Monday, February 16, 2009

Quo Vadis?

Quo Vadis: A feast fit for a British-Roman Emperor?

Riding out the aftermath of Valentine's Day, there are a few lovely things trailing after me that I feel I should mention. It was a lovely weekend, with reasonable weather and great company - there's not much more one can ask from life, really.

Otherwise, the title of this post, while definitely a pretentious (should-be italicized) Latin Phrase, is not actually in reference to anything academic. It does, however, have a clever double meaning. For those of you somewhat Classically illiterate (or rather, like me, not nerdy enough to know Latin very well), the phrase means "Where are you going?" Fitting, because I'm about to recount where I did go this Valentine's Day with my Knight in Shining Blazer, and whether it was worthy of such a grandiose Latinized introduction.

For the sake of simplicity, let's break this into two categories generally reflective of how my mind tends to judge things:

I. The Food Part

Matt took me to lunch at what we had agreed would be the perfect place to get some dressed-up British food - the much hyped, much lauded:
Quo Vadis.
There are a number of things that are immediately cool about this

1. It is in Soho/ The West End, which automatically lends the establishment an air that is edgy, but within the acceptably bourgeois palate of London's yuppies (Do we fall into this category? Let's not go there). Soho is also the location of my favorite London tapas restaurant,
Barrafina, and anything in its proximity gets bonus points in my book.

2. The establishment itself is old - having opened its doors as a restaurant first in 1926, therefore legitimizing the aforementioned "old feel." It was also once home to Karl Marx. I can't say I'm one of his devotees, but I can respect the guy's intellect, and thus he adds coolness points to the the whole thing.

3. It is now owned and operated by Sam and Eddie Hart, founders of Fino (yet to taste) and Barrafina (
ding! ding! ding!), who also operate Quo Vadis the private members club, upstairs. Do I generally buy into the whole private members club thing? Not really. Does it look pretty nice anyway? Even I have to admit: yes.

All that said, the interior of the restaurant had the feel of a post modern art gallery - not exactly what I'd expected, but we rolled with it. Our table and server were decent. And, by the end of the meal, stuffed to the gills and generally in a good mood, we
nevertheless felt that while we could not actually fault the restaurant with "bad" food or "bad" service, there was just something missing.

Maybe it was...

...that when I, heavily pregnant, asked the waitress to have the bar whip up an exciting non-alcoholic beverage for me, she (and genuinely!) smiled and said, "Ooh, I'll make you a 'Shirley Temple.' I won't tell you what's in a 'Shirley Temple,' but you'll love it. Just wait and see."
*clueless smile*

Brenda's Outer Monologue:
*awkward laugh* Oh...great.

Brenda's Inner Monologue:
Right. Never heard of a Shirley Temple before, so that's exciting news. I mean, I like grenadine as much as the next, but COME ON! A SHIRLEY TEMPLE?!

...that when, again heavily pregnant, I ordered my Filet Mignon
medium our waitress felt the need to ask if I was sure I didn't want it medium rare instead. Twice.

Brenda's Outer Monologue:
No thanks, I'll have it medium. *sternish smile*

Brenda's Inner Monologue:
Ever heard of "toxoplasmosis" BI-OTCH?! I'm on the cutting edge of relaxed pregnant woman ordering it freaking medium!

...that when,
still heavily pregnant, I ordered a glass of Rioja to go with my filet, our waitress came back to ask me again if I didn't want two glasses of wine instead of one with my meal.

I'll spare you the monologues here. And the desserts.

Overall impression:

Matt and I never would have guessed this was a "British" restaurant based on the menu. Yes, it included sweet bread and kidney pudding (Matt's entree, which incidentally was delicious, but so freaking rich even HE couldn't finish it), and someone cleverly also thought to put a couple of sprigs of watercress on my plate, but otherwise, I don't really think "British" when I see "Spaghetti with Lobster" or "Moules Marinieres" on the menu. Main courses were offered with no side dishes - not even a dollop of potato and no suggestions were made with regards to what should go well with what. Hmmm. Lazy.

Also, nothing quite fit, and we both agreed that we felt that almost not a single starter went well with the main courses. It felt like the owners
really tried their best to include the UK, but ended up deciding, "No, actually, Mediterranean food is just that much better. Let's stick to what we know."

Well-cooked British food is highly underrated. Shame. Expensive shame too.

Next time the answer to
"Quo Vadis?" will not be Quo Vadis.

* * *

II. The Non-Food Part

After dinner we headed to Sloane Square to check out a truly wonderful little concert, in a truly wonderful little venue. In case you're curious, I played the violin for almost ten years. Matt thought it would be nice to torture me by forcing me to watch someone display the skills and musical talent I never had. :)

If you've never heard of the Japanese violinist Taro Hakase, then you should check him out. Anytime the entire Japanese diaspora in London shows up, you know it's something special.

The first part of the evening boasted three classical pieces reflective of a love-affair unbeknownst to me between Brahms and his mentor's wife Clara Schumann, as well as a piece by Schumann himself and Brahm's protogee, Dvorak. The piece by Schumann was the most beautiful - and I'm not just saying that because "cheaters never win and winners never cheat," though, incidentally, I do ascribe to that little mantra. :)

After that we got a real treat: little did we know, Taro had spent three years of his professional life touring with Celine Dion (!). (I won't explain that exclamation point. I won't.) He did NOT play one of
her songs, but did, in all its cheesy glory, treat us to a classical rendition of "Open Arms" by Journey. Rock on Taro.

We also got a taste of his own compositions, which, besides being really beautiful in their very Japanese style, can only accurately be described as "fiendishly midgety." Plus, he's a real performer, a mean MC, and, rocks a perm like no other Asian man I've ever seen.

Rock on, Taro.
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