Great British Bake Off 2014: Series 5 – Episode 4 – Dessert Week

Well.

Just well.

I am absolutely wrung out by The Great British Bake Off this week. Old dish cloths that have seen twenty years service have more usefulness than me at the moment. I cannot be the only one whose sofa was in turmoil by the end of Dessert week, surely? We have had uprisings here at the Boo house, and some leapings and an enormous amount of hand wringing and watching of stuff through fingers. The situation was not helped by Derek chasing a stupendously large moth hither and yon at crucial moments and Oscar bursting into tears as soon as the end credits rolled because it signalled bed time before his awakening to a new school year tomorrow. I am harrowed, and possibly ploughed, and definitely scattered.

I love desserts.

I don’t know why I say that really. Like I don’t love any of the other things, and it’s a surprise to you all that I do love desserts. It is, let’s face it, a surprise to nobody. I am basically a giant mouth, attached to humongosaur grabby hands and an enormous, five foot long stomach. That’s me.

If you missed the dessert episode, you can catch it here. I licked the screen. All the screens.

I licked your screen.

The signature bake this week was to make self saucing puddings. You had, as per the new rule of the series, to make eight of them. Paul and Mary’s takings at the GBBO shop near the stile at the end of the lane must be sustained from week to week, so we are still all about the huge quantities. I want to know what happens when it gets down to the last few rounds, which used to be all about quantity. Are they going to bring in industrial ovens and have the bakers up at dawn stocking up a shop the size of Greggs?

Wearing hair nets?

I posited the idea that the shop was subsidising the cameraman’s wages in a previous blog, but I have a new idea this week. Is this Paul and Mary’s retirement fund? Maybe the final round will see them bagging up their earnings and getting the last three contestants to make them a Tracey Island getaway out of treacle sponge and custard with a gingerbread Thunderbird 1. Mary is Lady Penelope and I claim my £10.

There are two types of self saucing puddings. There are the puddings which have goo in the middle, and the puddings which have goo underneath. I have boiled this down to its simplest classification here. Mary and Paul went into all the technicalities, but that’s basically it. It matters, in a self saucing pudding, where you put your goo. That is all.

I don’t like the phrase ‘self saucing’ myself. It reminds me of those ‘self cleaning’ ovens and ‘self cleaning’ windows that they’re always trying to flog you and which are actually rubbish. I have never come across anything in the domestic sphere which cleans itself in the way you think it should. When they invent a self cleaning lavvy that lives up to the hype I will be willing to listen. Up to that point, I eschew it all with a firm hand.

Self saucing means that you don’t actually, as the consumer, have to pour custard or chocolate sauce (or gravy – you weirdo) onto the pudding. It’s already in there. That’s not self saucing really, is it? I was imagining something like a scene from Fantasia where the pudding reaches out two spongy arms and performs the custard challenge on itself. In reality, which is way more boring, It just means the cook does all the work instead of the pudding stuffing maniac on the receiving end of the goods. As I am lazy, this is fine, as long as there is extra sauce on hand in case I feel things are not saucy enough. I don’t like having my sauce quantities dictated to me. It makes me tetchy.

Luis was fretting this week, which is unusual for him. He is generally rather collected. Apparently desserts are not his forte, and his slightly stodgy baked pear sponge with a lake of what was in all honesty more pear wee than sauce, did not go down well with anyone much at all, and kind of confirmed that he had more to worry about this week. No pressure Luis. None at all.

Norman was being his usual taciturn, yet revolutionary self. He is the poster boy for utility baking, that man. He continued his long running theme of plain, brown baking with a very brown sticky toffee pudding with extra toffee sauce at the bottom (colour – brown). Upon hearing that Mary considered it a bit ugly he was very firm that he had meant it to be. Apparently there is nothing to be gained by beautiful puddings. They only lead to trouble in the long run. They might look classy, but with beautiful puddings it’s all fur coat and no knickers as far as Norman is concerned. I feel that post Bake Off, Norman will be issuing a book on the philosophy of baking. It will be written on parchment and available in a hollowed out wholemeal bun as a special, limited edition run. When you have finished it you can either eat it, or turn it into a side table.

