Intro: Friday 13th Part 1 and 2 – A Long Expected Party

The fear of Friday the 13th seems to be as much of a mystery today as it has always been.  But to cut many long stories short, you take the unluckiest day of the week and the unluckiest number known to man, add the two together and let the fun begin!  So I’m sure you’re thinking what kind of idiot purposefully takes a trip on Friday 13th and then you’ll follow it up by asking what kind of fool decides to repeat the idea at the next available opportunity, after all Friday 13th doesn’t exactly come around all that often.  So join me on an adventure into bad timing, poor excuses, good luck or bad luck, it’s hard to know. Just feel secure that whatever happened I’m still here to write this tale, in good health and in one piece.

So without any further introduction we begin this tale with the weekend I celebrated my birthday and the fun and frolics of Friday 13th seemed like a far off possibility.  I’ve always been torn on how to celebrate my birthday because I treasure that last childhood year before life took more twists and turns then I would care to regard.  I will remember the happy ones with friends, the drunken ones now long forgotten, the ones where Anne-So and I took a romantic weekend re-visiting old haunts in Paris, stuffing our face and freezing half to death in Brussels.

That birthday card I got in India via the Moon on the night Anne-So broke a tooth eating hummus.

The year my Granddad died and last year realising that it was more important to care for those who turned up rather than those who didn’t.  Birthdays balance out much like life, so how would this one fare? How would it set the tone for the year ahead?

So how do I like to spend my birthday? Well it’s simple! I love to indulge in as much of what I love as possible and hope for just one day to share that love with others. Unfortunately for me I love an awful lot of different things that rarely link together outside of my own imagination so it’s hard to cram that into just one day, let alone squeeze it into a weekend, so by the time I try and include that handful of friends that may or may not turn up it can sometimes last a week!

I had a strong feeling that this year of mine was going to be different, but that what truly mattered in my life would be reassuringly dull.  I spent a good few weeks scouring restaurant guides, film listings, concerts and exhibitions and to really push the boat out I used up a stash of Marriott points that to this day I’m not sure how I came by to book a night at the wonderful Renaissance St Pancras.  I sent out the invites for my weekend of fun knowing exactly who would join, who would decline and who would say nothing.  With participants confirmed it was time for fun!

Saturday morning finally rolled around and we’d decided to make an early start of things.  My usual journey on HS1 was filled with more joy than on my commuting days, not just because it was light outside the whole time but because Anne-So was sat at my side and we had a luxury hotel and a Michelin starred lunch waiting for us at the other end.  An hour after leaving our train pulled into the magnificent St Pancras International but today we’d not be rushing off for the tube or a cup of strong coffee to stop my eyelids crushing the matchsticks holding them open.

Hotel: Renaissance St Pancras, London
Room: Superior King Bedroom
Status: Bonvoy Gold

Instead we walked with an unhurried purpose to the front of this magnificent building to check in for our one night stay.

We were warmly welcomed after a short wait and due to our early arrival, our check in agent tried hard to find us a room that was available right away.  Unfortunately she couldn’t but on the upside this was due to the hotel allocating us a one category upgrade.  The hotel lobby was beautiful and was kept in the style of the station the hotel was attached to, with The Hansom bar situated opposite the check in desks and the restaurant walled away behind them.  The bar looked to be a popular spot for a coffee or afternoon tea and I could easily see why. As I waited for news on the room I had a rather unusual feeling come over me. Rather than preparing to settle in as one would when checking into a hotel, I felt like I was about to embark on an epic journey across the world from the golden age of travel. My mobile number was taken along with our bags and I snap out of my fantasy world as we are promised we’d be notified when our room would be ready. 

We headed back to the station and took the tube to the West End making a slow walk towards our lunchtime rendezvous at Social Eating House which promised fine dining in a relaxed and casual atmosphere.  I thought that the service was on the whole very friendly, my birthday celebration was acknowledged and genuine conversation was initiated.  The downside to the experience was purely down to the dining room’s ambience with too many tables being squeezed in to the dining area and the acoustics of the room amplifying the noise from the handful of groups present making it challenging to hear anyone not sat directly in front of you.  It was also a little dark but that was made up for with the fun neon signs and the tables themselves were well lit.

We both went with the well-priced three course lunch menu with wine.

The culinary fun began with some thick hunks of bread accompanied by a pat of deliciously addictive salted smoked butter.

Not as good as Dame de Pic’s coffee butter but who can argue with what tastes like spreadable bacon.  I had to quickly stop myself from devouring the lot for fear of ruining my appetite. 

For starters Anne-So had the trout and I had the Jerusalem artichoke. 

The rich artichoke puree with the Tunworth cheese made for a lovely contrast to the crispy kale.
Anne-So enjoyed her trout but it was too strong for me as I’m not much of a seafood fan.

