Curled up on the sofa over tea and biscuits my friend (who shall remain nameless) was giving me the 210 on a head-spinning date she had been on. Always a sucker for living vicariously I probed her for all the details. What did she wear? What did he wear? What did they talk about? What questions did he ask her? Was he funny? How many sugars did he take in his tea?
"And you should see the place he took me" she gushed. "Where did he take you?" I queried. "Guess" she said. "No" I said. "Please guess, just guess" she said. I rolled my eyes. A non traditionalist I tried to conjure up something dreamy.... You met on Westminster Bridge at a quiet hour of a cloudless weekday. Jumped on an old banger of a river boat and sailed down to Hampton Court Palace. Where you walked around pretending to be cultured citizens until one of you let the facade drop to the other's relief. So you sat on the grass idly drinking pimms in the sunshine and playing some questionable game"
"You're mad" she said.
Turns out the boy was more conventional and had taken her to the courtyard of 51 Buckingham Gate, which is a Taj Hotel located a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace.
A few days later I happened to be in the vicinity and popped in for a peek. I then spotted the barbecue in the courtyard and stayed for lunch. There are several restaurants at the property including Quilon which has a Michelin star and specialises in South-West Coastal Indian cuisine. But since I liked the look of Bistro 51 I ate there.
I'm always hopeless at deciding what I want in restaurants so quizzed the waiters on the menu. Then the chef came out. "Uh-oh. I've really done it now" I thought, conjuring up images of flying pans and korma grenades. But instead he helpfully explained the menu and asked me what I'd like. I wanted to say "Everything", but somewhere between thinking it and deliberating, the word escaped my lips. He smiled and said he knew just the thing. And so, a short while later I was presented with an exquisite curry taster dish. And for desert, a magic chocolate ball. Yes! A magic chocolate ball. Oh how I wished to be six again. To marvel as warm treacly chocolate was poured over the sphere, only for it to dissolve and reveal the perfect miniature deserts within. Now show me a man, woman or child who wouldn't be delighted.
On certain days over the Summer the Courtyard will be hosting open air opera evenings with Al Fresco dining. If my lunch is anything to go by these are bound to be fantastic. But if opera isn't your cup of tea, they also do great cocktails and a mean shisha; put that in your pipe and smoke it.