Chetna continues to be the pudding whisperer. I love the way she looks at her creations with huge, doe like eyes and implores them to rise, or freeze, or set. If I were your pudding Chetna, I’d want to do your bidding. Who could resist that woeful little face?

Iain had gone all woodsman this week. He was making a dark chocolate pudding with raspberry and lime compote and chocolate mint leaf decoration. He got quite growly with his baking and started speed walking round the tent making angry noises in his throat like a bearded, ginger Wolverine. It was quite terrifying. I think the heat was getting to him. Probably due to excess beard carrying. It’s bound to make a man fierce hot. I quite enjoyed his growling. It was reassuringly rumbly. But then I was far enough away not to have to worry about him biting me on the ankle.

The technical round involved making Mary’s epic Tiramisu cake which was like the bed from the Princess and the Pea. It had so many layers to it Luis had to draw himself a diagram in case he got lost. It is a true fact that if you eat an entire Tiramisu cake to yourself you find a tin of marrowfat peas underneath it all, and you are allowed to claim the high throne of Narnia with it, by throwing it at the back of Aslan’s head and then nabbing it while he’s still stunned.

I learned that from Wikipedia.

Both Richard and Iain had sponge based issues with the Tiramisu, and had to rebake their sponge layers, leaving them very pushed for time. There was more growling from Iain who was so feral at one point we got a flash of builder’s bum. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had done a small wee up the mixer to mark his territory by the end. As for Richard, his usual savoir faire had deserted him and I think he had to stroke his lucky pencil quite a bit during this round. Tensions were running high.

The sponge had to be sliced incredibly thinly and there were a lot of people doing exactly what I would have done in the same situation, i.e. making an utter hash of it, and having to construct layers of sponge like a raggedy ass patchwork quilt. Needs must when Mary Berry’s gimlet gaze is on your timer.

In the end Martha won the technical challenge with a relieved Luis coming in second, which gave him a break from his pear based nightmares earlier. Diana came last, and Norman snuck in behind her, thrilled that he hadn’t quite hit rock bottom. I expected him to do reasonably well, given that it was a brown pudding. Even though it was foreign. Which can’t be helped.

The technical challenge was, what we in the baking world like to call ‘a right git’, given the broiling hot temperatures in the tent. The contestants had to make a baked Alaska. A baked Alaska for those of you to whom the Seventies is history and not a pivotal part of your life to date, is a sponge cake, which has ice cream on top, and then a layer of swirly, whirly, twirly meringue on top, which you crisp up with a naked flame until it goes slightly burned and bubbly looking. You then swallow it whole because it is so delicious and you just cannot wait. My mother had some very glamorous cookery books in the Seventies, one of which had a full colour picture of a baked Alaska, taking up an entire A4 page. I used to stroke that page for hours, wild with meringue based longing.

Baked Alaska is all well and good if you’re working in a kitchen where you can regulate the temperature and take the required amount of time to freeze and cool things. When you’re working in a giant, canvas sun trap, with a freezer the size of a shoe box and you’ve got four and a half hours to produce something that’s going to make Paul’s sling backs pop off with desire, it’s not easy at all.

I would tell you how amazing Martha’s key lime pie version looked and how Richard won star baker with his tiramisu based efforts. I want to tell you that Luis triumphed with his Bakewell Alaska and Nancy went all out with her summer fruits Alaska. I want to tell you that Norman nearly got sent home for his Alaska which was essentially as unsexy as an Alaska can get, although not brown this time.

But I can’t, can I, because you’re all waiting for what I’m going to say about Iain and Diana, aren’t you?

We all know that disaster struck.

Iain, who up to now had been having a pretty good week, was making something that Mary described as looking like mushroom soup. It was black sesame seed and honey ice cream with chocolate and coffee caramel sponge and meringue. He was going great guns except for the fact that like many of the others, his ice cream wasn’t setting. For some reason he decided to put it in Diana’s freezer, and she took it out and left it on the side.

Without telling him, and without thinking to put it in another freezer.

