‘You look nice,’ I say. ‘I’d totes do you.’ She blushes slightly, flattered at the subtly implicit compliment.
Where were we then? Of course. I had just trimmed the metro-beard tightly to the contours of my rugged jaw-line (imagine Dan Dare on a good day, etc. etc…) and tried to polish out some of my more rustic edges to meet Miss X for a proper date, in a proper city. Or so I thought, but it turns out that you London folk still paddle up and down the river in boats. For Christ’s sake, we even have taxis and tubes in Portugal.
She looks pretty good though, in a high-collared slinky Chinese-style dress. ‘It’s quite short,’ she says, as if I hadn’t noticed. The aquamarine sets off the pond-slimy colour of her eyes nicely, so I mention this. ‘Emerald,’ she replies. She obviously hasn’t seen as many slimy ponds as me, but I pretend to overlook this lack of rural awareness. Her hair is sort of bronde, as I believe JLo would say, but I’m not the sort of chap who often hangs out with her so I might be wrong on this one. She mumbles something about not having had time to do her nails before the boat left which doesn’t bother me very much, but to make it seem that I am interested in what she has to say I jot it down in the notebook that I have brought along for my restaurant review. Apparently girls like a sensitive bloke, so I know I’m doing fairly well so far.
I am not particularly familiar with London, as you may have guessed, but no doubt my James Bond jumper felt quite at home as we shot past the MI6 HQ, and then before I knew it we had arrived at the South Bank. I was led into the OXO Tower Brasserie which suggested at first sight that Miss X knew a thing or two about eating out, although her firm choirboy bottom also lets you know that every big meal is paid for on a spinning bicycley thing too.
And there we were (not bad for a second date) sitting on terrace high up over the Thames with one of the most spectacular views in the civilised world. St Paul’s on the right, some other jolly important-looking buildings on the left with lots more other nice buildings in between, in case you are interested. And some even more boats. Decor? Astro-turf on the floor, that the 70s style galvanised mesh-and-leather cone chairs get stuck in, but they are surprisingly comfortable nonetheless. OK so far.
But then comes the first snag. They offer us a cocktail but the list is so huge that you need a drink just to get through it, which immediately created a dilemma of infinite regression. I believe this is what is known as a First World Problem, which I resourcefully solved by giving in to one of the various Negronis which resided mercifully near the top. And do you know what? It was one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth, except for some parts of Miss X of course, in respect for present company. Full of depth, complexity and bitter apricot flavours. She gave up immediately though, and told them to just bring her a gin and tonic. I tasted it, and it was so over-iced that by half way down it was flat and watery. How on earth can they make the most awesome mystery cocktail in the world and then screw up a simple G&T?
Things look up again when the wine glasses are put on the table. Riedel. She starts with squid, chorizo and skordalia and it is a truly inspired combination. The shavings of mojama-like bonito are fantastic. I have a very fresh crab on toast with a spot of chilli sauce and a pea soup shooter. This is pretty amazing too, especially the pea soup. These dishes have things like iced lettuce (wow!) and a micro-herb thingy apparently called ‘seashore cress’ sprinkled around the plate. Curiously, the latter is totally unknown to such authorities as Google but it tastes totes out of this world. This is a delightful mystery worth getting to the bottom of. As is Miss X, come to think of it.
I have ordered an Austrian Grüner Veltliner (2014) made by Rainer Wess and I am not immediately impressed. It starts off soft but very fizzy and I wonder if they have brought me a spritzer in a bottle by mistake. The front palate is weak, followed by some slightly gunpowdery aromas with a suggestion of unripe melon and grapefruit, but at least it lingers a little despite its shy intensity. Fortunately, for all my utter ignorance of most things female and fashion, I do know a little about wine. In fact I’ve made lots of the stuff for some pretty respectable companies. So I ask the waiter to take it out of the ice-bucket, and a few minutes later it blossoms in our glasses. All the fruit suddenly ripens to almost tropical levels, the intensity in the mouth rockets and as the over-chill evaporates we end up with something that can handle the chilli sauce.
By the way, the already comprehensive wine list states at the bottom For our full selection of over 400 wines, please ask for the ‘Big Wine List’. Now, whilst I embrace freedom of choice, I foresee the cocktail problem happening all over again. And what on earth would your date think whilst you were ploughing through it? Instead I let our waiter, the charming, attentive and knowledgeable Bruno take the reins. He went for Harvey Nics’ own bottling of a South African Shiraz, 2013, which turned out to be an inspired choice to accompany the main course, plus it’s available in half-litre carafes, in case the woman at the table is eating fish.
By now I was quite enjoying my date, and I obviously put down my notebook for long enough to have no idea what Miss X’s main course was, but I know she was very happy with it. As was I, as she was eating fish and I had half a litre of red wine to myself (I had left her a drop of the white, of course.) I had a yakiniku (Japanese for ‘grilled’) chargrilled (English for ‘grilled’) 28 day aged ribeye steak, according to the menu, with wasabi cucumber and all sorts of other oriental stuff and I really loved it. Admittedly, the steak was a touch stringy to dismember into fork-size bites, but my God was it delicious when you finally got it into your mouth. Just one question, OXO. The same chilli ketchup appeared three times in four dishes? I liked it, but that didn’t make me feel special. First World Problem again, no doubt.
And the red? Well, Harvey certainly knows what he is doing, as does Bruno. Balance, power, port-like intensity and super ripe fruit, easily enough to handle the rather high alcohol level. Perfect with the deeply-flavoured meat, but I’m just wondering if it wasn’t South Australian rather than South African?
By now Miss X was miserably starting to calculate the hours of spinning she would have to struggle through sitting next to David Gandy (they use the same gym) but I was already ordering just one tiny wafer-thin pudding to share. This turned out to be a chocolatey coconutty passion fruity thing, every bit as good as everything else. In case you ever order one, the honeycomb flavours of the Tokaj go better with it that the 10 year old tawny that I chose, more out of nostalgia than anything else.
At this point the scrawlings in notebook are no longer legible, but I do remember that I definitely had my best second date ever. When Bruno threw a blanket over Miss X I half thought that he was going to whip it away and she would vanish, but fortunately he didn’t, and she didn’t. She even let me have a brandy with my coffee because she thought that she might still be able to use me later if the bus took long enough to get us back home.
Read more about Single in the City here.