It’s barely perceptible. It crosses my face in a flutter of wings and is gone before you knew it was there.
I might be alone, I might be with people. But I know it when it comes because it warms me up, gives me a tingle of optimism, hope and joy. It is a smile. Only a smile. But an involuntary one, a REAL one. I don’t do pointless smiles. I am default, de-mob, grumpy. My face is set in a Neanderthal frown and I rarely expose my teeth because they are gappy and it’s a hangover from self-conscious puberty time. But I have this tiny, enigmatic (I think-it isn’t really) smile that I can’t predict or control that means more than the rictus grins of multitudinous others.
And it mainly happens when I put something nice in my mouth.
There are other times when it happens. Like when I am on a bus after a good meeting and I look around and hear the voices of my city. I think about a bit of new business, a piece of paid writing and I see the river and smile. Almost inwardly, but my body feels like bursting because I am exactly where I want to be, the right age, the right place, it is all just right for those few seconds. Not for long mind, the walls of optimism come crashing down sharpish, but those lovely moments are mine to keep.
Or when I hear the right song. The one that is missing from my head at that particular moment, the one that makes me remember something that I wish I hadn’t forgotten. Then I smile.
But mainly it is when I put something in my mouth.
And when somebody that you love buys you dinner at the best restaurant in London on the eve of your birthday, you end up smiling more than you ordinarily would. Which is what happened on Wednesday when I was taken by SV to The Ledbury in Notting Hill.
I did the smile a bit earlier though- in The Lonsdale where I was just waiting. I had an hour to kill before our meeting time so I went to the smartest place I could think of, near to The Ledbury. A tall beautiful woman ushered me in to the dark empty space and I just sat at the bar, like an American man. It was empty and there was loud music that I didn’t know. It was nice. And I ordered the perfect drink for me, at that time, in that place- A whisky sour. If I’d ordered something fruity, long or even with loads of crushed ice I would have looked like a dick. Alone in that bar. So I drank my delicious whisky sour and half way down did a smile.
And she arrived, so beautiful I smiled again and then we went to The Ledbury.
And ironically the first thing I had to do was a massive fake smile because the nice French waitress smashed a wine glass all over my place setting and lap. God bless her, she was utterly mortified. She couldn’t have looked more appalled if I had caught her doing unspeakable things to a myopic donkey in front of my nephew in a convent. So I had to do the DON’T WORRY SMILE followed by ‘its fine! It was probably my fault actually-Shall WE leave? Are YOU ok? I really couldn’t give a tinkers cuss about such things but, being all English had to KNOW that she knew that.
But that was the last fake one. From then on in, only genuine. You probably want to see pictures now, don’t you, of all the lovely food and listen to how ”the apple counter balanced the foie with a tart acidity that one thought could only come from the genus Granny Smith”. But I haven’t taken a photograph for 25 years and there are myriad better food blogs than mine, where you can read about the food at The Ledbury. Here is how the food at The Ledbury made me FEEL. You don’t need to see pictures, they can never truly represent what is on the plate anyway*.
A plate of raw scallops, cut thinly and placed in a circle. Green oil and white ice crystals. It was essentially the best sushi roll ever. So simple- raw fish, seaweed oil and frozen hoerseradish- the seaweed and horseradish, northern European versions of nori and wasabi. And when I made that connection, seconds in, I laughed a litte and it made absolute sense.
Then the most beautiful and delicious of all sea creatures, the mackerel. Charred black skin, cold cucumber, a little raw flesh and shiso- more Asian influence, more deftness of touch and superlative control. I wanted more of this so badly I nearly cried as I dragged my finger across the remaining meagre juices.
Plump foie gras, crispy seared on both sides, melting voluptuous mess within. And the first little glimpse of actual genius. Something new, something wonderful. Christmas pudding puree. OF FUCKING COURSE. Its sweet fruit and spices. Of course it matches foie gras like a glove. But that thought had never popped into my head. Staggering. Beautiful. A new combination making my mind swim.
Then another sense. Smell. Truffle, shaved and pureed. I smelt it coming from behind my head. And it turns you on. Doesn’t it? It smells like animalistic sex on a forest floor and you know that’s what you want. But you eat your moist skate wing and cauliflower and banish such thoughts from your mind and. Smile.
Some post coital Pyrenean milk fed lamb for the Gentleman? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do. Can it be the softest, most intensively flavoured lamb that I have ever tasted please? With sticky reduced braising liquor that is the essence of every lamb that has ever gambolled. Nutty artichokes and crisp skin? Wonderful and I smile again.
Pudding was rubbish.
Cheese was good.
The wine tasting menu was perfect .
The company was breathtaking.
And just writing about the whole thing, this entirely hedonistic experience makes me happy. But I’m not smiling. One day in years to come, I will be driving and I will remember that food, how it felt in my mouth and there and then a smile will break across my face and only I will know the real reason why.
*if you really do want to see pictures of the food then check www.thehappinessprojectlondon.wordpress.com next week.