I had a small epiphany on the way back from the States thanks to in-flight entertainment. British Airways was showing an Australian season of films - an excuse to trot out people doing Abba impersonations, or ballroom dancing, as far as I could make out. I had never seen Pricilla Queen of the Desert, so I tuned in the earphones, and tuned out the children. But after several weeks of sun-bleached hair, and ninety minutes of uncomfortable comparisons with Terence Stamp as a blonde - I went into deep drag-queen peroxide shock. I have seen the future and it is definitely auburn.

 

Of course, after seven years are a strawberry blonde you expect everyone to notice that you are suddenly a new dark-haired woman. Especially your closest friends. So at Graham's annual birthday celebration, an event that seems to last as long as Ramadan in its various permutations, I waited for gasps of amazement. None came. How lovely it is to be memorable and make an impact.

 

We went to Shiraz, where 'Australasia meets the South of France' (keep up there's a theme here - I'll have you humming the signature tune to Neighbours by the end. And yes I know the owner is from New Zealand not Australia, but don't split hairs.)

 

It's a pleasant restaurant, fronted by a small wine bar with a chatty, idiot proof list chosen by enthusiastic owner Don Hewitson. There are Ralph Steadman cartoons on the palest of blue walls, the ubiquitous banquettes, this time upholstered in a soft cream leather which undulate into comfortable fat lady folds along the length of one wall, and slivers of yellow cut into the ceiling.

 

Nevertheless the room doesn't quite manage to shake off that corridor feeling and remains curiously anonymous. Though you can get a bottle of Mumm for under 30, there's not much fizz anywhere else. You could be in Enfield as easily as Central London. It might work well in warmer climes with the sea lapping gently in the distance. However, in St Martin's Lane all you've got is a tide of honking traffic washing semi-clad clubbers up outside on the pavement, the flotsam drifting past on their way to Stringfellows a few doors down.

 

Naturally enough, I had skippy (I'm not paid to eat chicken) - seared kangaroo fillet served with chunks of sweet potato and shredded cabbage - fusion bubble and squeak. It was tender and gamey and didn't bounce around once. Husband had the orange roughy. It's a white cod-like fish, said Graham confidently. I've seen it in Waitrose. This from a man who once subscribed to Marxism Today. It came wrapped in thin slices of potato, like a fat sausage - boulanger style according to the menu, and with an accompanying truffled jus - something we must steel ourselves against as the truffle season approaches and chefs once again dribble truffle oil every damn thing and its brother.

 

Graham had pan-fried dourade with crab risotto and vanilla butter sauce - the vanilla so rich and overpowering that it killed any trace of crab in the risotto. It was like dessert - rice pudding with a slab of fish on the top - not my kind of think at all - but then, that's why I didn't order it. He, on the other hand, loved it. He's probably been getting that from Waitrose as well.

 

We were six so managed a fair stab at the menu. There were no complaints about the main courses. Starters, however, were more uneven. The Caesar salads were chunky and insufficiently dressed, with which I sympathised. My own frock plunged lower I would have wished, given that I have a sun tan line right across the middle of my chest. There's obviously a gap on the beauty market - make-up for uneven cleavage.

 

Our salads weren't wearing much of anything, not even lipstick, though chorizo and anchovies in the same plate is surely the culinary equivalent of too many accessories. When cooking, perhaps we should adopt the points system that American business woman use when dressing - two for a scarf, two for a necklace, two for ear-rings, once for a bracelet etc - and if you have any more than six you have to take something off. I'm all for shorts and a tea-shirt food. The simpler the better.

 

The butternut risotto was wonderful, a sweet, creamy, don't-think-about the calories pool of heaven in a bowl. The duck, lentil and foie gras terrine was the exact opposite - a parsimonious slice containing meagre amounts of foie gras and infinitesimal proportions of everything else.

 

I bypassed pudding but the Husband had a sticky polenta cake and Graham a slice of gooey chocolate cake which, having noticed us handing out presents earlier, the waiter presented complete with birthday candle. But we didn't sing. Hey - no we're waaay too sophisticated for that. When I met him twenty odd years ago he was in a band and lived in a squat, now I'm giving him the Momo cookbook for God's sake. Any more conventional and we'll be nipping next door to Stringfellows.

 

And then you can just shoot me.