It is just one of those unfortunate factors in life that Christmas, my birthday, New Year and anniversary all align within a 30-day period of one another. The result is stressful, time consuming and expensive.
Added to this dilemma my partner’s birthday is ten days after my own. In that small interim of time between the official first date and the pivotal moment when the question is asked: ‘would you like to be my girlfriend?’ my then unofficial boyfriend and I had to contend with our own prospective birthdays, a commemoration of Christ and all with Valentine’s Day looming around the corner. It was the Fellini of beginnings; dramatic, emotional and highly romantic.
After last year’s operatic start I hoped for a peaceful and quiet turn of events for 2016. Christmas was celebrated with our families, for birthdays we came together for a small afternoon tea, all was going smoothly until the date loomed of our first official anniversary. Anniversaries (specifically the first) are a tough one. How does one celebrate? You don’t want to seem like a pompous goat and bombard social media with lovey, dovey snaps captioned ‘one year together’. For, as my mother drills into me ‘one year is nothing’. At the same time it should not be ignored. As a hopeless romantic I was secretly thrilled at arriving at the one-year mark. You have reached that stage where you can safely say to anyone who inquires that you have been with your partner for ‘one year’, rather than the awkward and rather insipid sounding ‘ten months and two days’.
One year is good, you’ve passed the ‘honeymoon’ hump, and all flaws and misgivings have been laid on the table and yet, despite these he is still interested enough to stick around. Yes, one year is certainly a mark to be celebrated.
The question still remains how. Having previously outlaid my burdens of financial woe and crippling currency exchange, an expensive restaurant with a lavish three-course meal was certainly off the cards. Luckily, however my partner saved us from our fate of cheap red, grisly takeaway and Netflix.
Beach Blanket Babylon: Bar and Restaurant in Noting Hill is a restaurant worthy of note. The décor for one thing is really quite elaborate. You walk into a kind of 1920s flapper gin bar reminiscent of a scene from Baz Lurhman’s ‘Great Gatsby’. Giant antique mirrors, plush chaise lounges, intricate baroque sculptures equipped with two DJs in the corner mixing the tunes of Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, a musical testament that this restaurant is fraught with incongruences. Escorted down into the lower basement you enter a kind of magical grotto, eluding a Tolkien quintessential charm with bracken, vines and a water feature. Down three flights of these wooden steps where secret boroughs hide candlelit canoodling couples and we found our own little spot (albeit with candlelight).
It is certainly a restaurant of contradictions. For one, there is no fluidity in décor, 1920s prohibition flapper bar mixed with Frodo Baggins’s Shire grotto all encapsulated in the name ‘Beach Blanket’. I am from Australia, the land of ‘beaches’ and there certainly was nothing ‘beachy’ about this restaurant from the décor to the food.
Secondly, the incongruity extended to the menu. You could start with a charcuterie board, a side of salt and pepper squid or olives. To follow sea bass with greens and a tomato salsa infused with prosciutto, or succulent lamb chops with fennel and mashed potato, or maybe a burger and fries. You see what I mean? There was no sense of continuity; it was restaurant fraught with contradictions.
We often abhor the thought of incongruity, especially when it comes to food. We go to a Mexican Restaurant and we eat Mexican. Le Pain Quotidien: quiche Lorraine with a salad garnish. Carluccio’s; a fusion of very unoriginal Italian and middle class English culinary expectations. In essence, the words ‘incongruity’ and ‘contradiction’ have no place in any decent, middle class respected restaurant.
Beach Blanket Babylon is not for the faint hearted. You certainly are not privy to possible former expectations. ‘Beach House’ for me conjures up images of greasy cheese burgers with plenty of mayo, thick cut salty chips and cod wrapped in newspaper, calamari, beer, sea and sand. There is none of that in Beach Blanket Babylon. There is no corny beach paraphernalia (thank goodness), and although the burger and fries is testament to the restaurant’s name it is the only dish of its kind.
My partner and I started with the salt and pepper squid. After having been deprived of our beloved delicacy since our arrival in the UK winter we couldn’t resist the chance for a mere morsel. It arrived in a paper-thin basket with plenty of dipping sauce and a good size portion for two. I followed with the sea bass, which was excellent. The tomato salsa infused with prosciutto was a good compliment to the bass, which can often be rather plain when, served solo. My partner had the lamb, which was succulent and pink. An infusion of hearty English mustard, fennel and asparagus worked well in regards to flavour.
We had the house red which was a nice little Italian Chianti. Chianti being on the lighter side can sometimes seem an insipid choice when accompanied with red meat. Needless to say it was a winner here, it worked just as well with the seafood as it did with my partner’s lamb. Never one for red with white meat I was suspicious about the mixture of flavors. All my previous misgivings were proved wrong it was a perfect choice of alcohol accompaniment for our starter, main and desert.
We couldn’t resist the temptation to finish with a sliver of dark chocolate gateau for desert. Served on a slated board accompanied by a small dollop of ice cream- come cream the portion seemed a little insignificant for its 8-pound asking price. After having a few mouthfuls I understood that the richness of the gateau didn’t really make it conducive for a large portion size. The cream- come ice cream side was a little odd. The chef is evidently trying to be a bit fancy when a plain good vanilla would suffice.
The service was excellent and our Spanish waiter maintained that exceptional level of attentiveness without being intrusive. A lovely evening far from the horrors of undrinkable Tesco’s wine and Sherlock re runs on Netflix. I would highly recommend Beach Blanket Babylon.
This in mind, I recommend it for couples, specifically couples who don’t mind secluded boroughs lined with bracken, candlelight and the tunes of 1920s pop. It is not a place encouraged for children, the menu and décor is testament to it. Go in a two; enjoy its intimacy, its incongruity, the absurdity and the décor. It was a perfect location to celebrate one year, with any luck we will be back there for the 2nd.
Book a table at http://www.beachblanket.co.uk/nottinghill/
Words: Catherine McMaster
Image: Catherine McMaster