Go and grab yourself a cup of tea and something to eat. This is going to be a long post. I'm a bit nervous about writing it: too much to say, too much to be lost in translation from experience to blog.
Yesterday was a day of celebration in our family: the day in the middle of my brother's 21st birthday and maman's big birthday (I won't say which big birthday - I don't want to upset you maman!). And also it was Fathers' Day Eve. So the only one who wasn't celebrating was me. But I'm more than happy to jump on everyone else's celebration bandwagon.
To mark the occasion we had booked lunch at the River Café. I think I can safely say that this is our family's favourite restaurant in the UK. Especially on a beautiful sunny day when we can sit on the terrace; when a friend has bought a bottle of bubbles which are waiting there for us to celebrate; when a surprise guest arrives to join us; when we can spend all afternoon eating, drinking, laughing and talking. This isn't something that happens often.
A few months ago, maman had requested Lucy Boyd's raspberry and hazelnut meringue cake as her birthday treat from me. So early Saturday morning I set about whipping egg whites and piling high the meringues and raspberries to build this towering cake that had been asked for. This cake was then carefully carried all the way to Hammersmith (a long, long way from home!) and presented to maman before lunch. It was then safely (we thought) stowed in the fridge by the receptionist while we had lunch, so it didn't completely melt in the sunshine.
Surprise bubbles were bought to us along with a plate of oily, salty, garlic-y, charred bruschetta. Papa's favourite. I think he'd eat this three meals a day if he could. Then a plate piled high with zucchini fritti arrived (I just managed to get a snap of them before the hands dove in), and quickly disappeared, to be replaced by another plate. They also quickly disappeared.
A magnum (we were celebrating after all!) of Fontodi Flaccianello that Papa had bought with him was opened (the courier smashed the bottle that he had wanted to drink when he had sent it a few days earlier - lucky for the courier we will never meet him!) Presents and cards were handed round and opened and then it was finally time to move our concentration on to food. I'll try and let the photos speak for themselves...
Prosciutto di San Daniele with Chanterais melon. The sweetest melon and vast quantities of the most wonderful prosciutto.
Calamari ai ferri - chargrilled squid with fresh red chilli and rocket. Fresh, not chewy, with a hint of heat.
Asparagi - warm English asparagus with parmesan 'Fonduta'. I need to eat more fonduta. Bye bye hollandaise.
Gnocchi di Patate with slow-cooked sorrento tomatoes, mint and pecorino. Pillow-soft.
Agnoli - fresh pasta parcels stuffed with slow-cooked veal sweetbreads, pancetta, sage in Marsala, with parmesan. Too many good things on one plate.
Our very clean plates were cleared away, and full ones bought. I was so excited about my plate of pasta: this pasta is one very good reason to be happy about being alive.
Taglierini - fresh pasta with clams, zucchini and their flowers, parsley and butter. I had been talking about zucchini flowers the day before, figuring out where to go and source some, and tangled in with the pasta and clams that afternoon they were sweet and light. I had by now decided that this was the best Saturday afternoon ever.
Aragosta al forno - split and wood roasted Dorset Blue lobster with wild oregano, lemon and dried chilli, with zucchini fritti (oops - I think we all ate his zucchini fritti). The best lobster Dad says he's ever had - meaty and pink and beautiful.
Maman had samlone al sale - wild Scottish salmon baked whole in sea salt with aioli, broad beans and swiss chard. Her favourite. And I forgot to photograph it.
Coscia d'Agnello ai ferri - chargrilled marinated leg of lamb with salsa rossa crudo, pink and golden beetroots and baked fresh borlotti. B's comment is: the beetroot was amazing. I think he was slightly overwhelmed by it all.
Filetto di Manzo - wood-roasted beef fillet in Fontodi Chianti Classico with rosemary, braised Violetta artichokes and peas for T (very out of character - he spends most his life claiming to be vegetarian!). Definitely worth breaking vegetarian tendencies for.
Are you still reading? I hope you are. We've not got to pudding yet, and pudding is beautiful. I won't make you wait any longer...
Lemon Tart. Crumbly pastry, and that bright yellow tells you everything else you need to know.
Almond Tart with Strawberries. The best, in my humble opinion. But I ordered it, so I am slightly biased.
Chocolate, hazelnut and espresso cake was essentially an enormous brownie with a big kick of coffee and the crunch of hazelnuts.
Maman said her pannacotta with grappa and fresh raspberries needed more grappa. But she would say that. She loves grappa. The rest of us were just amazed by its wobble. I should have filmed it.
Coffees and fresh mint tea to calm us all down after all that excitement. We were ready to leave, Papa was busy chatting to the lovely Charles Pullan and maman went to retrieve her cake from the fridge.
The tin was (rather embarrassingly), sitting on the bar, looking for a home. She picked it up, thought it felt quite light, asked the chefs whether they had eaten it and they all said no. She came back to the table, had a peek inside and... you may not believe me... but... there was only a quarter of it left! I think we laughed for about 15 minutes. We showed Charles who looked stunned, and, after he had regained his voice, said: 'Wait a second, that's a River Café cake! That was my wedding cake! That's my wife's recipe!'. We agreed that yes, it was Lucy Boyd's recipe. His shock that his staff had eaten maman's birthday cake was somewhat amusing. It was worth the loss of a cake for the hilarity it caused. I'll never forget the day we went to the River Café for a birthday lunch and the staff ate my cake. At least they liked it, it seems. That's a seal of approval good enough for me. I know where to go next time I'm in need of a job!
Highlight: Everything. It is heaven.
Lowlight: They ate my cake.
River Café, Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London, W6 9HA