Saturday, 21 June 2008

We're in the Cinnamon-ey

After a couple of months of anxiety, and an especially tense last few days to the process, the sale of the house finally completed and my bank account - overdrawn, often hideously, for pretty much the whole of the last decade - went very substantially into credit. This happy event marked the conquest of the final obstacle to beginning 'Phase 2' of my life - doing away with all debt and with it the necessity to work, at least for a while - and to celebrate I invited Andrew (the architect, with myself, of Phase 2) to dinner at any restaurant of his choosing. Having heard good things about it in the Westminster corridors of power through which he daily struts, Andrew plumped for haute-Indian The Cinnamon Club, in the old Westminster Library on Great Smith Street.

Wishing to start the evening with a little celebratory bubbly, we headed first to Zander near St James's Park. Propped up on two bar-stools like a pair of post-work Manhattan chicks, we sipped our way through a bottle of Prosecco while nibbling on lotus roots and dissecting the SATC movie which we'd both seen that week (broadly speaking we both loved it, bar one or two minor quibbles and one major one - mine - namely that I don't think she should ultimately have done you-know-what with you-know-who.) Whether it was our stunning good looks, our irresistible charm or just great customer service I don't know, but we were also showered with freebies by the ruggedly-handsome Dutch barman: two further glasses of pink Prosecco (try it - it's delicious) along with a generous serving of chilled strawberries. The high spirits were heightened further when I gave Andrew the gift I'd for so long wanted to give him but until today had been unable to afford; the gorgeous silver leather Patrick Cox shoes which he had fallen in love with the minute they stepped onto the catwalk months before.

Refreshed, we made our way through the still sunny streets to the restaurant, and were impressed from the off as we were ushered into one of the most beautiful dining rooms either of us had seen in London. The library's wood panelling and high-rise shelving has been largely preserved, and a mezzanine overlooks the main room and its enclosed, private dining offshoots. Even at just after 7.30 the restaurant was very nearly full and within a short time every table was occupied (one close to ours by a gaggle of screeching Americans, sadly) and the atmosphere buzzing. Whilst perusing the menu we enjoyed a cocktail from the cleverly put-together list; the cocktails, somewhat like the food, are familiar European favourites given an Indian twist and my Spice Martini, with its hint of cardamom, was fantastic.

Food was difficult to choose given that everything sounded absolutely mouth-watering. Despite being relatively compact - nine starters, eleven mains and a couple of specials and tasting plates - the menu covers all bases in that it offers meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian choices all of which tempted us enormously. (NB: for those unable to decide, or feeling particularly adventurous, or both, there's an eight-course tasting menu.) On top of this, you're also able to choose from a small selection of 'showcase' dishes from another high-flying restaurant, in this case superstar chef Eric Chavot's two Michelin-starred The Capital. I loved this idea, one I'd never come across before, and so I opted for Chavot's crab risotto with truffle cappuccino to start while Andrew went for seared scallops with stir fried mushrooms and coconut and mussel broth. Both were superb, proof of the extremely high quality of the seafood used in each dish being in the eating. My risotto was perhaps a little heavy on cheese, but the pan fried king prawns it came topped with more than compensated for this.

Staying with a seafood theme for his main, Andrew chose grilled wild African prawn with tomato lemon sauce and coconut rice, while I went onto dry land and (blocking out all memories of Bambi) went for roasted saddle of Oisin deer with pickling spices. Both were gold-star, merit badge, top of the class standard; Andrew's 'prawn' turned out in fact to be three huge prawns each the size of a small lobster and gorgeously smoky from the tandoor, while my deer, cooked perfectly pink, tasted deliciously spice-hot and tart. Confident that desserts would be as good, we both ordered the coconut plate and loved the 'three ways'-style treat with which we were subsequently served; a scoop of creamy coconut ice-cream, a miniature brule and a warm, fried donut-y beignet. And it wasn't only the food that delighted us; service from the moment we sat down, throughout every course, and as we left was a joy; warm, courteous and very respectful, but without a trace of the stuffiness one might expect from a restaurant known by some at lunchtime as 'The Commons' Canteen'.

The bill...well yes of course at the end of all this, what with cocktails, three courses, moderate wine (honest!), coffee and service, was none too pretty, but the night had always been planned as a special celebratory treat and it fitted that purpose exactly. Eating at The Cinnamon Club will never be a cheap night out anyway, with starters ranging from £7.50 to £15 and mains going as high as £32, but if it's bargain Baltis you're after then there are tens of thousands of local Indian restaurants who will very happily oblige. If, like we did on the other hand, you want a very special meal and to experience something new culinarily, then the Club should certainly feature highly on your list.

We finished off what had been a thoroughly enjoyable and divinely decadent evening with a couple of cocktails looking out over the Thames at Skylon; amazingly (considering my love of the new) I had never visited until now but will surely be back very soon for another of their terrifically mixed vodka Martinis...!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Saturday S.L.U.T.S.

Part of staying fabulous is staying fit (or at least, reasonably so) but I've never been able to enjoy sport - always being the last-picked fatty in P.E. has scarred me for life - and I'm utterly turned off by the whole gay gym cult and the vast majority of its practitioners. So it was with unusually little resistance that I let Margo and Patsy talk me into joining the South London Urban Training Squad, aka S.L.U.T.S.!

Meeting (usually) on Saturday mornings, S.L.U.T.S. is a loosely-knit collective of thirtysomething gay guys who want to work out and get fit while having a hoot-and-a-half in a totally attitude free environment. Spring Gardens - to much of gay London a place to chill out, cruise or indeed collapse after a night of clubbing - provides a wonderfully versatile location for the group to meet, offering not just plenty of open, green space but also a basketball court where each session begins with about twenty minutes of either basketball, netball or footie, or a combination of the three for those of us who never could tell the difference. Then follows a fairly intensive forty minutes or so of circuit training (who'd have thought that two minutes of star jumps could bring a grown man - OK, me - to the brink of tears?) before we warm down with ten to fifteen minutes of stretches. This Sunday just gone, the stretches were led by an extremely expert Jerry, who showed us that he has obviously paid attention at every keep-fit class he's ever joined, even if he's never gone back...

S.L.U.T.S. is a great idea, and absolutely perfect for anyone who, like me, wants to get some exercise but is turned off by the twattery and attitude of most gyms or the competitiveness of some groups. At the moment membership extends to only a handful of us (although Patsy did attempt a recruitment drive at the Vauxhall Street Fair the other week...) but the aim is to grow S.L.U.T.S. into a collective large enough to sustain occasional absences of its members - three of us are away this coming Saturday which has put paid to that meeting - and to rotate the duties of organising it all which currently lie with Patsy and Margo. That said, Margo appears in his element channeling his inner school-mistress and never appears happier than when chastising the 'lower VI' for misbehaviour or handing out ten second penalties for stopping during the circuits!

Usually S.L.U.T.S. meets at 10.00 on Saturday mornings by the basketball court in Spring Gardens, weather permitting, and afterwards adjourns to the nearest greasy spoon to undo at least some of the morning's good work. If you like the sound of that, do please get in touch. There are no joining criteria whatsoever - we'll even accept straight members! - just as long as you leave your attitude in your kit bag and promise to get into the spirit of it. Whether you end up behaving like a lower-case slut with anyone you may meet there is entirely up to you!

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