The Last Supper...For Now 


Amid tumultuous times, I reflect upon the two soirées that took place in the twilight days of the pre-coronavirus world, including a dinner with Vinous forum members, finishing with a shard of optimism for an unwritten future.

Like myself, you are reading this in self-isolation as Covid-19 inexorably sweeps across the world, dismantling the fragile framework of society and turning loss of life into mind-numbing statistics. Just a couple of weeks into lockdown, I find myself wistfully looking back upon the twilight days of my previous life, picking out mundane details of freedom now seen in a new light of appreciation: the morning walk to the shops, catching a crowded train, browsing a busy market, meals with friends. It is trivial in the scheme of things, but I already miss eating out, whether it is visiting the fish and chips shop around the corner or dining in top restaurants in order to write reviews. Events overtook my planned contributions to Vinous Table, made redundant as the hospitality industry teeters on the brink of a vast unknown, surviving from one day to the next. Of course, this predicament must be taken in context against a backdrop of exhibition centers transformed into makeshift hospitals and ice rinks into morgues. Yet it still represents countless livelihoods whose future is a question mark.

Avoiding infection and protecting our loved ones are at the forefront of our minds. There is also yearning for a return to the life snatched away by an invisible enemy. We could take some comfort if we had a date when everything will revert to normal, that light at the end of a tunnel, a point in time when we will be able see Covid-19 in the rearview mirror. We search for hope in experts’ predictions in an unprecedented and bewilderingly fluid landscape with so many unknowns that nobody can say for sure what and when the exit strategy is. So we revisit memories, especially those that are the freshest, just before our world changed.

This brings me to La Trompette. Even without a pandemic, there is no need to wax lyrical about one of London’s most consistently impressive restaurants, which has already been reviewed here. But I visited twice before everything changed, and even though this is not the right place or time to detail the menu in the normal fashion, I resolved to preserve the memory of those occasions. What I intended as a Vinous Table has been rewritten to capture other aspects of a special evening in January, when Vinous forum members congregated for no reason other than to celebrate food, wine, good company and life. I can almost taste that evening’s mouthwatering dishes, the combination of a skilled chef and the interplay of ingredients. I have not forgotten the attentive service of waiters and sommeliers, and I wonder how they’re doing now. I still hear the sound of clinking glasses and conversation prompted by shared bottles. I vividly remember the conviviality and bonhomie that night, the bacchanalia and communal enjoyment of wine and food that is part of human DNA. At this moment, when bad news follows bad news, forcing us to continually process upheaval and implications both personal and societal, we cling to such memories like life buoys in a roiling sea, lest we be swept away into despondent waters where we can no longer glimpse the coastline of normality.

That evening feels as if it took place in some distant past – certainly in a different lifetime. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that it was less than two months ago. In fact, January’s gathering was the second edition. The first took place a year earlier, and despite being unable to get into the spirit of the evening due to illness, I chuckled when one forum regular poured a champagne blind and duped us all with a Blanc de Blancs from Tesco. Such was the success of the gathering that we vowed to do it again. This year’s dinner was, thankfully, one where I was healthy. It was a marvelous evening of like-minded people brought together by shared passion for food, wine and a subscription to Vinous. Little did we know what lay around the corner.

I returned to La Trompette on March 11, when I should have been in Burgundy at Les Grands Jours. By that time the reality of Covid-19 was dawning upon our collective consciousness, a tsunami visible on the horizon and heading our way, though it was difficult to comprehend the enormity of the wave. As we entered the practically empty restaurant, the waitstaff were keeping their chins up, and both the food and the service were as exemplary as ever. Two Bordeaux winemakers joined our party: Julien Meyre from Cap-Léon-Veyrin in Listrac, and Anthony Crameri, sales director of the de Schepper family, who own several Bordeaux estates, such as Tayet, La Croizille and Tour Baladoz. They would be my last direct contact with vignerons for who knows how long, and unsurprisingly, beneath the light-hearted banter there was a valedictory air.

There are no photographs of the dishes or bottles in this article, just a picture of the truffle tortellini on the homepage as a reminder of the epicurean delights that I long to savor again. The only images I wanted were of forum members enjoying everything great that life has to offer. Though it is difficult to imagine as the pandemic takes its toll, these pictures serve as reminders that eventually we will return to a semblance of our previous lives. Our primal desire for enjoying life has not been extinguished, and our appreciation of fine cuisine will surely be enhanced when this is over.

The pandemic will lay waste to vast swaths of the hospitality industry; restaurants whose loyal clientele took years to build will vanish and economic hardship will ensue. That is the ineluctable reality of the situation every country faces. But I wanted to finish with a glimmer of hope. Green shoots grow in even the most barren ground. I asked Nigel Platts-Martin, co-owner not only of La Trompette but also of The Ledbury, Chez Bruce and The Glasshouse, how things had been since I bumped into him crossing the street as I was leaving La Trompette in March. He told me that the mood is “grim” and his staff is furloughed, but then added: “I am super optimistic that Chez Bruce, La Trompette et al. will all return...When we finally see this awful pandemic off, I’m sure our customers will want to end weeks of enforced isolation by returning to their favorite restaurant to celebrate the return to some sort of normality. We can’t wait!”

The third edition of the London Vinous off-line will take place. I cannot say when it will happen, but it will happen.

Courtesy of author Robert Macfarlane, “glisk” comes from Shetland Isles dialect. It means a far off gleam of sunlight through darkened cloud, figuratively, a glimpse of the good

(Thanks to James Taylor, who was instrumental in putting together the second edition of the London Vinous off-line; to everyone who came with their bottles; to Greg Sherwood MW for inviting me to lunch in March; and to the entire team at La Trompette, who I look forward to seeing again in the not-too-distant future.)

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