Belt Mathaide Oru Set up

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A luncheon like no other

Yesterday was a special day. And a special day warranted a special celebration.

So Pushpa and I got up at 8:45, wee bit too early for a cold January morning, had a quick breakfast of toasted brown bread, a thick slice of Tesco's organic cheddar cheese and a large mug of 'PG Tips Gold Blend' tea and rushed off to the Bushey Grove Leisure Centre which is a council run sports centre near our home. We had booked a badminton court from 10 to 11 am. One of our new year resolutions this year has been to turn ourselves into reasonable badminton players. Pushpa is a beginner at the sport having been ignored by the three elder siblings, as often happens with the youngest in the family as they don't offer a strong enough challenge being young and tiny, when they played actively during their adolescent days. Anyway we had a good session of badminton when Pushpa practiced all the shots she has been learning in the last one week.After that we swam in the leisure center's pool for an hour. By the time we got out of the pool after a few rounds of freestyle swimming we were ravenous. My chechi, Nilina swims 30 rounds in a pool in Madras. I wonder how she does it. I was exhausted when I did 5.

We had a nice hot shower at home to wash the stink of chlorine off and I dressed up in the new trousers and overcoat that Pushpa bought me from Mark's and Spencer's and my new black hand-made leather shoes bought from The Schumacher near Goodge street in London. Pushpa had booked a table for lunch at a pub called 'The Crystal Palace' in Berkhamstead which is a 20 minute drive from Bushey. We arrived 2 minutes after our booking time of quarter past two, and were told by the manager lady "I am sorry, we don't have any tables left"; as an afterthought she asked, "You have not booked in advance, have you?". Now, I am not sure why a handsome young man, dressed to kill, on his birthday and his winsome lady did not look like they had a booking, but anyway, Pushpa asserted "Oh Yes, we do. Here it is..." and pointed to her name in an open register on the counter. Then she said, "Oh I see, you're early, aren't you?!" to which Pushpa and I replied, "No, we are on time" and brightly and generously smiled away. I was enjoying this, and put on that "I am always on time everywhere, Madam" kind of look and beamed from ear to ear. She quickly set up a table for two and we were ushered in and shown to our table. I ordered a pint of the Greene King - Indian Pale Ale ( ale is a non aerated beer brewed in wooden casks) and Pushpa, a glass of the house wine. The dining hall was already quite packed and to start with, the atmosphere was not very friendly. It may not be unfriendliness at all. It could be just that we look a wee bit different from how they look and so a bit of curiosity is, I guess, natural. (A bit of skeptical curiosity.) With half a pint of ale, I settled down quite well into my comfortable chair and was not bothered about anything other than the aroma of roasted beef wafting through the air.

As we were already very hungry, Pushpa suggested we should go over to the buffet counter sooner rather than later, where a nice friendly lady stood carving roasted meat. Roasted chicken, lamb and beef were on offer. Both of us chose beef. She carved several generous layers of soft, juicy beef onto our plates and put a roasted parsnip as well. ( Parsnip tastes like madhura kizhangu and is very tasty). We then helped ourselves to cauliflower and broccoli au gratine, a couple of huge sinful Yorkshire puddings, something very tasty that looked like haggis, lots of tasty sauce and just enough steamed beans to give a pretence of healthy eating. Without exaggeration it was simply the best roast beef I have ever tasted in my life. I have had a few since coming to England and acquiring the taste of Sunday roasts. (And it can take some time for people to acquire the taste for such things. I know that Chechi and Ravin already have the taste for such things. Roshni and Amma would probably need some time like I did. I have often thought that when we have erachi ularthiyathu, we are actually enjoying the taste of the masala that goes with it and perhaps a bit of how soft the beef is, but we are never really getting the taste of the beef itself.) The roast beef was well cooked ('well done' as they say here), the outer layers roasted golden and the inner layers soft, succulent, juicy! A bit of the 'nose spicy' horse radish and the 'nose spicy' English mustard added spice to the afternoon. The au gratine was very tasty. After ten minutes of carving and cutting and chewing and mmhmphing, we realised we hadn't spoken a word since we got the food. The roasted parsnip tastes out of the world with the beef. The strong tasting Indian Pale Ale blended with the taste of the meal. The story of IPA goes like this ... this ale was originally meant to be exported to India when the British ruled over India. But then somebody tasted it at the port where it was meant to be loaded onto a ship. They found it to be so tasty and the news got around and finally somebody whose decision mattered decided not to export it to India, after all !