To be fair to her, she was worrying herself sick about a spectacularly crippled meringue swan, and probably wasn’t thinking straight. But still, she did play a part in melting Iain’s ice cream. Which is tricky, especially as it was edited so that we were unable to see if she said sorry, and how long she left it out for.* In the programme she just looks cross with him for using her freezer space, which is kind of fair enough, except she had just helped to melt his ice cream. In a major baking competition.

Tallulah was devastated. She loves Diana best of all. 

When Iain found it, it had melted to a non salvageable sea of mushroom soupiness, and it literally poured, like Niagara, all over his cake, and this is where things got horrific. The growling got the better of him, his inner Wolverine came out and he lobbed his entire cake in the bin in a temper, and stormed out of the tent.

Eek.

What to do?

He did come back into the tent when it was time for the big reveal, and revealed his bin full of messy leavings to Mary and Paul, who sent him home because of it.

It was devastating. 

For everyone.

Twitter actually melted with the intensity of anti Diana feelings after the episode aired.

I don’t want to turn this blog into a witch hunt. My posts are meant to poke gentle fun at lovely people doing a lovely thing that makes me effervescently happy every week. I am so grateful for this programme. It literally lights up my Wednesdays. The things I write are not meant to excoriate anyone, or to make anyone miserable. They are meant to entertain.

I am certain that Diana is going to be pretty unhappy over the coming days, and that seems very harsh, for what was in essence, a mistake, made under stress. I think Iain has already felt pretty unhappy over his own mistake of putting what he had up to that point in the bin out of temper. Had he not done that I feel fairly sure that Mary and Paul would have sent Norman home this week.  I am sad for them both. 

I think Mary and Paul would have done better to send Norman home and give Iain another chance, but then I’m partial to a ginger Wolverine. What do I know?

Hopefully we will all have recovered our equilibrium by next week’s pies and pastries round.

Take note faithful readers. I will be blogging later next week as I have my first crochet class and I will have to catch up with Bake Off when I return. It cannot be helped. 

Save me a jam tart.

 

* Sue Perkins has since tweeted that Diana left Iain’s ice cream out for forty seconds. As she states, not long enough to melt ice cream to that extent. And again I say, poor Diana, poor Iain.  

 

Fattist, thinnest, singist

Well, things are a little brighter today.

The washing machine is still dripping dankly all over the utility room. It is not doing itself any favours and I will be showing it the door as soon as humanly possible.

On the other hand, the sun is shining and there is no rain, so the Velux is no longer leaking into my mixing bowls. Praise tiny Cheezus.

I went to the pub quiz last night and got absolutely wasted on red wine. It was tremendously enjoyable and although I have a belting hangover today I am not in the slightest bit sorry. 

I managed to get up and function this morning, albeit in a thick headed, hazy sort of way.

The children have gone to the maize maze and I have lounged about drinking lots of water, eating crisps and watching the Kate Bush documentary on iPlayer. I bloody love Kate Bush.

I was reading reviews of her live shows in the online papers today and I was amazed at how many of the comments mentioned her being fat.

Not about whether she still has a superlative, ethereal voice, unique sense of showmanship and innate musicality. No. They were just bothered that she has put on weight.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE PEOPLE. GROW THE FUCK UP.

The last I checked, being fat or thin didn’t stop you being musical, or creative, or a great author or poet, or politician or artist. I don’t like paintings by Frida Kahlo because she kept her figure. I don’t listen to Mozart because he had ankles slender enough to pull off knee breeches and stockings without looking like a sumo wrestler. Kate Moss is as thin as a bloody pencil but she can’t hold a tune in a bucket. Would you go and see her singing Kate Bush’s back catalogue simply because she’s thin, even though she sounds like she’s murdering weasels when she tries to sing? (I’m sorry Bobby Gillespie, and Kate, but it’s true.)

Who cares if she’s put on weight? Who really bloody cares?

And if you do, shame on you. You’re a ruddy disgrace.

 

Post holiday grumbling

The weather is still foul.

I have had a sore shoulder/neck since last week. I blame holiday beds. It seemed to get better when I got home and slept in my own bed.

