14 August 2008

Killing Time in WeToCoRo

It's been a long time since I entered those irritating lifts at Goodge Street tube station - eight years, in fact. Nice as the Fitzrovia-Bloomsbury interface is, I don't generally have much reason to visit this neck of the woods, apart from on my seemingly never-ending apartment hunt. Tonight though, the brother and his ex have booked into the crashpad and despite my protests, I ended up staying at myhotel Bloomsbury - "where east meets west" (I'm pretty sure the Hong Kong tourist board have copyrighted that phrase; you would think so given how liberally it is smattered across the entirety of Hong Kong and Kowloon, anyway). I like boutique hotels; the room is small but not cramped and has plenty of nice amenities - free wireless internet, flatscreen TV (if only I watched TV...), Aveda toiletries, art on the walls. The location - just off the Tottenham Court Road, near Goodge Street, is pretty good too, with plenty of restaurants, pubs and bars in the immediate vicinity, as long as you don't mind paying a premium for staying in the quartier of the media and the Mad Men.

Indeed, the last time I had time to kill in Charlotte Street was in 2000, when I was doing my work experience at an advertising agency. My parents decided that rather than commuting, they would pay for me to spend the week in an apart'hotel overlooking Trafalgar Square and so I would journey a few stops up the Northern Line, each day, to Goodge Street. It was quite a mad week, even for an ad agency of the Sterling Cooper calibre. One lunchtime was spent translating a brief into French, another listening to an amazing voiceover guy record an ad for Bell's whiskey, switching seamlessly between accents at a second's notice, another acting as an extra in the background for a TV ad (I can't remember the company; only that it involved the main actress swirling around and around with a huge umbrella in a square just off Charlotte Street), and another brainstorming ideas for an (apparently ill-fated) online climbing kit company, 9feet.com.

Even now, the ToCoRo quartier evokes random memories in me - oh, look, it's Heal's; that's where I had to run, urgently, one lunchtime to buy some item of overpriced home furnishing for a pitch. Charlotte Street was heaving, even though it was only a Thursday. I wanted to find some casual, low-key place where I wouldn't feel conspicuous as a lone diner; this proved impossible. For some reason, even though I have no problem roaming the world by myself, going to the cinema alone, eating breakfast or lunch out by myself, eating dinner - solitary - in a restaurant still scares me. I always think people are secretly laughing at me - the loner - when in reality, they haven't even noticed. Somehow, though, it's a psychological barrier I find hard to cross - from the "er, can I have a table for [cough], please?" / "FOR ONE?" exchange with the maitre d' to the way I feel I have to avoid ordering the cheapest food and wine, even if those were the items I most wanted from the menu, to avoid being considered a loner and a cheapskate by the waitstaff.

I did eventually overcome my nerves and find somewhere to eat. Most of the smaller places were full and much as I would like to try out Roka to see if it is as good as the reviews claim, I felt it was somewhere to save for a special occasion, or at least for when I had company.

I was about to concede defeat and sheepishly slink into Zizzi or Pizza Express when I spotted Bertorelli, which looked independent and although it was (founded in 1913, no less), it is now owned by the Chez Gerard group. Anyway, the large, fashionably decorated dining room was heaving but the friendly Aussie maitre d' found me a table somewhere I could people watch and scribble in my Moleskine without feeling as though everyone was watching me. I ordered a really nice glass of Pinot Nero (I should hope so, given that it was £6 for a 175 ml glass - Mad Men prices, clearly), which I sipped while writing another partial installment of the novel. My pizza - one of the specials - was a principessa (well, what else could a princesss order?), which was topped with parma ham and rocket and was much nicer than Pizza Express's nearest equivalent, even though it wasn't any more expensive. The puddings looked really good too - especially the panna cotta with chocolate-hazelnut sauce - but I settled for a double espresso, instead.

While not being an outstandingly special or romantic place for dinner, Bertorelli is fun and trendy and with a decent selection of puddings and wines by the glass, as well as the usual variations on an Italian theme for main courses - a decent and not too obscenely priced (apart from the wine) standby for when one is WeToCoRo on a Friday or Saturday night, without a reservation at Roka or Pied à Terre.

As for the night of hoteldom, in some ways it's nice to be able to slob around in a dressing gown and leave the place in a state and to access the interweb, but in other ways, it would be nicer to be in the crashpad where I have all my stuff and where there is a cable to plug my iPod into the speakers so that I am not forced to listen to Radio Slush (OK, I could find another station but it's been so long since I've listened to a non-internet radio that I'm not sure I can work out how. Besides, Jeff Buckley it might not be but If You Could Read My Mind ain't such a bad choon.

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