My timing was a little off this week. I hung out on two smart roof terraces and on both occasions the rain did its monsoon act.
The first was lunch on the roof of Selfridges. There's fake grass and a retractable roof and part of the terrace is set aside for cigar smokers. The space up there will rotate with different restaurateurs having a go, the first being Des McDonald, he latterly of Caprice Holdings, where he was the second biggest cheese, the grand fromage being Richard Caring. But like several others who have left that business to be resounding successes in their own right (witness Russell Norman of Polpo and Mark Hix of, er Hix), so Des, who was once a head chef, now has his own growing business.
He has Holborn Dining, where brilliant and zany maître 'd Jon Spiteri parades his fancy suits, owlish glasses and charm, he has a fish and shop on Upper Street in Islington called The Fish and Chip Shop (Des is a straight talking geezer and very slightly frightening) and he has Q Grill in Camden. The Q stands for BBQ. Obvious really. So the current Selfridges roof incarnation is called On The Roof with Q. Which actually seems a bit long-winded for Des. So let's just call it Q.
I went for lunch at Q. Some go for tea - they do good scones, I hear. Some go for champagne.
And as the rain thundered down onto the roof - and after my journey up in the bespoke lift (and lots of friendly greetings) I ordered tuna and then chicken. The first course came cut into pretty little squares and sat on a green mat that matched the floor and, nicely peppered, it came with wasabi sauce and baby coriander leaves.
It's a dish that's a little out of fashion these days, but I reckon is perfect for a dainty lunch on the roof of a smart department store. My friend had smoked beets, wonderful yellow roots cooked just so there was still a little bite and with some flecks of roasted smoked, with some heat from a bit of horseradish. It was a nicely tempered dish - good lunch fare.
Then came my chicken which was on the menu as 'chicken paillard'; a French expression for being bashed and grilled. It came with tender asparagus - I think grilled - and some lovely deeply green and tasty salsa verde.
So far so pleasant and easy and delicate. And then we shared a chocolate caramel torte a dish that while giving a nod to well-worn fashion, was lovely. Choccy, salty, caramel. You know the score. When it works it works, but many can screw it up.
So this is a good place. With great staff, constantly beaming, which is exactly what I'd do if Des McDonald looked at me and said 'smile'.
One such beamer waved us goodbye before we got into the lift. 'Was it the first time you've dined?' she said. We detected an American twang, but she could have been from anywhere.
'No. We've eaten before,' we beamed back. And of course it wasn't meant as a stupid question. Just trying to be friendly.
The next terrace, where the rained pounded down onto the more permanent but material roof, was at Boisdale. We repaired up there after lunch, so my friend could smoke a cigar and I could just sniff that smoke and sip tokaji.
Boisdale, in Belgravia, has disposed of its old fashioned massive-looking menu on those big cards and invested in smarter folders with a cool art-deco font. And I think the food is better as a result. At least the smoked salmon seemed smokier and softer than usual, the oysters were great and the white wine, the most delicious I have tasted for ages. I'm always on the lookout for fresh, aromatic, dry but not acrid, wines with soft finishes and here it was. An Italian white from Tuscany, mainly of the chardonnay grape but with some Pinot Bianco, it was called Pomino Bianca and is made by the Frescobaldi dudes.
It was wonderful and I'm trying find out how to buy a case or two.
Next there was a second visit to Chiltern Firehouse, as reviewed here triumphantly the other day. My second visit would always struggle to equal or top the first as the dishes or the place would no longer be a surprise. Although I continue to be mesmerised by the number of staff there. God knows how the numbers stack up. I have genuinely never seen so many waiters/doorman/coat people/reception greeters, chefs...
There was no Nuno Mendez this time. But there was Dale.
And it's funny because behind every Nuno or Heston or some such culinary legend there is a Dale. Actually there is normally Dale, the Dale Osborne who is now at Chiltern Firehouse and has spent years propping up the reputations of some of the capital's final chefs, so that they can go round the world being applauded for being amazing chefs.
So good old Dale was there at the pass directing his boys (I didn't spot a girl) and sending out those cauliflower in truffle mousse snacks and the like. This time I had the rib eye steak and it was wonderful. Much better than my friend's really dull-looking strips of chicken. Actually it looked so dull, tired even - at least the green smear was far too dry - that we asked for it to be re-plated. Which the brilliant Dale kindly did.
It came back better, but was the weak hand in an otherwise perfect deck.
I sat at a bar by the kitchen. Nice and hot. It was a night stuffed with celebs: Keira Knightly, Stephen Fry, Lindsay Lohan, Bill Clinton... At least that's who I gather was there from someone who reads the Daily Mail.
We were too consumed by our lovely nosh to notice: the cheffy scene, the Gruner Veltliner - oh and the incredible cocktails including 'A Quick One Before Dinner' (a dry Mediterranean taste of a dreamy summer's evening made with something like vermouth, aperol, sparkling wine...); the cocktail version of the Pomino Blanco. An epic one to attempt to replicate at home. Torrential rain or not...Suggest a correction