The comfort of strangers

IMG_0254One of my favourite things to do is to take myself out for dinner.  The venue is crucial. One has to feel at ease – dining alone is not for the faint hearted after all. But, if you should happen upon the right place, it’s heavenly.

I switch my phone to silent, log out of various ‘social’ media websites – utterly stultifying to one’s creativity – then sit back and enjoy my own company.

Most restaurants don’t excel at entertaining sole diners; they’d much rather you were there with 20 of your nearest and dearest or at the very least your other half.  It’s rare to find an establishment that says ‘We love you no matter what’.

Carluccio’s in Paddington Street is just such a place. I wandered in tired from a day treading the boards and glanced around.  At one of the softly spotlit tables sat an elderly lady, elegant with coiffed grey hair, a glass of chilled rose to one side.  A couple of feet away another solitary diner, young and dark haired placed his phone on the table, looking up as the waitress put a plate of steak and frites before his dinner-ready face.

This seemed okay.  This didn’t seem threatening in the least.  If only I’d had my notepad I could do some writing, but perhaps in its absence a newspaper would do.

I asked the waitress for one and she replied: ‘Oh yes, no problem – do you just want one though? I can bring you a few’. I said that would be lovely.

I looked around.  Two men arrived.  One seated himself at a banquette and took out a book. The other removed his hat and gloves – happy to be in out of the cold.

The waitress returned with a glass of red and several blank sheets of A4.  I laughed as I told her I’d asked for a newspaper but as it happened this was even more perfect.

A delightfully creamy chicken liver pate was followed by a puttanesca pasta.  I wrote and found I couldn’t stop.  The words flowed out of me, effortless, enjoyable.  Topics ran somersaulting into my mind.  I paused in between paragraphs to write them down.  Could I stay here all night I wondered? I felt pretty sure I could.

The lights dimmed.  I took a sip. I wrote some more.  I got chatting to a couple of fellow diners.  It turned out they both worked at Carluccio’s up the road and they were here, of all places, on their night off.  That told me something else about this establishment – that it had its heart in the right place.

I was offered a drink, and to join them outside for a cigarette.  As the night wore on further invitations were issued:  Would I like to go clubbing with them?  Would I meet them again for dinner one night? Would I come and visit them where they worked?

From inside the restaurant the familiar sounds of Stevie Wonder could be heard: ‘For once I can say this is mine you can’t take it, as long as I know I have love I can make it, for once in my life I have someone who needs me.’

Love takes many forms and sometimes surfaces in the most unusual places.

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