I never thought that I was that girl who got ludicrously excited about summer holidays.
The sort of excitement where you lie out all your clothes on the bed a week before you leave, and draw up a militant list of pedicures, waxes and tans. You line up you travel shampoos next to the travel toothpaste, and a meticulously packed travel wallet, and then leap out of bed at 5am on the morning of departure like the Boots advert women.
I was pondering over why I lacked these levels of enthusiasm. And the reason became clear. I’ve not been on a proper summer holiday for ages. Having a boyfriend who hates the sun, and loves driving near-to-broken down cars has meant that I’ve had a load of other trips. Great trips. But trips that involve weeing in bushes and shaving my legs in pub sinks. Certainly not the sort of holiday that inspires the conventional countdown.
Anyway, this year was different. We decided to go Italy. And, much to our surprise, when we woke up on Friday (to leave on Saturday) we began to feel a childlike enthusiasm. Work dragged like the last morning of school before you break up for summer holidays. By the time the hands clunked to 5:30pm I was quite honestly about to explode.
Now, this rambling prelude does have a point to it. I want you, dear reader, to imagine my excitement, and then consider that on the top of everything, I’d been emailed four days prior to departure, and told that I’d won a Jamie Magazine competition to eat at Massimo’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar on Friday night. On top of that, you should know that it was also Tom’s birthday on Saturday (something that would usually pass with little ceremony – but considering our childlike state of enthusiasm, we’d really got quite worked up about it). So, by the time that we met outside the grand, Mayfair building that is Massimo’s, we were already bouncing about like a child who drank all the coke.
The restaurant was spectacular. If I’d been taken there on a business lunch I’d have been extremely impressed. If I’d been taken there on a date, I’d have definitely been wooed. Taking my excitable mood into consideration though, I felt more like a schoolgirl going the headmaster’s office.
This feeling didn’t pass when Tom waded straight in there before I could brief him, and asked Andy, the lovely editor of Jamie Magazine, whether Jamie was a weekly. Poor Andy looked a little disappointed, and asked if he should assume that Tom wasn’t a subscriber.
I slipped my flats off, put on my heels, and was handed a chilled glass of prosecco. Holiday had started early. We spoke to Andy and Holly, the editor and deputy, who are a duo that Jamie himself sourced out in Australia. They moved near to the Old Street offices and put together what is a triumph of a magazine. So many people in the magazine world speak of their publications with the expected trepidation that comes from working in what’s often referred to as a ‘dying industry’. The guys at Jamie were the most optimistic I’ve come across though – and no wonder – they’ve struck a glorious balance of producing a collectable magazine that is seasonal, beautiful, and really encourages readers to treat themselves to the June issue so it can nestle next to their May issue in their cookbook shelf.
Anyway, I digress. Just as I was getting accustomed to the pillars, arched ceilings, and sparkly fresh fish bar at Massimo’s, we were ushered into a wood-panelled side room where there was a huge table with places for the nine winners and their ‘plus-ones’.
Here lies the second error of judgement. Tom had assumed that it would be dinner a deux. He’d let himself slip into the naughty schoolboy mode that is so easy to fall into, but very difficult to snap out of…and only then did it transpire that he needed to be sociably adept in a dining situation with lots of strangers.
Well, the first course came – heaps of parma ham, mozzarella and bread. Then Massimo himself appeared at an open demonstration kitchen at the back, and started to whisk out one after another antipasto with consummate ease. There was no set menu, so I can’t tell you exactly what we ate, but it was light, and delicate, and some of the most flavoursome food I’ve ever tasted: tiny bits of battered cod, artichoke, sundried tomatoes, gnocci, carbonara…
…it was all going exceedingly well, until about four courses in we were given a fish tabbouleh (which was, incidentally, the best course of all) – Tom picked up the bowl, offered it to the two women to our right, and said: “you’ll like this, because you’re women, and women like couscous.” Wow. To say that it received a similar reception to when Cameron told Angela Eagle to “calm down, dear” would be putting a really positive spin on events. He went to the loo after that course, and when he came back, I heard one of them stage whisper: “he’s probably just snorted a line of coke.” Then they left. Whoops – sorry Jamie Magazine – though I don’t take full responsibility. They hadn’t really seemed in the mood all evening.
Anyway – more fool them, because the next course was a phenomenal monkfish with tapenade, aubergine and cherry tomatoes.
Then (as is the Italian way) just when I thought I’d never be able to put another morsel of food in my mouth for at least another week, we were presented with the lightest and most wonderful tiramisu, which I devoured within seconds.
After supper, we stayed and chatted to the other diners, mulled over the great food, and took in the glorious surroundings. Then, our night of excess came to an end. I got the number 8 back to Bethnal Green, and played packing roulette in preparation for the morning flight.
Thanks for a great night, Jamie Magazine…and if it’s any consolation, guess what I got Tom for his birthday – a subscription.
Italian chef Massimo Riccioli, of the famous La Rosetta in Rome, opened Massimo Restaurant & Oyster at the Corinthia Hotel in May 2011.
16 Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5BY
Tel: 0207 7998 0555
DISCLAIMER: The people from Jamie’s Magazine have since confirmed that the reason the women left “wasn’t related to Tom’s offensive stereotyping of grains and women.”