Admittedly, my first port of call probably should have been a barber, but it was the pull of a restaurant that had me cycling through town at 7.30am in the faint, flickering snow.
The weather may have frozen over, but lockdown is thawing: in Covent Garden, staff stood huddled outside shops set to open for the first time since before Christmas, breath as smoke, and I heard hurried, gossipy catch-up chats. Headed to 45 Jermyn St for breakfast, I peddled through traffic lights following a van from Lay’s of Chelsea, the restaurant fruit n’ veg supplier, back out on its once-usual rounds. I passed a man tugging at his collar, getting used to wearing a tie again. Others were shrugging into their suit jackets, easing themselves back into old uniforms. Routines are being relearned.
At 45, by 8am things were already happening. Outside the entrance, doorman John was already chattering to a regular: “I’ll be around later,” the man promised, “Thank God you’re back at it.”
And they are, though al fresco only means this is anything but a full opening. “Outside, we have four tables of four, and four tables of two,” general manager David Nichter says. “Inside, when we’re allowed, we can sit well over a hundred.” Being back is wonderful, he says, but the weather is a worry. For those hesitant, I find that – just as by some perversion of science, hot tea cools on a baking summer’s day – a chilled glass of Champagne warms up an icy morning.
I sit down by the heaters and soon an espresso arrives, a bottle of water, a full English – each like a magic trick, appearing as if from nowhere. I am asked over and again if I am alright, if I’m comfortable, if anything else is wanted, and soon that old familiar feeling of utter comfort settles in; the food is extraordinary, as it always is here, and I am being spoiled.
After five months living alone, tiring of my own cooking, I’m briefly taken aback – overwhelmed by a combination of sheer gratitude and utter relief. This third lockdown has been, for me at least, by far the hardest, by far the loneliest. Heading out, even briefly, breaks the lockdown routine of working all hours and doing little else besides.
After five months living alone, tiring of my own cooking, I’m briefly taken aback – overwhelmed by a combination of sheer gratitude and utter relief
Two tables beside me fill, one a booking and one a walk-in. There is a good, happy feeling here.
John says, after all these months away, he’s spent the last week nervous but is glad to be back at it. I watch him in his element as a steady stream of faces stop to talk. One man scuttles over to the lady sat at the table next to mine: “I thought it was you!” he says, and the pair fall into a laughing exchange. This does not feel entirely like it once did – waiters taking details for track and trace is a reminder that we’re far from out of the woods – but dining out, and seeing old friends while we do it, is back on the menu. Small things can mean so much.