For mains I had the ragu and Anne-So had the cod.  I was a little apprehensive about being in a Michelin starred restaurant and effectively ordering something I could make at home, spaghetti Bolognese. 

However, that ragu was so rich and packed with flavour it was unlike anything I’ve ever cooked up, believe me I’ve tried and not once was even half as flavoursome as that!
Anne-So’s cod was hiding in foam, I tried a bit and it was tasty but again more than a bite or two was too much for me.
The red wine went well with the food and after a pause we went for dessert, a fresh tasting frangipane tart with fruit.

We enjoyed the meal but I’m not 100% sure I’d be back due to the ambience in the dining room.  With a small group of foodie friends it would be fun, but as a couple not so much.

We settled up and headed off for coffee at the newly opened Kiss The Hippo Coffee which is the sister branch of what is supposed to be the best coffee shop in London. 

I picked up some beans to take home and we were given two very serviceable cups of coffee. 

However, unlike the other great coffee shops in central London it lacked warmth in the décor and the service.  It felt far too tired for a newly opened shop, perhaps that’s why it was half empty when the likes of Kaffine, Workshop and Omotesando which are just minutes away were near enough full.

Best not to ask but after a full on lunch I still had an appetite for more food so we headed to the Photographers Gallery for their Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography exhibition which had everything related to food from politics to fashion to cookbooks and science.  It was an interesting exhibition but the images that hold long in my heart were the absolutely vile looking and sounding Weight Watchers recipe cards.

After the exhibition we walked towards the South Bank for a night of jazz from Gary Bartz a musician who has been sampled to death over the years. 

I have to say for an old timer he put on one heck of an energetic show and I was surprised that I knew a lot more of his material than I realised.   The Royal Festival Hall was also a great venue, comfy seats, excellent acoustics and lots of room to move around. It was a shame that the space wasn’t full but with a ridiculous choice of acts on in London that night as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival including the legendary Herbie Hancock who we saw for my birthday a few years prior it was perhaps understandable.  We’d had a wonderful evening and a day that appealed to all of our senses, even humour as with the night drawing to a close we got a message from the hotel app finally telling us our room was ready!

Our original plan to round off the evening was to enjoy a drink at the bar before bed or if hungry a quick bite to eat at the fashionable Standard Hotel across the road.  We were not hungry and a large party in the space behind the bar put paid to that quiet pre-midnight cocktail.  Instead we retired to our room for a much needed bit of R & R as of course I’d planned another action packed and food filled day to follow.

We woke up at a decent hour on Sunday, I suppose that was one benefit to not finishing Saturday night with a couple of drinks.  The shower worked a treat and prepared me for my first task, breakfast!  No, not a self-indulgent room service affair which whilst the idea tempted me it was frightfully expensive so instead I headed off to St Pancras to pick up a couple of pastries from Sourced Market whilst Anne-So got ready. 

As indecisive as ever I ended up picking up two pastries each, after all who can resist a pistachio Danish! 

I headed back to the room, fired up the Nespresso machine and breakfast was ours.  Yes, we missed the luxury table setting but when a couple of items from room service would cover the cost of lunch it would have been hard to justify it.  Not only that but I was also confident that the quality was unlikely to be as good as those found in the station.  The pastries I’d procured were filled with decadently rich chocolate but were sadly a little dry.

As I said, this weekend was all about making happy memories and for me there was no better place to spend the morning than at the Design Museum for the Mission to Mars exhibition.  Housed in the old Commonwealth Institute building off Kensington High Street this was one of my favourite places to visit growing up.  Where else could you travel the world in an afternoon? 

These days the museum space is quite different and we walked into the exhibition to be hit with a heady Martian mist that was a world apart from the terrestrial travel that once occurred in the museum.  That woody smell turned out to be the exhibition’s signature scent. 

We started with the history of the exploration of Mars from the first recorded sightings to the present day equipment that roves the red planet. 

The second room looked at the fictional Mars, from novels to comics, music and movies. 

We were then asked to visit present day Mars and see what the current rover saw:  Storms, blazing heat, freezing nights and long unforgiving winters.

Who would ever want to live on Mars and even if you wanted to, how could you even get there? 

The next room in the exhibition began to answer that question, looking at the latest rockets and crafts that hope to take man beyond the moon.  Would we travel straight from Earth, via a base on the moon, or from a space station? 

The next stage of the exhibition was for me the most interesting. It asked the questions of how could we live on Mars.  How would we find water, breathe air, grow food and most important of all have somewhere to live that would protect us from both heat and cold?  Would we bring prefabricated houses or could we send robots to build houses out of the Martian dust ahead of our arrival?  What would the environmental implications of this mission be on our planet?  It’s easy to think of all the pollution and waste such a mission could generate but what is easily forgotten is how much could be saved from the technology required to live on Mars where life would need to be maintained with the minimum of resources. 

