“Private dining rooms within restaurants have always been popular even if something of a contradiction in that restaurants are ostensibly public, egalitarian places which people visit to see and to be seen.”
– Nick Lander, Financial Times
We’ve hosted a good number of private dinners over the last four years. Generally, they’re bigger groups – anywhere from 8-12 people, whom we couldn’t fit in to one of our regular public dinners, or simply a bunch of folk who want to have a dining space to themselves for a celebration or meeting. Now and again we get requests for smaller groups, though, given that financially it isn’t worth it for us to spend the day preparing for less than six, that’s always been our minimum charge. Still, occasionally someone wants to pay the extra freight for a special experience, and we try to make up a bit of the extra cost with a special course or two, or slightly higher value wines. Only twice have we been asked and then actually had booked, a table for two – once for a planned marriage proposal, and then this week.
The request came through one of our friendly competitors in the puertas cerradas world, who, as I gathered from the conversation, has been working regularly with a luxury travel agency, and hosting private dinners for clients of the agency. The way it was explained to me was that these are people who truly prefer a private experience, with personal attention, and a menu designed specifically for them – for whatever their reasons. Because of the business arrangement with this agency, everything was going to be handled through our colleagues, which left me feeling a bit trepidatious about how things would work out – I had no contact with the clients, didn’t have any idea who they were, no way to ask them questions other than through a two-stop telephone game to our colleagues who passed on messages to the agency, and back. The only details I was able to get prior to their arrival was that they were an older couple, charming, and they didn’t eat red meat, and that their tour guide would also, in the end, be joining them for dinner.
Cut to the evening of the dinner, an hour beforehand I got a call from the tour guide confirming they’d be here on time, that she wasn’t going to dine with them unless they invited her to (okay, remove one place setting and we have extra food for us), and that they would like to be in and out in an hour and a half maximum. An hour later, the bell rang, Henry went to let them in, and a lovely Australian couple, dressed to the nines, entered, seemingly a little bewildered. We got them comfortable in the living room, and in the course of a few minutes conversation determined that they hadn’t a clue why they were there (other than for dinner) – hadn’t requested a private dining experience, would really have liked other people around and to try something very typically Argentine, which, of course, we’re not, had literally flown in two hours before, and just wanted to relax.
We tried to keep it as comfortable and relaxed as possible, though I think it was awkward for them regardless. I do believe they enjoyed the dinner, I think they just would have enjoyed something a bit more lively, and a restaurant style atmosphere. If this comes up again, I’m going to insist on talking to the clients beforehand.
First course, a lenguado, or sole, tartare. Next up, a fennel soup with avocado and crispy chickpeas – pretty much the same as this one, other than we served it warm and instead of falafel simply deep-fried a couple of handfuls of chickpeas.