Friday night - dinner and a movie. Delphine and I watching the End of the Affair and wondering why Ralph Feinnes isn't jealously obsessed by us.
Answers on a postcard please.
Then we wander disconsolately along Piccadilly into China House - hungry for love, or passion or maybe even just a plate of noodles.
China House used to be a bank and it shows. Although they've painted the pillars red, the marble lobby still has that echoing, give me your money, gloominess which reminds me of overdrafts. Despite all the lacquer and ormolu it feels like a place that's been hurriedly set up for a dinner dance - the sombre, surroundings are totally at odds with the blonde wood kitchen chairs in the circular banking hall. The looks just don't balance.
Instead we went upstairs to the Orient, which Delphine thought was more like visiting a private detective than a restaurant for 'fine dining'. Certainly, the narrow entrance flanked by two bouncers in black further along the street is not for the faint hearted or the fat bottomed. The lift is so small that we wondered if there was some kind of sizeist door policy to deter the dimpled. You either take a deep inward breath like a team of synchronised swimmers and squeeze yourself in, or pant up the curvaceous staircase which the doorman warned was "a long way up', Naturally we squeezed, but members of the familia Botero should be advised that they'll have to ride one at a time.
The Orient is an inoffensive bright, light, cream kind of place with not even a whiff of debt and despair. We sat by the window overlooking Piccadilly which was pleasant, though not a patch on the view from l'Odeon in Regent Street, and settled down to share one of those exquisite dishes women love where you pick over the bones of your personal lives.
But first we had to order.
What do you recommend? Delphine asked our waiter.
Well, from the cold appetisers the rare beef salad with sweet mustard dressing is very nice, he said. It's cold, with thin slices of beef and the dressing is mustard, but sweet.
Oh that really clarified things.
Then another waiter started telling us what he liked (italics). Okay, my pet bitch is jumping out from the handbag where I keep her muzzled like a bad-tempered lapdog, but a house speciality is one thing, being told the staff favourites is quite another. I'll eat thir favourites when they pay - otherwise, I consult the oracle - Delphine.
We started with a vegetable lettuce wrap - bland, diced vegetables which, wait for it, you wrap in a lettuce leaf and eat. The lettuce looked like one cup of a novelty bra, with similar resilience and texture, but none of the fun. We also had some gorgeous slithery dumplings which were nigh on impossible to eat with the elegant form over functional lacquered chop sticks. We dropped them so often that we transformed the tablecloth into a Jackson Pollock black period. The bean frosted tender scallops were two small balls of deep-fried vermicelli reminiscent of those middle eastern sweets you pour syrup over, and just as nasty. Inside was a deeply unpleasant, dense gluey mush wrapped around the tiniest piece of scallop like high interest on an unsecured loan.
Next we ordered Jasmine rice that evoked the delicacy and fragrance of Jasmine in the same way that wearing a hankie over your mouth when cycling really keeps the fumes out of your lungs. It was accompanied by some satay salmon in a fine, fragile tempura batter with a yellow mustard sauce (probably the same one that comes with the beef) which I disliked to the point of recoil and which came garnished with asparagus spears so unexpectedly al dente that you could have used them instead of the chopsticks. Delphine wanted to take them home and give them another five minutes in the steamer but we were assured that they were supposed to be 'crisp'. Another dish - China House beer braised duck, had a slightly sour lagerish aftertaste but otherwise was passable. The steamed aubergine, however, tasted like blotting paper after it had been soaked in garlic and soy sauce and left on the plate until just before it starts to grow cress. Nevertheless, I found myself eating it in for the same reason that Delphine ate all the salmon. From desperation.
A true banking experience. All that negative equity. Pudding had to be better. Delphine had a ginger and raspberry creme brulee which had been sitting around so long that the brulee had gone softer than a straight guy at a Tupperware party, and I had a hot chocolate pudding oozing chocolate sauce with coconut ice cream. It was the nicest thing all night, except for the waiter Robert from Crieff who looks like Harry Potter and can pronounce my name without choking on the glottal stops. A thing I prize in a man.
Then we stepped out into the street, rang an ambulance for a comatose chap sprawled outside Fortnum & Mason, as one does, and went looking for a bar.
Just another day in paradise.