’t finish it.

In the end, I had to admit defeat and waddle out making extra room for my satiated stomach. No matter how good it was, finishing three whole courses plus an additional dessert was an impossibility for me. That’s not to say that I won’t be back to try again, of course. And next time I might wear my pearls.

The Ebury, 11 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8NA. Tel: 020 7730 6784. Website.