Nice to see you, to see you nice!
Ta dah! Here it is, my birthday! The big one, the one with the zero in it, the one that unceremoniously catapults me from elegant middle age to the murky depths of senior citizenship. I might now be represented by that Emoji icon we all have on our phones of the little old lady with a grey bun and, right on cue, early next year I am indeed expecting my first grandchild. I’ll be a real proper glammy, oh sorry, I meant granny.
There is a silver lining, and not just along the roots of my hair; I’ll be getting free public transport and free parking at Sadler’s Wells Theatre! Now you can’t say better than that! If I ever get bored, I can just go around and around on the Circle Line, all day long. There’s bingo, and I could learn to knit wildly unattractive wonky Christmas jumpers which everyone would have to wear just to humour me. And, if I wanted to, I could quite legitimately swap the Jimmy Choo stilettos for some comfy rubber soled tartan slippers. I can be deaf and forgetful, or at least pretend to be, I can poke people who get in my way with my umbrella, and I can be as rude as I like to whomever I like, I’ll be forgiven. Only perhaps not just yet. Give me a little grace. Let me gradually build up to that kind of liberation. Meanwhile, I’ll be a Golden Girl married to a Silver Fox. Sounds good, doesn’t it?! Kind of shiny and sparkly and immensely valuable.
The truth is that I have never lost my childhood enthusiasm for birthdays. It’s my special day, the day that completes one chapter and opens another, the one that celebrates my existence and the fact that I have managed to get this far in life, more or less unscathed. The years go by, the skin sags, the memory bank fills but it’s all a darn sight better than the alternative, so three cheers to me! I’m entitled to being Princess for 24 hours. Bring on the flowers, the well-wishers, the candles on the cake! I love every minute of basking in the sheer glory of being me, of being here, of being VIP for the day. The associated number is really quite irrelevant and anyway, old is the new black. Pah! Two fingers to youth!
In fact, I share my birthday with Claude Monet, Nehru, Condoleeza Rice, and most royally, with Prince Charles. As a little English girl growing up in Germany, I seriously and fervently believed that BBC radio played the British National Anthem in my honour. Can you blame me for being all puffed up with my own birthday importance? I’m soft hearted but sharp tongued, an unfortunate combination I put down entirely to being a Scorpio, an insignificant looking arachnid with an almightily venomous sting in its tail. A sinner and a saint, as the astrology books tell me, though I’m still waiting for the saintliness to hit. I’m working on it.
My tribe though, now they truly deserve canonization for their extravagant outpourings of love, their generous presents and thoughtful cards. I tell you, I was completely blown away! The red carpet was rolled out and I was spoiled something rotten! Oh, how I love birthdays! And them.
The birthday girl gets to call the shots, so while I considered throwing a party with all my friends there to help me blow out such a multitude of candles, the closer I got to the big event, the more I realized that this year I wanted just an intimate affair en famille. And so it happened that we booked ourselves in to one of our favourite restaurants for such occasions, Chez Bruce by Wandsworth Common. This is a Michelin starred restaurant but with none of the poncyness frequently associated with such high octane eateries. It’s small, cosy and friendly, much like your typical little neighbourhood restaurant, but the food and the service easily surpass the average by miles. It’s located right on the pretty Bellevue triangle, just off the Trinity Road, easily accessible for all seven of us, my two children with their partners, my nephew, the Lovely Husband and myself.
A quick glass of celebratory champagne at the neighbouring Althorp Pub (www.thealthorp.co.uk) beforehand, courtesy of my delightful son-in-law, and then there we were at a round table in the attractive contemporary classic environment of Bruce Poole’s flagship. (His other restaurants are The Glasshouse in Kew and La Trompette in Chiswick).
The menu is small and mouthwatering, the wine list extensive. What to choose?
I opted for the interesting sounding Shetland Salmon Ceviche with pomegranate, rye crostini and herbs, a light and tasty feast of deliciousness. Others chose the equally tempting sounding South Indian Fish Cakes, the Wild Mushroom Soup and the Partridge. My main course was Stone Bass with roast scallops and Jerusalem artichoke feuillete. This was a completely yummy dish with firm succulent fish and a perfect little filo pastry basket containing the braised vegetables but, to be honest, I missed some steamed crunchy green broccoli to go with it which would have so well complemented taste and texture. The Lovely Husband indulged in some exquisite Liver and Bacon with gnocchi and wild mushrooms and others were very impressed with their Beef dish, the Faggots with Venison Loin and with the vegetarian Pumpkin Empanada with roast sweet potato and peppers, all of which were fabulously well presented too.
For pudding most of us had the Crème Brûlée which, I must admit, I wasn’t that wild about. I found it too sweet, too floppily creamy and not nearly crackly enough. With hindsight, I should have gone for the famed cheese board instead. The Lovely Husband’s Tarte Tatin with clotted cream and nutmeg was to die for, and the Soaked Coffee Cake with poached pears and walnut crumble had my nephew singing its praises. My bite of the Ragstone cheese en brioche with truffled thyme honey, lemon zest and pea shoots was quite incredibly delicious too. A round of coffee with complementary dark truffles were the final treat. All in all, and despite my few minimal fusspotty niggles, it was a superb meal and we were outstandingly well looked after throughout. In fact, it was quite the perfect birthday dinner. At just under £50 per head for three courses with booze, soft drinks and service charge on top, the price is pretty reasonable too, considering the quality of food, service and ambience.
Filled to the brim with happiness, good food and not a little wine – come on, it was my birthday, after all!- I was chauffeured home to wallow in my new, marvellously luxurious, deeply relaxing Neom Lavender, Jasmine and Brazilian Rosewood bubblebath (‘the fragrance of cashmere blankets and the flutters of fireside warmth’) before laying my weary head on my equally new ‘Illuminate’ copper oxide satin pillow case (‘clinically proven to rejuvenate skin in just four weeks’!!). Hell, who am I kidding? There’s no way I’m giving up just yet! I’m all with Keith Richards on this: “We age not by holding on to youth, but by letting ourselves grow and embracing whatever youthful parts remain.” I’m embracing!