Sunday, 17 January 2016

Italian hospitality.


                              Image result for spaghetti bolognese

I was up at school quite near Cambridge, whilst my home at the time was on the South Coast.

Several of my school contemporaries were from either London or the South East, so at the end of each school term we would together take the train down to Liverpool Street, then take a taxi to Victoria Station. There were usually about 5 or 6 of us.

Near the station, round by Grosvenor Gardens, was a small Italian restaurant where we would all have lunch together before saying our goodbyes for whichever holidays were on offer. It became our tradition to eat there, and we did so, without fail, three times a year for four years.

Over this time, the waiters got to know us quite well, and I seem to remember that, after a couple of years, we even started calling them by their names; it was all very friendly even though we only visited very occasionally. When we did turn up, it was like meeting old family members that we hadn't seen for years. They would make a real fuss of us. Our distinctive school uniforms and fancy boaters must have made us instantly recognisable.

Our menu never changed from visit number one. We all ate Spaghetti Bolognese, and each drank a pint of Watneys Red Barrel. The waiters would come to our table with those classic huge salt and pepper mills and always made a flourish when serving us. It was as much great theatre as great gastronomy.

Going home for the holidays was always good, but eating our Spag Bol at this restaurant was even better.

I'll never forget the very last time we all visited; it was late July 1964. We mentioned to the waiters that it would be our last collective visit, and a bottle of Chianti was instantly offered by the management as a goodbye present. They were genuinely sorry that our little tradition was to end.

I doubt very much if the restaurant is still there, so in retrospect I'd like to thank those wonderful Italian guys for making our visits so much fun. It gave me a real taste for Italian food (and lifestyle) that has never left me.



40 comments:

  1. What a nice memory! I'm sure you remember those kind waiters every time you eat spaghetti bolognese!

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    1. I do.... their sense of fun comes back every time.

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  2. What a lovely tradition and memory. Yes, I'm sure you'd remember those times every time you had spag bol.

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    1. When I think back, it really was a great thing to have done, and the memories are still there.

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  3. I don't suppose for a moment they ever bothered to ask you if you were old enough to drink. Just wanted you to enjoy the whole experience.

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    1. I'm afraid rather a lot of drinking went on at school; usually very cheap 'British' Sherry. And, no, they never asked.

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    2. I also wondered about the drinking but wasn't sure whether Watney's Red Barrel was alcoholic or not. In SA our scholars shouldn't drink while in uniform, even if they were over 18. Not sure that law is adhered to!

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    3. Watney's Red Barrel was a dreadful beer, drunk by people who had very little taste (us). And yes it was alcoholic.

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  4. Hi again, Cro. My, I'm very visible on your posts today! Just wanted to say in reply to your comment on my post today: I just KNEW an Englishman would recognize the Giles comic which Chappie cat was lying on in the photo. Now, ironically, my MIL who used to quite the lady, has become so much like the grandma in Giles. When we moved her from a flat to a unit in the retirement center near here, I photographed her loading her groceries on a wheelchair and pushing it from her old to her new abode. She said to the staff: outta my way and hoofed it down the corridor at a speed which belies her 86 years. I've added a link of that post here (hope that's OK) http://memorablemeanders.blogspot.co.za/2015/03/moving-parent.html and http://memorablemeanders.blogspot.co.za/2015/03/moving-parent-part-ii.html

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    1. She doesn't look as bad as Grandma Giles to me!

      I managed a small West End Art Gallery many years ago, and my boss had convinced several London newspapers to allow us to sell the originals of their cartoonists work. We'd have a mixed exhibition once a year and all the cartoonists would turn up. I met most of the well known ones of the time (mid 60's).

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  5. Times have changed and that would not happen now. Sounds like you had wonderful fun and went to a very posh school. I love Italian food and live in an area with a high population of Italians (who have lived in the UK for many years and are inter-married etc but retain many traditions) who are also often super fun. Italy itself is also a favourite place to visit. Happy memories eh, funny how they come back to us at times.

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    1. I'm sure the Italians are more overtly gregarious than the French, or even the Spanish. Their love of life always seems to involve food and wine (of course).

