Monday, March 06, 2006

An Afternoon at the Reform Club with Tony M.

Every now and then I get to spend an afternoon away from work and other obligations. Instead of business or children, I am focused on food, specifically a very long lunch with friends. Invariably these kinds of moments always seem to be spent with my very good friend - Tony Manley. He is British and is as worldly as any person you’re likely to meet (he’s visited over 60 countries in his lifetime). He is also one of the few people I know who loves good food and wine as much as I do.

Tony and his wife currently live in Aix-en-Provence and I have been lucky enough to visit him there about once per year. But I’ve also had a couple opportunities to meet up with Tony when he’s back visiting his children in the UK. In late February, we were able to rendezvous in London for what turned out to be an extended and very memorable lunch together.

We met at the Reform Club and had lunch in the dining room. The Reform Club is a VERY British institution. It was founded in the 1830’s and was the seat of the Reform political movement in England. It describes itself as:

"The first home of classical liberalism, where the spirits of Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Hilaire Belloc, and other intellectual adventurers live on. To all those of fair argument and good cheer, our doors open wide."

Nowadays, it’s a place for business and government movers and shakers to meet and do deals or whatever they do. Not exactly the kind of culinary or gastronomic locale Tony and I would usually visit. But this is where Tony often hangs out when he visits London. The food is surprisingly good. The accommodations are quite comfortable and the location is in the heart of central London, close to the West End theatres and Royal Opera House that Tony so enjoys frequenting.

The building is stunning. I’m told that it was modeled after a Venetian palace. Upon arriving, you are required to walk up several steps and enter a great opeb cathedral-like first floor hall. Look up about five stories and there is a huge glass ceiling/skylight. Along the four corners of the room are great pillars and the walls are covered with paintings and portraits.

The dining room is very long and somewhat narrow with a view of the back garden. Like every room in the Reform Club, it has very high ceilings. Like England itself, it is venerable, majestic and steeped in tradition. It is also oddly comforting.

Now on to the meal:

I had a chicken and corn soup starter with coriander cake that sounded quite tasty but turned out to be a scrawny nibble. Tony started with the Coquille St. Jacques (scallops) that looked a whole lot better.

We both had the chef’s special “saddle of lamb’’ – it seemed like the shoulder cut to me, but it was very good nonetheless. Tender and juicy, although a tad bit fatty. Alongside the lamb we indulged in more traditional fare - mashed potatoes, peas and spinach. Rib-sticking stuff. We washed down the first and second courses with a bottle and a half of the ‘Reform Club Claret’, a nice cherry like Bordeaux.

For our 'pudding', I had a trifle – very rich – and Tony had a plate of cheese. He chose several English cheeses and one French, a Banon, which is non-pasteurized and difficult to come by in the US. Of course, I expressed interest in the Banon and Tony had them serve me a piece. Stinky. Gooey. Sublime.

We repaired to the upper level for coffees and two Armagnacs each - a very civilized way to finish a proper lunch. After much conversation we looked at the clock and realized it was tea time – 5 p.m.! So of course, we set off for the library for a pot of tea and tea cakes – in this case something that looked like a hamburger roll with raisins in it. It was sliced in half, toasted and served with melted butter.

By six p.m. we were off to get our respective tube trains – me to Paddington Station and the train to Oxford and Tony to Richmond, no doubt for a nice dinner with his son and family!

Just another afternoon with Tony M!


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