Invariably, holiday friendships endure longer than holiday romances and last night, Nikki and I met up with some friends we met in Turkey many moons ago. At the time, Paddy hadn’t been made. Tom couldn’t dance and Sam and Harry couldn’t be trusted on their own – which is arguably still the case.
Being Christmas, our friends decided that we needed to eat somewhere special. A ‘destination restaurant’ and being the follower that I am (this is something I only discovered when I came to write Eclipsed), I agreed. 'Sure man, wherever,' was probably my exact response.
Ever unfashionable and uncool, Nikki and I arrived first at STK, part of the ME Hotel on the Strand. Just going on the volume of the music alone, immediately I realise that we were at least two decades too late for such a place. As we were seated I note more examples of our incompatibility. Nikki isn’t orange and is fully clothed and I am not wearing a gold watch. The music (they have a DJ for God’s sake) is so loud, it was a struggle to order our drinks and explains why they got it wrong.
‘Can I get you anything else while you wait for your friends?’
‘Ear defenders.’ I replied, safe in the knowledge that she couldn’t hear me.
And the place is too hot as well, especially for Nikki, since she is the only woman with menopause on her mind and for me, since I am the only bloke wearing a vest!
While we wait, we chat (as best we can) and we laugh at the place but we decide not to make mention of our issues to our friends. We are too English and too polite. And anyway, maybe, we need to lighten up a little? Get down with the kids and live a bit.
Our friends arrive. Parents with four kids just like us and an outlook just like ours and explains why we’ve remained firm friends. So how then, do they like eating dinner in a disco which has the atmosphere and feel of being in a washing machine and a tumble dryer at the same time?
We greet each other and order more drinks and start to catch up on our news – as a butchered version of Sexual Healing assaults us all.
Much to my relief, our friends are aghast at the place as well - and now the evening can really get going because we all have something to laugh at. But then Lawrence has an idea.
‘Why don’t we just have a starter and then go somewhere else?’
A bold move given that the place is rammed – and not something Nikki and I have ever done before.
But Julie has other ideas again.
‘Sod that, let’s just go now. I’ll feign illness and we can leave.’
It turns out that Julie is a brilliant actress as her face falls limp. Our case is helped because I now have blood dribbling from my ears but is probably undermined by our being in hysterics as we leave.
So we find ourselves on the Strand at 8pm, hungry and without a reservation. It’s Christmas and we’re not going to find anywhere nice, with space, which is affordable and quiet…
Directly across the road is a restaurant called Four to Eight.
It’s looks nice and we give only a cursory glance at the menu because it’s unlikely to have a table and I go in to enquire.
Perhaps I will play my ‘Do you know who I am?’ card or even better, my ace card, ‘Do you know who my son is?’
A lovely Italian guy – suitably tattooed and bearded up – explains that upstairs is fully booked but they have a downstairs which is completely free. I almost hug the bloke as we are led down to a quiet, beautifully appointed dining space. From where we’ve just been, it’s like an Oasis and a great night is had, helped along by the delicious food.
I can’t praise the food and service of this place highly enough.
Walking from Charing Cross Station up The Strand, past the swaggering and confident Savoy Hotel as the beautiful old theatres were filling up with people from all over the world, it occurred to me what a fabulous city London really is.
A city for young cool people as we squirmed out of STK – and a city for middle aged curmudgeons as we had a fab night in Four to Eight – London is a World city for everyone.
Happy Christmas everyone and three cheers to friendships.