Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Birthday weekend

My birthday weekend began on Friday, when M took me out for a sumptuous Japanese meal at Roka on Charlotte Street. We ate eggplant in mirin, ginger and soy; beef fillet with chilli, ginger and spring onions; my favourite tuna tartar, sevruga caviar and quail's yolk; rock shrimp tempura with wasabi pea seasoning and fresh lime; blue fin tuna, yellow tail and butter-soft squid sashimi; black cod marinated in yuzu miso and homemade hajikami. We drank Tokyo Baby cocktails - shochu, white peach and calpico mix. We also drank lemongrass-infused shochu and barley shochu. For desserts, M had a selection of green tea, tonka bean and strawberry and jasmine ice creams, and I had a dark chocolate and matcha pudding with crunchy jivara and pear ice cream. The lemongrass shochu was over-infused and the rock shrimp tempura was too much like a better class of scampi, but as usual Roka didn't fail me. It wasn't late, but it was my birthday, so we took a cab home.

The blazing hot Saturday began with passionfruit plus almond croissants, chocolate brioche, chocolate croissants, and kaiser rolls from a newly-opened Hungarian bakery in our neighbourhood. They weren't that special actually - the dough all tasted the same, as if they had all been baked from the same generic mixture. But the company of M and his sister S in our sunny kitchen was a lovely start to the day.

We bade S farewell, and went to the Japan Centre to pick up our Japan Rail passes, a Japanese point and say phrase book and a Tokyo street map with points of interest as well as street maps as we think this will serve us better when trying to find our way around.

At the ICA, we lunched on Paulaners, Budvars and thick handcut chips so dramatically piled up in the bowl that our neighbouring table were compelled to order them too. It's such a coincidence that just the other day I'd converted old Super 8 footage of my Indian parents' life in 1970s Britain...

In 1965, I For India director Sandhya Suri's father Yash arrived from India as a newly-qualified doctor with his wife and young daughter. As he adjusted to life in virtually all-white Darlington, in the north of England, he bought two movie cameras. He kept one and sent the other back to his family in India. For the next 40 years, he exchanged "cine letters" with his family in Meerut: he showing footage of snow, trips to the supermarket, women in mini skirts smoking at parties in his house, and his growing family playing in the garden or on the beach; his family responding with footage of weddings, festivals and general day-to-day life back home. Accompanying these reels were audio tape, to be played alongside the film footage. These offered moving, joyful and frustrated commentary. Yash expressed his joy at seeing his family continue to live their lives in Meerut, his father shed audible tears missing his son and begged him to return, Yash's daughter singing songs she had learned at school, her grandmother expressing puzzlement why her father couldn't return "home" and set up a clinic.

The audio and footage was edited in such a way that the overarching narrative felt like an old-school discourse on race and alienation. Whereas I am sure Yash's life in Britain was also filled with laughter and belonging. I wanted to see more of the joy, the fun, the friendships, the settling in that my parents experienced as Indian professionals in Britain. I wanted more of Yash's everyday life in England to shine through. Alienation and conflict aren't the only narratives of immigrant life in Britain.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and came away with a determination to start filming my own life, and that of my family, in Britain more regularly for a future generation. I am also resolved to hunt down M's family film archive. These films are our histories and we must preserve them.

Feeling peckish, we ate blood-red sorbets and custard tarts, and drank coffees at our favourite Fernandez & Wells in Soho. This place truly does the best coffee in London. Then I browsed for Bengali-English dictionaries at language shop Grant & Cutler, for my Dad who's been asking for one. He's busy writing down his memories of childhood in Assam for me and finds a Bengali-English dictionary useful, even though he's fluent in both languages.

And then to an early dinner of Singapore laksa - rice vermicelli noodles in a spicy coconut soup with prawns, fish cakes and shredded chicken - for me, and nasi goreng - special fried rice with chicken, shrimp, fried egg and satay sauce - for M at Melati on Peter Street in Soho. We've both been past this little hidden gem so many times but never eaten there. We felt like we were in Singapore or Indonesia or Malaysia - it was hot and sticky, the ceiling fans whirred busily, the walls were painted that familiar turquoise green you get all over Asia, the owners were busy eating in an adjoining table and rickshaws were whizzing by outside.

We'd eaten early because we were heading out to The O2 and previous experience had told us it was unwise to try and eat there due to the queues. We ventured out to deepest, darkest North Greenwich to see the campest heterosexual I've ever seen - Prince. In his white suit, black fedora and stacked heels, he appeared from beneath the stage in a cloud of white smoke and we all jumped to our feet in unholy awe. For the next few hours he had us writhing in the sexy palm of his hand, wreaking glorious, melodic havoc, slithering and prancing around the vast squiggle-shaped stage singing all his hits. Raspberry Beret, Purple Rain, Nothing Compares 2U, Little Red Corvette, U Got The Look, Controversy, Kiss with an updated lyric "You don't have to watch Big Brother, to have an attitude."

"London! I am here. Where are you? Did you miss me?" Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes!

On Sunday morning, I had barely calmed down by the time we met M's sister and strolled out into the blazing hot sunshine for croissants from Yasir Halim and fruit smoothies from Antepliler on Green Lanes. We collapsed in the park, eating, chatting, reading the Sunday papers and people watching for several hours. In the afternoon, M and I headed out to St Albans where friends were hosting a BBQ party for me. And we chilled for several more hours, playing with assorted children, chatting, tucking into barbecued chicken, pitta and houmous, loads of different homemade salads, ice cream and fruit pies. M made a knockout sangria that all the children wanted to have too!

I got some lovely presents. M bought me a pretty red Comme Des Garson wallet, a great book on contemporary Indian photography called India Now, and a handbag is in the pipeline - I just have a choose it - at the moment I'm thinking Ally Capellino as the leather is so soft. I also got some Japanese-themed gifts - cookery books, engraved chop sticks, sushi bowls... And book tokens which I always love and can't wait to go book shopping soon.

A lovely birthday weekend.


Silent One said...

am dizzy just after reading about all that food :)
sounds wonderful though. I need to start compiling a list of restaurants that I want to go to from your exhaustive list, which has a good vegetarian choice selection !!

Little Nutbrown Hare said...

I like Melati on Peter Street better than the one on Great Windmill Street too. Looked like an activity-filled weekend for you!

Planethalder said...

I should collate all my favourite restaurants and cafes together into a single post I can permanently link to in my sidebar. Hmmmm....