Enough with the good-will to all men. A few friends and I decided that instead of our respective Reading Groups, Art Appreciation Societies, and Guardian's Women's Page Discussion Evenings, we would just say to hell with it all, go out to dinner once a month and drink too much. We'd skip the intellectual pass the parcel and go straight to spin the bottle trivialities. We'll call it the Bitches Club, with a core of four or five women, and then invite guest bitches along to spice up the gossip.
We were talking about it at Rowley Leigh's book launch back in November (you see - it takes a while to get these things organised) and Giorgio Locatelli of Zafferano, insisted that he would cook us a special inaugural dish.
As it turned out, he couldn't find the raw material. "I wanted to make for you something with bull's balls," he explained, but in this country you castraaaaaate them," he said with relish. Well, precisely. However, he did fetch an enormous ham from the kitchen and proceed to shave off slivers of exquisite proscuitto at our table with a fierce, and extremely long serrated knife. Probably for his own protection.
If this is special treatment, then give me more of it please.
Zafferano, nestles with its one Michelin star, in a pair of agreeably plain, non-decorated rooms, next to a row of droolingly frivolous designer shoe shops (if you're a woman), or in Knightsbridge (if you're a man). Thanks to the pay by course menu you can dine like a size six on two courses of, say, a simple winter salad, followed by steamed hake with garlic and parsley for £29.50 for two courses (if you're a sad, sad woman), or have all four courses, each with lashings of cheese, pasta, polenta, cream and chocolate to follow for £39.50 (if you're me).
Yes, yes, I know - the cleansing diet, but that's only when I'm not working. So, first, there was the antipasti - ribbons of aforementioned proscuitto curled round grissini, and excellent pancetta with soft-boiled quails egg on wafer thin bread. Next came, amongst other dishes, pan fried scallops of satisfyingly large dimension with saffron vinaigrette (£3 supplement), a piquant skate salad whose tangy sweet and sour sauce saved it from that customary stringy, bottom-feeding misery, and a sformato di patate - layered potatoes with taleggio cheese and porcini mushrooms. There were also a couple of dishes from the special truffle menu, their aroma floating around the table like the aftermath of very dirty sex, or socks, depending on your libido. We had more soft boiled quails eggs on radicchio and a risotto, both with black truffles, hand shaved with passionate energy by Giorgio.
To follow - I had spaghetti with lobster and tomato (£5 supplement) - a good dish though I still find tomato worrying with lobster - rather than cutting the sweetness of the dish, it elbows it out of the way like a queue jumper in the January sales. Had I been sticking to my wheat free diet there was also buckwheat pasta with Savoy cabbage, leek and sage (buckwheat is, of course, not wheat at all). I'm sure this would have been warming and robust but it sounded so like an earnest health-shop supper that, given my recent shudderingly awful attempts at turning grey food into something I want to eat, I passed.
However, the truly fine thing about Zafferano is that the cooking is inventive without showing off. It's clever without appearing to try too hard. There are no poncy, smart alecky concoctions, but many seductive sounding pairings that you long to try - Italian chick pea soup with black cabbage pesto, chestnut tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, pheasant parcels, or deceptively straightforward main courses such as cod, the new caviar, with lentils, or chargrilled red mullet with basil potato puree.
We tried the roast rabbit with Parma ham and polenta as well as the pork fillet with mustard. Neither quite lived up to the extravagant promise of the earlier dishes. Unusually - the foreplay was better, and much more prolonged, than the finale. Pudding consisted of a rich plum tart, a nougat parfait with candied chestnuts - too saccharine for me - but redeemed by a helping of coffee gelato - a perfect bitter-sweet end to the meal.
Otherwise, our plans went a little awry. Far from enjoying a gossipfest on such riveting topics as mutual friends, other people's husbands and my ayurevedic masseuse, we rarely strayed from the subject of food. Book recommendations were swapped surreptitiously under the table and we even talked about work. As bitches go we seem to be of the hopeless variety.
Horrors, are we nice?/italics/ after all? Good god - say it isn't so. In the coming year, I swear, I will try to do better. When people tell me I look tired, I will reciprocate and ask them how long they've had Jaundice, and when told 'in a girlfriend' moment that my shoes don't flatter my legs, I will hit them over the head with the matching 'novelty' handbag.
So watch out, I'm armed and dangerous.