Blue notes and high notes, in V minor

I am a creature of habit.

I know what I like, I know where I can get good vegan food, and I like to save myself (and my money) for a special occasion. I’m always excited by trying somewhere new, but also often a little apprehensive that I will waste my time and money on something substandard. So although I don’t post many restaurant reviews here, I would like to dedicate a post to the Dover Street restaurant and jazz bar.

Ben and I were given a voucher by his mother as a joint birthday present, for a 5 course meal and cocktail. It was exciting to get all dressed up and be welcomed by an efficient-looking woman with hair scraped back into a bun and an earpiece.

As we walked downstairs to the below-ground restaurant, the perfectly mellow mood lighting and the amber hues reflecting off the shiny wine glasses all pointed towards a fantastic dining experience. However, I had a feeling in my gut that although I had requested a vegan meal – and was told it could be provided – that this had been ignored or forgotten.

My apprehensions were confirmed when the smiling host introduced us to our special menu and asked if we would like our Bellini cocktails… No mention of vegan options. No news is never good news in these situations. Of course before I even asked about the vegan meal request, I could have painted the blank expression that would overtake the shiny white smile of our host (if I had any painting skills, that is).

I also could have guessed what the response would be when our waiter returned from a chat with the chef – I could have tomato soup instead of the soup of the day, and the asparagus starter without the Hollandaise sauce, followed by a stuffed pepper. Dessert, he chuckled apologetically, would have to be a fruit salad. Sigh.

Shortly after we were brought our drinks (virgin Bellinis, and a tomato juice for me… wouldn’t have ordered a tomato juice if I’d known I was going to be having tomato soup – also, no seasonings with the tomato juice which was disappointing in an establishment like Dover Street) the bread basket was presented to us. I quickly checked that the bread was all vegan though I’m not convinced the waitress actually heard me or cared as her affirmation was that little bit too quick, but was quite surprised that we were encouraged to help ourselves. Now I’m all for eating with my hands, eating things I’ve dropped on the floor, etc, but in the sort of place where they bring you a bread basket I would expect them to bring tongs to serve you with. Anyway, that is just a small detail, as is the fact we weren’t offered any more bread during the course of our meal – luckily I didn’t devour my whole roll before my soup came out!

I’d like to note that Ben also requested tomato soup rather than the soup of the day, corn chowder. He was met with a slightly disapproving promise to check with the chef that that was acceptable, as they could provide an alternative for “special dietary requirements” but he was supposed to have the regular soup. Strange.

Luckily, the soup was good. Really tasty, actually, and full of flavour, which I guess it must have stolen from the asparagus starter. Now I like asparagus, but do forgive me for being slightly unimpressed when presented with… a plate of blanched asparagus. I don’t expect them to whip up a veganised Hollandaise sauce, but a basic vinaigrette could have been nice, or even just a little drizzle of olive oil. As I said, luckily I like asparagus, even if these 4 spears weren’t the most flavourful asparagus I have ever had – to be fair, I normally wait for the asparagus season, so this poor February asparagus can’t really compete.

In hindsight though, it’s a good thing the starter was so skimpy, and that there was no offer of a second helping of bread, as my main was both delicious and plentiful. The poor stuffed red pepper which was met with such prejudice and disdain on my part really blew me away. A sweet and perfectly cooked red pepper, stuffed full of a moist and sunshine-filled vegetable and rice mixture, accompanied by a few tender but lightly crunchy baby vegetables, a couple of little mounds of perfectly seasoned wilted spinach, and a small amount of rich juicy ratatouille. I can’t say anything other than I enjoyed every mouthful of it, and I’m sorry for doubting its ability to please me.

I was feeling quite full by the end of that, so wouldn’t have minded just a small and plain fruit salad. I’m not sure if I have made it clear on this blog yet, but I am generally not a fan of fruit desserts. I love fruit, but if I’m going out and paying for a dessert, I don’t want fruit. Simple. However, even the sight of the poached pear in strawberry syrup that was set in front of me made my eyes open a bit wider and shine a little brighter. First of all, it was beautiful. A pale juicy pear standing tall in a tastefully pink syrup. But the best surprise was when I sliced into the perfectly cooked pear to discover that it was filled with soft poached strawberries. I enjoyed every mouthful of this dessert, which was just sweet enough without being sickly, and also healthy and fresh enough without being plain or boring.

As a coffee was included in our set menu, I couldn’t resist sipping on a decaf espresso, but I could have left without it and been perfectly satisfied.

All in all, I really enjoyed my food, but I would be lying if I said the experience wasn’t slightly overshadowed by the slight lack of enthusiasm on the part of the waiting staff to ensure that an interesting vegan meal was provided. Luckily the chef knew how to bring out the best in fresh, natural produce – I’ll just assume the asparagus was a mistake and that they forgot to add anything to it to dress it up a bit. I possibly would have been less content if we’d had to pay the sorts of prices they would charge, but for a free meal I certainly had a very pleasant and tasty evening.

(P.S. I know there is no such key as V Minor – the V is for Vegan, as I feel like although I had a good meal, the vegan side of things let me down a little)

One last little side-note; partly because it very loosely links to my training, but mainly because I want to share some advice with anyone reading this.

As I was walking home from the bus stop – only a 7 minute walk or so, in a fairly peaceful area – I walked up a quiet residential road. I saw a figure coming towards me, and moved to one side of the footpath to make way, but to my dismay saw the man move to the same side as me. I figured he was drunk or hadn’t noticed me, so I thought nothing of it, so was completely taken aback when he sped up and came right at me, forcing me to step out into the road. He raised his arm above his head, and although I saw no weapon in his hand I had this horrible vision of myself being stabbed. I raised my forearm above my head and may have made some whimpering noise, before I thought he may have been trying to rob me and asked him what he want. I think he must have been on something as he didn’t come any closer than arm’s length, and circled around as I circled away from him, telling him I was leaving, but never said a word the entire time, and looked at me with the expression of a defensive wild animal.

Although I now know he was clearly harmless, it really scared me, to the point that I was shaking all the way home as I instinctively called my best friend just to have someone’s voice on the end of the line.

I am just slightly dismayed that I didn’t seem to have any sort of proper defence mechanism – I didn’t even run. Had he actually struck me, I don’t know if I would have been able to defend even a simple blow which I saw coming a mile away. I know a lot of women out there take self defence classes, and I also know any martial arts or self defence instructor worth their salt will tell you that the best defence is to run – especially these days when knife crime is rampant – but as someone who has practiced and drilled various martial arts an average of 2-4 times a week for the past 5 years, I just want to reiterate that you don’t know what your body is going to do when it is under pressure, and scared. So please don’t ever think you can pull anything fancy off, and do what you can to ensure you never have to test your reflexes.

I refuse to live in fear and paranoia, but from now on I will make sure I take just a few small and easy actions and I want to urge you to do the same. Cross the street if you are alone at night and somebody is coming towards you from in front or behind. Obviously make sure you keep your possessions hidden. Don’t listen to music when you are walking alone and it is quiet. And if you can, maybe just call someone and have a chat on the phone, at least for part of your journey. It could just be a good excuse to have a catch-up with someone you haven’t seen in a while!

Anyway, I don’t mean to end on a negative note, so just to reiterate, everything is fine! I just thought it was important to mention this if it could even avoid just one person having to deal with a similar situation.