Friday, February 11, 2005


Not the Kurosawa movie from 1957, but the great little Japanese cafe in Kingly Street of the same name where Gibnut and I had planned to have a catch-up meal last night, and also apparently the capital's Best Bohemian Joint - though it's hard to imagine what a Bohemian Japanese would actually be like. Anyone met one? They can't just look Bohemian!

The plan was changed however when Surfer called up shortly before seven to say that it wouldn't be a bad idea after all if we joined him and H at the Oxo Tower Brasserie. Shiny and stylish, but no place for poets I would have thought.

There would still be some uncertainties to disentangle. Who was H, this visiting American that needed to be shown the town? Surfer had called from the tea-room at Fortnum's, so he was going about this commission quite assiduously. Yet why risk introducing us into the equation?

The smart diner overlooking the Thames was fully booked so in the end we agreed on another restaurant that I hadn't tried before, Portrait atop the National Portrait Gallery. On walking in I immediately recognised the rooftop vista through Trafalgar Square towards Westminster from Closer, and it's even more startling at night.

I'm always a bit suspicious of menus dotted with superfluous adjectives, but the only obvious offender here was "Belgian". (Belgian Endives - and they were off.) Yet the fusion on this menu seems to extend to the way the food is described- everything is a bit jumbled and connected to the point that I found it hard to settle anywhere. I think I made the right choices in the end though; my main course was an unusual but delicious mix of salmon and chorizo in a red piquillo broth.

H gradually took charge, flashed her platinum Amex and declared the evening a corporate jolly, which was an unexpected boon. (Guatemalan men would normaly put a pistol to their temples before allowing a woman to pay for them, or at the very least required H to write an affidavit assuring them that her boss was the ultimate sponsor! None of us are that macho!) She ordered a fairly alcoholic but velvety Cabernet-Shiraz and recounted how she met Surfer at St Andrews. Like my own girlfriend at the time she originally came over for a one year stint from an all-girl college in New England. Maths was her major (which seemed like news to Surfer), and she now works for NYC's biggest independent financier, a job that entails 4am starts in order to maintain her alignment with the European markets and regular flights to the old world to meet up with the CEOs of leading financial institutions.

The conversation somehow turned to online dating with Gibnut talking us through the heterogenous range of asignations he'd obtained through Dating Direct. "I'm shallow, I go by the pictures", he openly confided. This hadn't however stopped him trying out a tattooed and muscular señorita from the US Navy. "I always give them a second date", H chipped in. Surfer's dating disasters are well documented, but up until last night he's kept pretty quiet about the time he narrowly avoided the conventional consequences of upsetting an entire brood of Sicilians by "disrespecting" one of their number.

Surfer also sang the praises of Taghazout, the Atlantic village in Morocco where he recently rode "perfect wave after perfect wave".

I should have come here with J-Boy last week - he would love this spot.

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