The Advantage of Cheese as a Travelling Companion
(Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat)
Date night with the hubby. Actually, what am I saying? Firstly, since the children flew the nest quite a few years ago, the two of us go out so regularly and so enjoyably, that times apart are rarer than times together. Secondly, the word ‘hubby’ is not one I ever use; it reminds me too much of a family anecdote.
My mother was German. She spoke good school English, so after WW2 she worked as a court interpreter for the British Allied Forces in Germany and, because she was a most attractive young woman, she was frequently also asked along to various officers’ functions and parties. At one of these she met three young British officers, all coincidentally called Ken, one short and very funny, one who was sensitive and deep and of medium height, and another very tall, very handsome one who impressed her with his gentlemanliness and superb manners. These three men were very good friends, so all together they invited her out on a picnic date in a rowing boat on the local lake. My mother, dressed in a polka dot dress and with her trusty transistor radio by her side, went along to make her choice of the three men in a boat. Apparently they had a thoroughly enjoyable time, laughing and giggling so much that the rowing boat capsized, the transistor radio drowned and my mother lost her heart to the very tall, very polite Ken. In due course they married and eventually set up home in Hampshire.
Now my mother spoke good English but, never having been to the UK before, colloquialisms completely escaped her, so when, as a newlywed and very keen young wife, she went to buy her weekly groceries and the friendly shopkeeper asked her “and how’s your hubby?” she confidently responded “Which one? I have several hobbies!” When then, in her mission to buy string she got her vocabulary muddled and smilingly continued “Would you please give me some twins as well?”, he beat a hasty retreat from this man-eating German and sent out his wife instead. My mother was none the wiser until that evening when she recounted the shopkeeper’s peculiar behaviour to my father who laughed heartily and spared her no blushes. So you see, that’s why I am almost incapable of using the hubby word!
Anyway, I digress wildly. Back to our dinner a deux at Six Portland Road.
It’s a sweet looking little place on pretty Portland Road in Notting Hill, with it’s foldable glass front opened back on a nice evening, the jaunty yellow door beside it and the old shop sign of ‘James Bricknell’ above and, with only 40 covers, it’s small and inviting. This tiny hideaway is packed full of rather smart local folk, dressed in casual, oh so thrown on linen elegance, thick glossy hair flopping about in that perfect upper class fashion, loafers polished to a brilliant shine and accents decisively cutting through glass. You’re in Holland Park here, Dahlink! The white tablecloths are stiffly starched, the glass gleams, water is served in ‘House Water’ glass bottles cleverly incorporating the H2O symbol, the menu is short and well thought out, the wine list long and delectable. It’s all rather marvellous!
We order Mackerel, Romesco and Watercress on Toast as a shared starter, and to follow, the Lovely Husband chooses Hake, Borlotti Beans, Tomatoes, Squid and Rocket. I also go for another fishy option, Brill, Sea Vegetables, Brown Butter and Capers. But first we are brought some wonderful melba toast along with some super creamy kind of fromage frais mixed with tarragon and oil. This is a treat all by itself! The mackerel which follows, is beautifully done and a so much tastier homemade version of the tinned fish in tomato sauce I used to like as a child, the fresh and fruity Romesco tomato puree under the maritime saltiness of the fish a perfect complement.
As for our mains, both the hake and the brill are well cooked, firm and succulent, with nicely seasoned crispy skins. The little pieces of squid with the hake are particularly excellent in their lemony chewiness, and the contrast with the fresh, green and peppery rocket and the sunny tasting tomatoes works a treat. My fish is a little more plain, though the capers give it a good zing. It’s all quite delicious and, despite the butteryness, light too!
We’re having a lovely time, enjoying our food, our wine and our conversation and yes, I shamefully admit it, surreptitiously listening in to the well presented couple of a certain age at the table next to us, who are quite clearly on a first date following an internet encounter, perhaps, or a blind date set up by friends. They are talking animatedly, profiling themselves, introducing the other to who they are and what they are all about. Romance hangs heavily in the air, here at Six Portland Road, it’s that kind of place. Sufficiently local to seem effortless, suitably intimate to promote dialog, and smart enough to impress.
Our wine glasses almost drained, our plates long since emptied and cleared, it’s time for pud and possibly just a smidgen of cheese as well, just for the taste of it.
With just two desserts to choose from, and since neither of us are that keen on chocolate mousse, it has to be the Pannacotta, Raspberries and Shortbread which is pleasant enough, creamy and mild with a good crunchy disc of biscuit and six tartly sweet raspberries, but not exceptional. We’re feeling wild and wanton, so we order some nice strong Cashel Blue cheese. Two little triangles arrive, sad all by themselves, and unaccompanied by a single grape, date, apricot or fruit jelly. Not even a cracker is in sight! At a price of £8 this leaves a somewhat bitter taste in our mouths which is not entirely due to the blue mould in the cheese! Shame, really, when our fish supper was so fabulous. Hey ho, every silver lining has a cloud….
Our bill comes to £120.38 including a bottle of wine, a coffee and 12.5% service charge.
Six Portland Road, 6 Portland Road, London W11 4LA, Tel.: 020 7229 3130
What I wore
Dark grey and floral Jonathan Saunders dress, pink strappy Beverly Feldman shoes and pink Mark Jacobs clutch.
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