Until today, when I have woken up with the return of the shoulder pain, plus a cracking headache. And I cannot blame holiday beds. Only impending old age.

To add insult to injury, one of the Velux windows in the kitchen extension seems to have sprung a leak. It was dripping neatly onto the Chaise Longue of Death (TM), like the tears of a lachrymose Victorian consumptive. I have moved the CLD (TM) and substituted Wilkinson’s finest plastic mixing bowls.

The washing machine appears to have also sprung another leak. In the same place we had the last leak which we thought Jason had fixed once and for all. I have murderous thoughts about that washing machine on an almost daily basis. Considering it is the most expensive washing machine we have ever had, it is also the crappest washing machine we have ever had. Beating the clothes on a rock at the bottom of the garden would probably do as much good. Certainly in this rain.

After six weeks of repeatedly fixing the washing machine, sorting out the leaking shower, and getting the front door painted I had allowed myself to feel foolishly relaxed about the house, and had imagined we could move on to doing some more of the decorative areas, like replacing the nasty bedroom doors. But no. It seems we are back to wading around in wellington boots and plastic rain hoods, thinking about the exorbitant costs of possibly having to replace windows and worrying about the flat roof in the torrential rain.

Bollocks to it.

As you can see, I am grumpy. Grumpy, weary and disconsolate. 

The holidays are well and truly ended. The children go back on Thursday, but mostly what remains of the week is being swallowed up in errands and preparation for the big day. In the olden days I would have rejoiced, as the six weeks holiday was an almighty slog with small children. Not now. I love being around my children and I will miss them, and the easiness of life without the constant pressures of homework, after school clubs, nits and alarm clocks to marshall us.

They are having a last hurrah tomorrow, at the maize maze with their cousins. It is something they do every year and always look forward to. I’m not sure we’ve ever left it so late though. Pray God it is not struck by lightning, or more likely, drowned under Biblical floods.

Mainly I miss my husband.

He left us in London last Monday night, and had already gone off on his last weekend of the year scamping with his Orc mates when we returned. He got back late yesterday afternoon, whereupon he unpacked, got clean, ate tea, watched Dr. Who with us, and then went to bed at 8.00 p.m. He flew out at 3.00 a.m. 

He is home on Thursday night, but I am out. I will see him on Friday, but I am also out on Saturday for the day and won’t be home until late, which means we get Sunday together, and then he flies out again at stupid o’clock on Monday morning.

I am feeling pissed off about it. I feel that I shouldn’t be pissed off about it, which makes me more pissed off about it.

I feel that I can’t really say how fed up I am, because I am well aware that a) he is not going to Germany for shits and giggles. He mostly hates it there, b) it’s how he earns the money that allows me to have such an, in the main, delightful life where the largest things I have to worry about are leaky Velux windows and if my Ocado man is running late, c) I get to go out myself and he babysits uncomplainingly when I want time away, d) he doesn’t get any proper time off as a rule and scamping is his only vice. I don’t have to call him home from the pub every weekend, or the football or from fly fishing. He works bloody hard, doing something he doesn’t really enjoy and he does need a break from it. I get that. And I realise I am very lucky. 

Sometimes though, it is hard, when I don’t see him for days and days, and when I do see him we are both tired and busy and distracted. I tried to mention it at the weekend, and then he teased me about the fact that I am out when he gets back and away on Saturday, and that made me feel really angry, and then I didn’t feel like I could express it because he has a point, so I didn’t, and now here we are.

He also said: ‘What can I do about it?’ which is pretty unanswerable really. He can’t do anything. It would be appallingly behaved of me to have demanded he cut short his weekend away unless there were a dire emergency and it weren’t just me feeling displaced and slightly needy. I don’t want to cancel the things I have booked for next week, and that’s my problem. Basically I want to have my cake and eat it.

