Monthly Archives

January 2015

Service Not Included

​I love going to restaurants and while I am not a ‘foodie’ I do have some basic requirements that I thought were des rigueur, until I experienced a whole new dining experience. It was one of those minimalist places; wooden screens, architectural lines and tables in booths behind bamboo screens you know the kind of thing. The décor was similar to sushi places I’ve been in except for one detail. In the center of each table there were mini barbecues sunken into wood. At first I thought they were there for ambience, a take on a pit fire, but it turned out to be more prosaic than that; the food they serve you is not actually cooked.

​I’m still struggling here. Isn’t the whole idea of a restaurant that they get to cook the food and we get to eat it? That’s why they’ve caught on surely.

‘Do we get to do the washing up as well?’  I wondered.

This is broadly how it works. You pick from a menu, then the waiter brings you little packages of meat, fish, vegetables, whatever you’ve ordered, wrapped in aluminum. They tell you what’s inside each parcel and after that you’re on your own.

By the time our packages arrived I’d had a couple of glasses of sake and was getting into conversation. I kept unwrapping and tossing my prawns onto the grill then forgetting to fish them out again. My onions all turned to charcoal and I completely lost the asparagus because it shriveled and dropped through the mesh. I was also lathered in sweat from leaning over to rescue things and as we left the restaurant had indigestion and an assortment of hot sauces and pickles down the front of my shirt. It wasn’t cheap and I was confused when my friends started working out the tip. Surely service was included.

Judging from the delighted expressions on the faces of other diners, I can see this method of eating probably answers some primal hunter-gatherer impulse. Certainly it’s the closest people on the west side of LA are likely to get to foraging for food.

What is it about sushi? I’m not convinced that uncooked fish wrapped in seaweed or a tasty treat of raw egg topped off with sea urchin is a delicacy. I also like to be comfortable when I’m eating. Call me old–fashioned but I appreciate a regular chair at table height. Balancing on a stool trying to grab a plate as it jigs along on a conveyor belt is not my idea of relaxing, especially when the additional challenge of chopsticks awaits when you’ve finally located your food. No. YOU are the restaurant. YOU do the work.

If this trend continues there’ll be ‘do it yourself’ hamburger kits at the local grill and we’ll be making our own iced vanilla, one-shot, sugar-free latte in Starbucks. I now have a whole new appreciation for the service at our favorite French restaurant. Come back ‘fine dining’ all is forgiven.

Au Revoir

I’m not clubbable. Like Groucho Marx said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

The only club lounge I’m interested in is the First Class one at the airport. Also like Groucho I have spent a day at the races. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the queen at Ascot. ‘Ladies’ Day’ in the royal enclosure is all about the hats. I was keen to check out the dress code in LA. What would be appropriate here in a guaranteed eighty degrees of heat? I wondered. I Googled The Turf Club and saw they had strict guidelines and made no concessions to the weather.

There were to be ‘no jeans, leggings, stretch pants, short sleeve or zipper sports coats, baseball caps or visors.’ Ladies (including children), were to wear a dress or suit, skirt or slacks with a matching jacket or tailored blazer. Gentlemen’s attire stipulated a jacket and slacks but ties were optional. Hello. I thought. If I’m going to be channeling my inner flight attendant, I want my man trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. As there’d been no mention of leopard print or sequins, I had my outfit down.

That’s the thing isn’t it? Clubs are all about homogeny. On the rare occasions I’ve been to golf clubs I’ve been surprised to see so many men wearing the same pink monogrammed sweater, striped shirt, khaki pants and polo shirt. It’s like a game of ‘Where’s Waldo’ trying to pick someone out at the bar.

I do understand the urge to blend though. I was musing on these things as I packed my suitcase today for my trip to Europe and the Middle -East. Next week in Paris it’ll be navy sweaters and a trench coat. In London I’m favoring the knee -high boots and sweater dresses. My greatest challenge on this jaunt will be Dubai. Never having been to the emirates before it presents a new challenge. I’m not fond of headscarves and I don’t own any Louis Vuitton. Ah! Well I have time to figure it out.

A bientôt my friends.  See you on Instagram and Facebook. I’ll try to keep in touch by posting from the other side of the pond.

Once Bitten Twice Shy

Some memories are indelibly burned into my psyche. Rural living would be one of them. I mean let’s face it you can’t wear Louboutins in a field can you? At one point during our thirteen-year sojourn in the British countryside, my family wanted a dog. I wasn’t keen on the idea but you know when you’re outnumbered.