After lunch Pushpa had a pleasant surprise for me. She had ordered and got a Black Forest gateaux from Peyton and Byrne, one of the excellent traditional bakers in London. Pushpa gave the box to the manager lady in the pub and asked her to bring it to the table after lunch when she showed some secret sign of twitching her eyebrows or so! And lo behold there was a lady bringing the gateaux in singing a line (and thus sparing me the embarrassment) of "Happy Birthday to you...". Borrowing the phrase from Georgie, the gateaux was 'awesome man' ! It had shavings of dark chocolate on top and the outside of the gateaux was one circular sheet of chocolate. There were three layers of chocolate cake and two of rich but not greasy fresh cream. The top was thickly strewn with fresh cherries seasoned in something, I think some nice wine. These cherries were amazing compared to the black forest that we get from Sweet Chariot in Bangalore which I had thought until now was the best possible black forest. I will bring a sample of this gateaux on one of my trips to India. I think it would be worth holding it in my hand on the 14 hour flight. Pushpa thought it would be a good idea to leave the rest of the gateaux for the pub people since they had allowed us to bring it from outside etc. So I helped myself to another big piece of it. I must have looked like I was going to explode. I felt like it. No afternoon would be complete without a tea and we had a pot of tea to wash down the gateaux.

Heady with the tastes of the afternoon, we headed home and lay down on the diwan and telephoned our respective homes. Needless to say we did not have dinner last night. To finish things off in style, we played half a game of scrabble and it being my birthday and all, Pushpa agreed to stop when I was still leading. It was a lovely birthday celebration conceived, planned and executed with a lot of love by Pushpa and I enjoyed every moment of the day. But it must be said that the icing on the cake was the luncheon like no other.

6 Comments:

  • Wow !!! You certainly have a way with words. One of the most delicious posts I have ever tasted er read :)

    By Blogger Sachin R K, At 3 February 2007 at 09:30  

  • Welcome to the blog world. I am sure you are gonna love the trip here.

    Good to have started of with a luncheon. You need a stomach full for the grand journey. Food is the easiest bridge to a new culture. Unlike art, literature etc it is not a very high involvement type unless we decide to cook on our own. It only takes a little lowering of the antennas. Thanks to our boy Denny here, I've ventured quite a bit on the gastronomy routes on either sides of India.

    It is good to know the raw taste of meat and fish sometimes. i have recently started liking the grilled chicken [ narkathilea kozhi : a form of punishment in hell :-) ]a specialty at the "Empire Hotel" which every true blue mallu-banglorean ( Am i inventing a new sub culture like the indian-american) would vouch for. I still remember the challa fried with just some salt on a vazhaIlla which vappa tried once at muvattupuzha.

    By Blogger redwaterstew, At 3 February 2007 at 23:16  

  • Thanks Sachin and Salil.

    When I tell a story, I like to think that I don't mince words or details. You guys inspired me to take to blogging. I got some time on my hands at work recently and started reading through your blogs and I must say that it mersmerised me. It is very powerful. I already love it.

    Narakathile kozhi sounds fantastic! chaala varuthathu is a special weakness of this ernakulam kaaran. And believe me, mallu- banglorean is a very distinctive sub culture and definitely worth mingling with, especially over a bottle of Old Cask or Old Monk or even Khoday's. Sakhaave aa beedi ingedu.

    By Blogger Belt Mathai, At 8 February 2007 at 04:56  

  • Hi Mats man and pushpa.
    Have been meaning to read your blog for quite sometime. Great narration ...! I can smell the beef and almost taste it at the tip of my tongue. I wafted quickly through the dessert as I am trying to diet.
    Wow... thanks for sharing.
    Have a Great year.

    By Blogger joe, At 17 February 2007 at 16:18  

  • Thanks Joe. Why don't you take to blogging as well? I know you like writing.

    By Blogger Belt Mathai, At 8 March 2007 at 09:58  

  • mmmmmmm...sumptuous

    Rahul

    By Blogger ReadnRyte, At 21 April 2007 at 13:22  

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