I’m not sure who I’m most angry with, myself, him, or the situation we find ourselves in. I am angry with myself for feeling lonely without him. I feel I should be able to manage. I have managed this far. I actually can manage. It’s just that this week, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I don’t want to. Not on my own. Not again. I suspect it is a combination of the onset of the dank weather which is very lowering to ones spirits, as all readers of the Victorian triple decker novel will know, the come down from our amazing week in London, the beginning of incessant chores again, and the beginning of another school year where both I and the children will find ourselves captive to a system that we all find fairly repressive one way and another. I also have two children starting brand new schools. One of them is very excited. The other is very not excited. Balancing the yin and yang of this over the next few days will be wearing, as will dealing with the fall out of what the reality of the situation brings for both of them. I feel that Tallulah may be disappointed that what is in her excited imaginings does not live up to expectations and that Oscar will just exist in a permanent state of horror until October half term. I hope I am wrong.

And I was rather disappointed with Dr. Who. I liked the new Dr. but I didn’t think he got shown to his best advantage and I didn’t really understand what the episode was trying to say, and at times I felt like it was trying to say everything, very badly, and close off lots of plot loops, which frankly, nobody really cares about, because when you examine it closely, the plot of Dr. Who as a massive story arc is just like an over sized string vest, more holes than anything else. I felt like giving Stephen Moffat a massive shake and asking him to ‘just get on with it.’ And I waited three days to watch that episode. Three days, and it was all a bit meh.

And I am sad, and tired and feel rather enough is enoughish, even though the good Lord never gives you more than you can bear, and breathe and all that stuff. 

So there.

 

 

The curious incident of the lament of the cat in the rain time

In the age old tradition of the British Bank Holiday Monday, it is raining fit to bust out there. The cat is tragic about this and has taken on her true heritage as a cat by incessantly moaning about it, and demanding to be let out regardless.

We let her out the French windows. She goes out. She wanders around in the rain moaning. She comes back. She demands to be let in. She moans because she really, truly wants to go out but everything is too awful to contemplate. She stares accusingly at the rain trickling down the window panes for a while, daring it to stop. It does not stop raining despite her attempts at mind control trickery.

She goes to the front door. She moans. We let her out. She sticks her head out and then in, and looks at me in that ‘Outraged of Knighton way,’ amazed that it is raining at both the front and the back of the house. But how can that be? Are the weather gods messing with us? She wails piteously and stalks away, stiff legged with indignation.

She spreads herself across the hall floor, making sure she is in everyone’s way. She writhes about, mewling in half broken phrases, all of which seem to imply that it is my fault that the rain is here, and why can’t I get on the case? What is wrong with me? Can’t I see that I am clearly ruining her life? She has things to do out there. There is prowling, and stretching, and wobbling on the fence. There is squirrel taunting and pigeon lusting after, and it’s NOT BLOODY FAIR.

And don’t even get her started on basking. Oh, how she misses basking. How is a cat supposed to go on living without being able to bask on dusty stones, warmed by gentle sunlight? It is an infraction of her feline rights.

Occasionally she gets up and sulks by the French windows, perched, ramrod straight with disapproval on the edge of the chaise longue, swearing in cat at the unceasing flow of water. She wanders to her food bowl and picks disconsolately at her biscuits to try and cheer herself up, tail quivering with annoyance that hunks of raw venison haven’t miraculously fallen into the bowl since the last time she came to look.

It is all a bit much.

Soon she will give up and go and sleep in the crook of the stairs, nose tucked into tail, one eye occasionally opening just to make sure she is not missing anything. Still managing to radiate an air of outrage, even in her sleep.

How very dare they?

She does not know who ‘they’ are, but by golly, when she finds them they are in for a drubbing and no mistake. She still suspects that ‘they’ might actually be me, but as I am in charge of the biscuits she feels that she is not really in a position to savage me to the bone, which is a shame, but there you go.

 

Mellow Fruitfulness

Autumn is coming. 

You can smell it in the air, and see it as the sky gets higher and bluer and everything becomes a little crisper around the edges. 

The leaves will begin to turn. The apples are already dropping onto our decking, huge, russet balls of sweetness that tell us to store up for the winter to come.

It is colder, sharper, everything is coming into focus as you begin to see the angles and planes of the trees again.

Seed heads fill the borders, and the earth smells loamy as I turn it over.

I love it.