With hindsight I should have insisted on a purse-sized mutt; a spaniel or a Chihuahua, because Sandy, the hyperactive border-collie that came to live with us turned out to be mad. It’s as simple as that. He was a stark-raving-insane-out of control-lunatic. I have a hyperactive thyroid, but this dog made me feel like a sloth on Valium.

It may seem obvious, but if you don’t have sheep, you don’t need a sheep-dog. Sandy the dog, had a pathological need to round things up. I fully expected to come home one afternoon to find the postman and a couple of visitors corralled in a corner of the garden. I was getting up in the dark at five o’clock in the morning in the dead of winter to race around fields with him because I couldn’t risk the kids being dragged across a main road or have him break loose and cause a pile-up on the freeway. I’d come back from these marathons and he’d be leaping up and down as if the previous two hours had been a warm up.

I wasn’t free to leave my own house. I’d open the front door and he’d charge over and mug me. One day it took three complete changes of outfits before I finally managed to sneak out the back door to work.

In the end I called an emergency family meeting.

“Either that dog goes or I do.” I told them.

There was a pause, a little too long for my liking, before everyone agreed that we would all be happier, including Sandy if we were to find him a more appropriate home. He lived out his days happily on a farm. Although by that stage I would have happily seen him roasted on an open spit in the medieval banquet hall at Warwick Castle.

We also bought two guinea pigs around that time, which we were assured were both female. Twelve more guinea pigs later we realized our mistake. I think the chickens may have overlapped with them. My memory is not reliable here, I’ve blanked out a lot from this period of our lives would need trauma counseling before the full details could emerge. I do remember discovering Sandy the dog with feathers in his mouth and that being the end of the fresh eggs. By the way if you ever buy chickens don’t get Bantams. They look really cute, but the eggs are about the size of a pea and you end up knee deep in chicken shit and still have to buy proper eggs from the supermarket.

Of course in California we have ‘Doggie Day Care,’ a service that to the best of my knowledge is not available in England. Here you get a daily report on what your dog had for dinner, which other dogs they spent time with, their mood and general progress. You can check them into The Club in Beverly Hills for an afternoon of grooming and massage treatments while you pick out a seasonal wardrobe for them. You can send your pooch on a mini-break to Paradise Pet Resort a facility designed for the more privileged of canines.

You can keep a dog in LA and have absolutely none of the work that goes with it. A dog-walker’s no problem. You can book house calls to shampoo, manicure and pedicure your pooch and there’s a neighborhood ‘Dog Poop Removal Service.’

Here I could have a sanitized live accessory. It might even be fun, but you know what they say – “Once bitten twice shy.”

Out With the Old

Walking down our street yesterday I noticed a hole in the ground where there should have been a house. It took a moment to register that it was the site of a “tear down,” a concept unfamiliar to the English. We love nothing more than to renovate, but rarely from the ground up, we like to have something to work with, we strive for what the French call ‘benign neglect.’

I’ve always fallen in love with the potential of a place rather than the reality of it. I would gaze fondly at a derelict cottage, mentally transforming it into four pages of Homes and Gardens. We always ran out of money half way through our project, usually at the point where we’d put on a new roof, replaced all the plumbing, rewired the electricity and were about to embark on the fun stuff. Pictures of our kids are set against open plaster and exposed brickwork. There are very few baby photographs where they aren’t covered in a layer of dust.

We were purists. We’d spend entire weekends bringing an original Victorian fireplace back to its former glory, stripping paint from banister rails and lovingly restoring old moldings and original features with reclaimed genuine artifacts. The paintwork was all Farrow and Ball mixed to the exact original shade of the oldest part of the building. The new window frames were individually carved to the same design. The kitchen with its flagstone floor and open fireplace was a work of art. By the time we sold our nineteenth century country house in Stratford it was worthy of a profile in Architectural Digest.

It took us exactly thirteen years to finish it and exactly two weeks for the new owners to rip it apart, close up all the fireplaces and tear out the original features, though the building still stood. By then I was past caring, ensconced in California where people just build their dream homes then tear them down when they fancy a change.

In our street there are medieval castles, Spanish Haciendas, bungalows, ‘English’ cottages, Tudor and traditional houses, all sitting happily side by side without an authentic brick between them. Hey it’s California. It’s out with the old and in with the new.