As papers and magazines go, it’s the New York Times that’ll often publish pieces that resonate, that get under my skin and stay there. A recent piece by Frank Bruni did just that.
Having brilliantly titled it “Familiarity Breeds Content,” he extolled the virtue of something that doesn’t get sung about very often: faithfulness – and, more particularly, faithfulness to a restaurant.
The London restaurant scene is all about the trendiness of a place (and something tells me that’ll never change…). Have you been to Gymkhana yet? Have you had the coddled egg at Dabbous? Are you on the invitation list for the opening of Ape & Bird? (Although I’m just a casual bystander when it comes to these things, and I imagine everything I’ve just said here is already passé.)
In NYC, as here, you’re “supposed to dash to the new Andrew Carmellini brasserie before anybody else gets there; be the first to taste ABC Cocina’s guacamole; advertise an opinion about the Massaman curry at Uncle Boons while others are still puzzling over the fugitive apostrophe. Snap a photo. Tweet it. Then move on. There’s always something else. Always virgin ground.”
But, argues Bruni, it’s not the trend-hunting, it’s not the being first at the latest, hottest opening that’s “necessarily the best course.” It’s finding a place that you love, that you can keep going back to, that provides you with intimacy and fidelity, that’s the most satisfying.
There have been several restaurants over the years that have slipped into that category for me. Some of these relationships have been more serious than others – some have been vastly important to me over a sustained period of time, while others have been flings, there to fill a need when it arose.
There’s the Outsider in Edinburgh, which has been home to many birthdays, and a graduation celebration and a variety of lunches here and there over the years (the booths in the window are great for people-watching, but it’s the big table in the nook at the back that you really want, with the incredible view out over the castle).
There’s Amalfi, on Southampton Row, which was the scene of dinner every Friday night for a year when I first moved to London. After several weeks, the staff would throw their arms up in greeting, make sure there was a table ready almost immediately, regardless of the number of people waiting, and there would be increasing amounts of gratis limoncello as the year went on – and at Christmas, our coffees would be accompanied with large slabs of panettone.
There’s a little Mexican in Home County that’s part of a chain (that nonetheless serves up really rather delicious burritos) which has been the scene of many a date dissection with Best Mate. There’s Senzala, which turns over staff at an alarming rate, but does top-notch, hangover-busting breakfast crèpes. Polpo is the place that’s almost always at the very top of the list whenever someone suggests a midweek supper in London, and its little sister, Polpetto, despite my only having visited three times in its original incarnation, holds a particularly sentimental and special place.
So while I’m all for getting out and about and visiting the new and exciting places as they open (have you been to Coal Vaults? Because you should. Have the Fancy Livin’, with the clam vodka), the old favourites offer something different, more intimate, more personal, shared history. I’m with Bruni: there may not be fireworks, but there’s rhythm and sometimes that’s better.