And soon winter will be upon us, as the day snuggles deeper into the night, and street lights bloom like the flowers that we miss.

I am reading The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond. His work is gorgeous. His prose is mysterious and brutal, magic rubs against the edges of the mundane and the borders between this world and the next shift and shimmer from paragraph to paragraph. It is perfect.

Here he is, talking about the winter:

Tyneside became monochrome: white patches of roofs and fields and tracks, black roads, dark walls, dark river, dark distant sea. Dad told of the freezing shipyards, of men in pullovers and hats and gloves and scarves working and cursing beside fiercely burning braziers. The men slithered across the salted decks and over salted gangways…We found birds lying dead in frozen gardens. Cars skidded and crashed. Diesel froze in the tanks of buses. Trains didn’t run. Schools were closed. Kids slid and sledged through the streets and lanes. Our skin was chafed and scorched. We knew chilblains and delight.

Friday in London – Full Circle

And so we come full circle to our last day in London.

I made the children get up early and help me pack the car, which we parked on the street, locked up, and then abandoned for the day.

Breakfast was a last hurrah. We went to a place that came highly recommended called Chriskitch in Muswell Hill. The chap who runs it, Chris, trained under Gordon Ramsay. Which is a pretty good recommendation. Gordon Ramsay may have an ego the size of Jupiter but I ate at his restaurant once when he was still properly cheffing there instead of being on telly and it was the best food I’ve ever tasted. And as you can tell from this blog. I eat a lot.

Chriskitch is a cafe/deli rather than a restaurant. It doesn’t open at night time. You have to pay cash for everything, and there is not a huge amount of choice, but what there is is worth scrabbling down the back of the sofa for your last farthing for. The breakfast menu basically consists of any combination of eggs and bread you want for about £8 per person. Or you can try one of the mouthwatering cakes on display.

I went for mouthwatering cake. I had banana loaf which was moist and flavourful. It had a crunchy, crumble topping drizzled with a dark caramel sauce and tasted like heaven. The portion was enormous. All the children had the flourless chocolate cake and declared it wonderful. It was wonderful.

The service was good and the staff friendly. The interior is beautifully done. You sit at butcher’s blocks and old school/office tables. The cutlery sits in repurposed canned tomato tins. The sugar lumps come in vintage lozenge tins with weeny pairs of sugar tongs. It’s pretty perfect and was an excellent way to start our last day.

We went over to Victoria after breakfast to meet our beloved friend Gina. Ambling through Victoria and into Pimlico, we talked nineteen to the dozen. We were off to the Tate Britain to see the Folk Art exhibition, and needed somewhere nearby to eat lunch. We plumped for Pizza Express in the end, as time was getting on and it was two doors down from the museum.

The exhibition was amazing. But too small. Something we all agreed on. The quilts were my favourite. Have always been my favourite. I loved the Clicker’s Quilt. Clickers are people who cut the leather for shoes. They had used the patterns as templates for white cloth, and then sewn all the pieces of the quilt with scarlet thread. It was simple, but gorgeous. 

There was nothing in the exhibition I did not either lust after, like, or was fascinated by. It’s an excellent thing.

We wandered through the rooms of Henry Moore sculptures, which I love. We stopped to say hello to my favourite sculpture of all time, Jacob and the Angel by Jacob Epstein. We coveted some Hockneys’. I forget what a rich source of beauty Tate Britain is. Even the building is gorgeous. The spiral stair case down to the ground floor, with the cupola above it is a work of art in itself.

The cafe was a work of art too, although at £8 for a single Scotch egg, which would only have been worth the money had David Hockney signed it for you, it was a bit spendy. Having said that I managed to force down a Paris Brest, which is basically like a giant profiterole/choux bun filled with hazelnut and chocolate cream filling. I also tested Gina’s rose and pistachio macaron, filled with whipped cream and raspberries. NOM.

All too soon it was time to head back to Victoria and wave Gina off. There is never enough time in the day when we meet up.

We shot across town in a cab and met up with the girl’s dad at The Real Greek in Marylebone, and ate more dinner (I know!). I’ve blogged about the Real Greek before. Always nice. Although the service was not the finest yesterday. I am in love with their lentil, beetroot and feta salad though, so I can forgive a lot.

