The Sign of a Good Restaurant Involves You Falling off Your Seat

I once broke a glass table in the Paris Bar in Berlin. At the time, I screwed a high chair in next to the table for my baby and then, crack, it broke. A total nightmare, but the staff were really kind and didn’t make a fuss. That’s the first sign of a...

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May 26 2014, 3:19pm

Photo via Flickr user Matthias Rhomberg

My husband Fergus and I recently watched a contemporary dance performance by the Michael Clark Company at the London Barbican. He is a genius. Michael Clark, that is. I don't like the overuse of that word, but he is.

A magnificent three-set-act with music from Scritti Politti, the Sex Pistols, and Relaxed Muscle, it's clear that Mr. Clark hears music like no one else, and then sends the bodies to work. I am his number one groupie.

I'd already seen the show twice, but I had to go back for a third time. I was so excited by the third performance that when I met my husband and some friends before the show in the Gin Joint upstairs at the Barbican, I might have been overdoing it a bit. They have forty types of gin on their shelves. When you're in the moment, it's all about choices, but sometimes there are too many choices.

I sat down, put my drink down on the table, and CRASH! I'd forgotten to check just where the table was. Gravity took over. During the mopping-up that was taking place around me, a lovely lady who was visiting from Cork, Scotland told our group about an experience at a restaurant in NYC. A party of 24 was seated between two tables, with 12 people at each table. The party decided to move one—fully set—closer to the other. They picked it up, tracked it to the other side of the room, and let go. CRASH! No one had bothered to see whether the table legs were coming over to the other side as well.

Biting in a restaurant space is something I've experienced before. I once broke a glass table in the Paris Bar in Berlin. What a beautiful restaurant, with all of the walls smothered in fantastic artwork. At the time, I screwed a high chair in next to the table for my baby and then, CRACK! It broke. A total nightmare, but the staff were really kind and didn't make a fuss. That's the first sign of a great restaurant.

But after the exhilaratingly sexy, beautiful experience of Michael Clarke's Company show the other evening, Fergus and I rushed home—as if the word 'rush' can be used anywhere in London—to make dinner for a group of friends who had joined us at the show. We had originally planned to go to St. John –Fergus's restaurant—but there was a wedding taking place there, so Fergus ran in and got some essential supplies—mainly champagne. The bride, he reported, was jumping onto the dining room table as he passed through to the wine cellar. I think that that's the first signal of a happy wedding at a great restaurant.

I had eaten at St. John twice that week, and consumed a beautifully gentle slither of foie gras, followed by veal and dandelion salad that I washed down with Boulevard Napoleon wine, the wine that Fergus and St. John's co-founder, Trevor, are making in Southwest France. Just two nights ago, I ate St. John's oxtail stew. Perfecto.

For me, it is always exciting to have friends around. I just bought new Ercole Chairs, so everyone has a back, which is nice when you want to lean back and relax. I can even dance on a 3-legged alto stool. I enjoy terrifying everyone with the idea that I might fall, but so far, all good. Knock on wood. And since it's in the comfort of my own home, falling off of the chair while accidentally knocking things off of tables, is more accepted than in a restaurant setting, where you feel the guilt as you watch the hired staff help to pick up the pieces for you.

When a lot of guests show up to my house to hang out in my brand new furniture—unannounced—there's one dish that I always like to when I have no time: spaghetti and cabbage with truffle oil. It is the dish that won my heart, when love was in the air in the beginning of my relationship with Fergus. The one risk to making this dish, if there are Italians at the table, is the debate over the quality of truffle oil. On a recent drop in to my house by some friends, there were quite a few Italians at the table who were being a little snotty about my truffle oil. But if you buy a good variety and are honest about it, then it is a little bonus that really bumps up the combination between cabbage, pasta, truffle oil, and Parmesan cheese. It becomes Moorish, luxurious, and is a one-pot winner.

Brits need to learn how to know when to pluck vegetables (like green cabbage), because I think that most British farmers are mostly looking for weight, not taste or beauty. I absolutely adore Union Square Farmers Market in New York City. God, we just don't have a farmers market here in England with such equally brilliant vegetables. The greens are always what gets me going at Union Square—those endlessly beautiful stalls with wonderful mouth-watering greens. Chard is grown into great Granddaddy sized leaves in Britain.

They just don't know the joys of teenage or even young, tender adults (vegetables) here.