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    2. Oh, and Bok is possibly half black lab, his other half being border collie. Our other dog, Monty, was pure lab; unfortunately his life was cut short, aged 4.

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  6. Louis has a similar little tradition going. At the campsite that we visit each year in Brittany the kids now go for lunch together in the creperie without the adults.

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    1. That sounds like a very good idea; get them used to some independence.

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  7. What a lovely post Cro. For us Italians, food is always a moment of conviviality, and what's better than a nice spaghetti dinner between friends? After having gone to the cinema, theater or whatever with friends, no matter the time, we sometimes ask them to stop over for a "spaghettata di mezzanotte" (midnight spaghetti) which can simply be spaghetti with garlic, oil and hot chilly peppers. With a full belly you can drink more than one glass of wine. But it's not only about eating and drinking it's a good excuse to chat around a table and postpone the goodbyes. Greetings Maria x

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    1. Perfect. The French are very hospitable people but not in the same way. They are much more formal. I love the spontaneity of the Italians.

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  8. What a lovely memory - do you still see any of your school friends Cro?

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    1. Unfortunately no. Living over here in France means that I've rather lost touch. We do of course send cards, etc. Two of our little group are also very well known people, which makes things even more difficult.

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  9. We love Italian food too Cro. I struggle to make Spag Bol, but never get it quite as good as it is sitting in the square in Bologna on a sunny day.

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    1. I make a simplified version, which I could do with my eyes closed. But I'm sure that most purists would have a fit!

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  10. Good times, good food, and good company Cro. Priceless.

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  11. I had a very special Italian friend, Serafina, when I was at primary school. I was always fascinated by the wondrous sights and smells of her mum's kitchen. In touch again with her after almost fifty years thanks to Facebook.

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    1. How good for you both. Facebook does have its uses!

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  12. It's nice when the people who run those little establishments recognise you and greet you like an old friend. I'm sure there are brothels like that. I've only just found out that the reason why they used huge pepper mills was because - in the 60s - the small ones were an expensive rarity and people used to steal them.

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    1. They certainly NEVER left them on tables; strictly guarded.

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  13. Replies
    1. That's one more than I've ever had !

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    2. I remember those; they also made a Chinese noodle meal which was dreadful.

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    3. Heinz tinned spaghetti was my introduction to Italian food, that and ravioli. I haven't come very far since.

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  14. What a lovely story Cro and a lovely memory ..... I expect that I went in that Italin restaurant as I worked in Mount Street, just off Grosvenor Square.
    Even though I say it myself, I make a mean Spag Bol .....they say that the Italian ragu sauce should always be made with half beef mince and half pork mince and to always put a little milk in th sauce and a pinch of sugar !! Italy is our favourite holiday destination not only for the country but for the food. { We do love France too and French food !! } XXXX

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    1. My 'standard' sauce contains just minced beef, red wine, tomato puree, capres, olives, dried herbs, and half a chicken stock cube. We have it at least once a week, and no complaints.

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    2. Perfect! It's just as quick and as easy as that to do! Greetings Maria xx

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  15. One time in Gargano in the south-east of Italy, not far from Bari, I went round the back of a fairly posh restaurant to tie my shoelaces. I was amazed to stumble over empty boxes labelled cuttle fish, clams, squid, mixed fish, crabs etc. etc. . . . you name it. They originated from countries worldwide; as far apart as Viet Nam and Panama. You never know what you're eating these days. It pays to check the bins.

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    1. Or check the kitchen. I've never tried it, but I hear that lots of restaurants will let you see what's cooking before you decide what to eat.

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  16. I'm sure you were all beautifully behaved young gentleman. They probably thought you had dropped out of the pages of an English schoolboy story.

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    1. I think we were just a strange phenomenon.

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  17. What sophisticated lads you all were. I envy you those school year memories of traveling via two legendary London train stations with a black cab ride in between. Spag bol served on top of that in a restaurant with welcoming graciousness.

    My travels home from college (university) involved Greyhound bus rides. Not quite the same aura, but still some very strong memories.

    Best wishes.

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    1. I suppose these days it would be unthinkable to send a 14 year old off alone on a longish train journey (changing stations etc in London), but that's how it was, and I survived.

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