We walked through Regent’s Park. Tilly stalked all the geese in the world and made cooing noises at squirrels until we had to ask her to cease and desist. She is growing up to be a bird botherer.

And that, with a beautiful, late summer evening, and the sun setting across the park, was the end of our mighty adventure.

And now you can see why I need to shift half a stone.

It was magnificent.

Thursday in London

On Thursday we were meant to be meeting our friends Keith and Noreen at the Museum of London, Docklands. Just as we were about to set out they called me to tell me they were having a nightmare getting there, due to complications with the Jubilee Line, so would we be happy just to meet for lunch?

We are always happy to meet for lunch. It is no hardship for us at all!

We agreed to meet them at an Italian restaurant called Da Corradi in Shepherd’s Market, which is a tiny village like enclave in Mayfair. I’d never been to either the restaurant, or explored the area, so I was quite excited.

Before that we headed out to Said, a place we had discovered on one of our late night rambles and had wanted to go back to. It’s a chocolate shop/cafe on Broadwick Street in Soho. It has a branch in Rome, and now this one. The hot chocolate they serve is to die for. It’s so thick you can stand a spoon up in it, and you can get it in all sorts of ways and flavours. The cakes are magnificent, the service is friendly, and the sandwiches they were bringing out as we were preparing to leave looked scrumptious. It is a gem, and well worth tracking down.

From there we found a fabulous comic shop called Gosh, where we spent a good half an hour browsing, before falling round the corner into the newly revamped Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I have to say that it’s a massive improvement on the old Foyles. I love Foyles but that shop was so gloomy, and now it’s light and bright and airy and inviting. The children’s book department is  delightful.

We cabbed across town to meet Keith and Noreen and spent a very agreeable couple of hours eating delicious Italian food and talking. They gave us a quick guide to Shepherd’s Market before they left us, and then we went solo, exploring all the little snickers and alleyways, and all the crazy shops like the bespoke gentlemen’s outfitters that will fit you out for all your safari needs. 

We walked to Berkeley Square, where we found a fabulous Dale Chihuly sculpture just hanging in mid air on the grass, as you do. Then we wandered down New Bond Street where Oscar sulked because I wouldn’t buy him a Sponge Bob themed bag from Moschino and a belt from Armani. He is a poor, deprived boy.

We cut across Oxford Street through St. Christopher’s Place, stopping off to look at Scandinavian stationery and Marimekko fabrics, before heading down Marylebone High Street for our yearly pilgrimage to Rococo Chocolates where the children blew the last of their holiday money. There is nothing not to love about Rococo. The chocolate is exquisite. The shop is a jewel box and the staff are courtesy itself. It is a pleasure to give them your hard earned money.

After that we just had to go to Daunt Books. Where we managed to find a little more flex in the cards and came out with a carrier bag full of goodies.

From there we walked down through Fitzrovia to Warren Street where we got on a bus to Muswell Hill where we had the most disappointing meal of our stay, at a branch of Giraffe.

Years ago, when I lived in London, there was only one Giraffe, on Hampstead High Street. The restaurant was small and intimate, the food was amazing. The menu changed every few days, and was kind of world/fusion food but good. The breakfasts were the stuff of legend, the staff were lovely, and it became a regular haunt of ours. 

In those days I spent a lot of time going up and down Hampstead High Street from the Royal Free to the tube, usually in tears after another miscarriage or disastrous visit to A&E. Giraffe became a place of solace where I could get my head together. My most vivid memory however, is of going for my 12 week scan, pregnant with Tilly and realising that this tiny being inside me was viable. I phoned my parents from the call box outside Giraffe and burst into tears of happiness, and then had a celebratory stack of blueberry pancakes in Giraffe, shaking the whole time, with relief.

And now?

Now it is a soulless chain, serving bland food which is so far from what it was originally it makes me viscerally sad. The meal was average, the food was luke warm, the service was poor, despite the restaurant only being half full. Nothing to be done.

A bit of a flat ending to an otherwise perfect day.