The final part of the exhibition put us in the shoes of the next wave of astronauts who would go to live on Mars, perhaps out of necessity rather than out of ambition, after all with the current technology of this world nobody knows how those pioneers could ever return home.

I have to say this exhibition was quite the roller-coaster.  I went in with high hopes and expected something heavily interactive and technology focused.  Instead I started off feeling pretty disappointed but ended up enthralled to the point where we ran out of time and had to rush the last section.  Whilst by no means perfect it was an excellent way to spend 3 hours or so especially with the 2 for 1 voucher we had. 

At this point we were worried we’d be late for lunch and made a dash for the bus towards Trafalgar Square where we’d planned to meet our good friend N for food.  As no birthday celebration would be complete without a big portion of Indian food we had chosen to meet at Tamarind Kitchen on Wardour Street to fatten our bellies with their lunch thali. 

Our friend not being quite the connoisseur of Indian food we were was looking forward to trying something new and we were happy to encourage her.

I started with a cold beer and we awaited our thalis with excitement. 

We all went with the Non-Vegetarian thalis and enjoyed a journey through eight items of spicy goodness.

Meaty lamb kebab, sweet and sour chaat, heart-stopping butter chicken, a light prawn curry, rich aromatic daal and some wonderful carbs: rice to balance the spice, potatoes to bring it back and rotis for mopping up that gravy!  There was also a side of raita in case it all got a bit too much!  Safe to say I cleared my plate with ease and was happy to help anyone struggling. 

For dessert we went with a portion of syrupy sweet gulab jamun. 
I also got an additional slice of birthday cake.

I’m not going to lie, by now I too was struggling to finish but I was happy.  What better way to celebrate than sharing a meal of your favourite cuisine with an old friend.

We headed off in the direction of Covent Garden with the vague hope of walking off some of that food. It was there we parted ways, N in search of window shopping, Anne-So and I hunting coffee.  There was a new Japanese coffee place that had recently  opened but sadly it was rammed and we felt like sitting rather than taking away.  After a short walk and realising it was late in the afternoon we called it quits taking the tube back to St Pancras, picked up our things and headed home, safe in the knowledge we’d not be needing dinner.

Safe to say I wasn’t done just yet…  On Tuesday I met up with my very good friend T at the excellent Michelin starred Trishna for an early evening feast. I felt it was equally important to share my favourite cuisine with newer friends too!  I’d been to Trishna once before for my birthday last year with Anne-So and S so I knew where I was going and was excited about what to expect.   I was a little early and enjoyed walking around Marylebone High Street.  It was a beautifully mild evening that was just perfect for a bit of extra strolling to work up an appetite.  T messaged me she was pretty much there so I spiralled back through the small, luxurious London streets of Marylebone till I arrived at the flower covered façade of the restaurant.  I was warmly welcomed, and taken to my table to see T sitting and waiting for me.  Both T and I are pretty big foodies and have suitable foodie appetites to match.  Our love of eating certainly cemented our friendship especially in the early days and though it veered from junk food to diet fare and these days from eating out to home cooking. 

We both love a good meal and our expectations were high.  Better still we had both ordered different things so the option to share was on.

I had picked a lovely fruity IPA to drink and T was sticking to the special sparkling tea cocktails they had on offer. 

Being brave I thought I would try the soft shell crab, it had a wonderful crunch on the outside and was soft in the middle, with a deceptive spicing that kept on going.

For mains we had the lamb and chicken which came with all the trimmings. 

A rich green saag, smoky yellow daal, warm soft buttery naans and a little bit of rice to help cleanse the palate between bites. 

From looking at my photos you may wonder what sets Trishna apart from your run of the mill curry house. In reality it’s really simple: the impeccable fresh ingredients used in the curries, you won’t find any tough meat or canned veg here.  The second thing is the spicing, all the dishes have an excellent flavour profile where you can taste all the ingredients as opposed to just getting a unforgiving uniform hit of chilli, the more you eat the more those flavours come alive in your mouth.  The final thing is the service which although fairly formal is incredibly friendly and warm with every member of staff really wanting to make sure you have an excellent meal from the moment you step through the door to the moment you leave.

By the time we had gotten to dessert we were filled to bursting, the pacing of the meal was fine, so perhaps it was the early hour for dinner (at least for me).  But our flowing conversation had turned into a fight for survival with each of us offering the other a spoon of our dessert to finish the plate and that’s before we even got to the additional slice of birthday cake!

It was a great meal with an amazing friend which was rounded off with a gift of some rather fine macarons from Selfridges (clearly to take home as even if they were wafer thin it would have ended in much more than tears).

The final leg of my birthday was spent at home with Anne-So and featured presents, cards and love.
Oh and a big organic steak basted in butter to a beautiful medium rare and finished off with a couple of those tasty macarons.

These next 12 months looked like they were going to be amazing. How little did we know!

Friday 13th Part 1 and 2

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