‘He always comes round to say hello’ said my host the day before. I lay in bed tossing and turning. What would I say to the great man? Would I be demure and non plussed or would I be me – unable to stop myself gushing about what a huge fan I was of Professional Masterchef ? What would I wear? Oh! He’s married for goodness sake. The dialogue with myself went on for hours into the small hours.
The car pulled up outside. Glittering sprays of white and gold twigs framed the entrance and the most luscious Christmas wreath you’ve ever seen greeted us. We dropped our coats off and headed downstairs to the restaurant.
Chairs were pulled out, napkins placed on laps with a flourish. More lavish arrangements; red and green, silver, gold, oranges, cinnamon and the unique scent of this time of year.
‘Emmanuel’ my host said to the Maitre d’, ‘P is a huge fan of Michel’s’. ‘Ah, but of course. Would you like to see the kitchen and meet Monique?’ ‘What? Now?!’ I exclaimed. ‘As you wish’. Before you could say ‘veloute’, Emmanuel was giving me a guided tour of the kitchen. People plucked partridges. Some peeled chestnuts. All was calm but with a barely perceptible frisson of danger lurking. One sensed that any minute now the apparent calm would be dispersed by shouting and a frenetic pace.
I offered Monica my hand and she shook it. I muttered something about having studied catering and thanked her for allowing me in the kitchen. She asked me if I was here for a special occasion. I returned to my seat unable to concentrate on the conversation so bowled over was I.
Courses came and went. I excused myself between them and immediately someone was by my side: ‘Let me show you the way’. Ladies powdered their noses. We returned to find the napkins we’d left crumpled on our seats, now neatly folded in a triangle on the table.
Waiters were everywhere, flowing through the restaurant, defying the constraints of space between tables, never obtrusive, always attentive with just a modicum of arrogance to remind you that you were in fact eating two Michelin stars here.
Water was poured, someone else offered bread, another offered sauce and each course was served by waiters I hadn’t even seen yet, to say nothing of the sommelier and purveyor of the cheese ‘board’. Wine was decanted, silver covers lifted from dishes simultaneously, crumbing down was swift and silent and petit fours disappeared only to magically appear again in a ‘Le Gavroche’ gold box beside me.
All was elegant.
After we’d finished coffee and the first mince pie of the season , we got up to leave. ‘He’s not here today, is he?’ I said to Emmanuel as we put our coats on. ‘Ah, but ‘e is ‘ere every day’ he replied. ‘But, he’s not here today, is he’ I persisted. Emmanuel looked a little awkward. He’d clearly been briefed to avoid the inevitable answer: ‘Ah yes, but come on, ‘e ‘as to ‘ave a day off!’. I popped a postcard with Michel’s portrait on the front in my bag, ‘Yes, I guess he does’ I replied, and stepped out into the frosty air with a big smile on my face.