On Dinner at The Spaniards
We came out of Hampstead Heath, Stephen Benatar and I, that afternoon several years ago, and there was The Spaniards Inn. I admit that, for me, it was love at first sight. The whitewashed inn itself, and the tiny tollbooth that squeezed Spaniards Road to one lane, the date of construction (1585) which was painted between the windows in the upper story: it struck the romantic imagination.
I wanted, desperately, to go there.
On my final night in London, during last month’s adventure, my friend John-from-Islington offered to take me to The Spaniards for dinner in exchange for an autographed copy of The Book of the Mandolin Player. “I hope,” he said, “the restaurant lives up to expectations.” I knew what he meant. I’d dreamed a romantic dream of this particular establishment for several years–what if I was disappointed?
To get there, we rode buses–making one change–in the rain on Friday night. John had us sit on the top level, at the front, so I could see out as we rode through neighborhood after neighborhood; but the windows fogged up, and we kept having to wipe wet circles into the mist. The ride took the better part of an hour, and I saw parts of London I’d never seen before. Eventually we clambered out into the wet on the leafy green Spaniards Road, and there, ahead of us in the cold damp, were the glowing windows in the whitewash.
When we entered the front door, the bar was straight ahead, a dining room to our left. It wasn’t too crowded yet, though it became so the longer we stayed. John’s partner Trevor joined us: finally I got to meet the man, whom I’d missed on my last London adventure two summers previous (he’d been working on a rush-rush-hush-hush totally top secret job costuming Kate Bush’s comeback tour then). By then I was happily into a double G & T at John’s suggestion, staring around at the black beams in the white ceilings, the heavy tables, the streaming small-pained windows. Staring at the menu, too, of course: and it was difficult for me to choose among the offerings. I finally followed Trevor’s lead and had mushrooms in cream sauce on toast for starters; John had a Scotch egg in HP sauce. For the main, Trevor had a salad, John had some sort of pie special, and I had sausages with spring onion mash and red wine gravy, which was divine. Then came dessert, and I can’t remember what the others chose–as a food critic, I would be a loser, and I blame that double gin and tonic, quite frankly. I had cheesecake, because I cannot ever pass up cheesecake. Trevor and John? Who knows.
It surely didn’t help, though, that we finished with coffee, and again, I followed Trevor’s lead and ordered the café Americano. When that arrived with a little jug of milk on the side, I found that jug too hot to pick up. I wrapped my napkin around it, but it slipped as I was pouring, and I dropped the jug into the cup. Yep. Coffee everywhere. An entire jug of milk in my cup: instead of café Americano, vaguely coffee-colored (and flavored) milk. My first time meeting Trevor, out for dinner with the ever-dapper John, and I have a coffee eruption all over the table. Can you say mortified?
It was the G & T, too, I’m sure, that made me, once we’d gone back out into the early evening rain, with the trees dripping over Spaniards Road, and the lights just beginning to come on, twirl my umbrella over my head as I followed John and Trevor down the pavement. I might have been imagining myself as Mary Poppins. There’s something inherently weird and wonderful about the euphoria of a dream successfully fulfilled: me, the Easily Frightened Person, following some lovely men along a London street after a magnificent dinner in an ancient pub, dancing a little bit under an umbrella as the rainy night sifts down under the trees. Is this really my life?
And the answer is: yes. Yes, it is. Because I am the luckiest person in the world.
Want to go? Get to London, then get to Spaniards Road, Hampstead, London, Greater London, NW3 7JJ. You won’t be disappointed.