Anyone who is reading this may get the impression that I am obsessed with food. Indeed it does take up an inordinate amount of my focus. But this week was exceptional. Christmas is here! And the season of excess has begun. In addition the draw to London this week was inexorable. It was sales week at both Christies and Sotheby's. So, many of the Masterpiece London exhibitors were in town and so was the rest of the buying world.
I began the week with a friend, Alex, who is a Spanish art consultant with a ridiculously youthful demeanour and the most uncompromisingly sticky out ears. He is, sort of, my age but he looks like he could be my son! He has just lost his job. But he is sanguine, as he has a new Russian client, so he is happy but in a dejected way.
It is Christmas (hem hem) so we had wine with our breaded escalope with broccoli frolicking in wine and spring onions. A dish I love but the last time I had it, it was an inedible confection of gristle. I double checked with the kitchen and indeed it was promised to be elegant and delicious, and so it proved to be. Having put the world to rights we asked for the bill. The waiter replied "don't worry sir, it's on the house as you had a bad time last time." Wow! I wasn't expecting that and only after mentioning a bit of grissle-great place. Cut to a few hours later when the restaurant rang me to say that they were really embarrassed but they had given the free meal to the wrong person. Me! And indeed I did have to pay-less great place.
Down to Christies to view the Riahi sale, an amazing collection of the grandest period of french furniture. Also the Harewood sale, a sort of attic clearance with a mixture of pieces, accompanied by a group of decorative lots which will be sold next week at Christie's South Kensington.
The Riahi pieces are so grand it is sort of intimidating. We talk to the Christie's team, the energetic Anna who carries her talismanic clip board and squeezes the tip of her biro with nervous intensity and Simon (pronounced French ) who once interned at Mallett. They are off duty, I am not a mega client they have to be nice to. We gossip and say indiscreet things. I leave a fantasy bid on the commode en biblioteque. A description I guess Christie's have made up. It is a form I have never seen and is ravishingly beautiful. Breathtaking. It sells in due course for around £2.5 million.
Downstairs and seemingly out of range is the Harewood kit. For me, reducing itself down to a pair of perfect Chippendale painted armchairs and a group of pieces by the British legend of gilt bronze Mathew Boulton. The cult following both is hard to define, they have a name that transcends the narrow world of decorative arts. Chippendale has been celebrated for ever, but Boulton has been 'caviar to the general' since time immortal but now he seems to have broken through. The world wants Boulton and though the pieces on offer all have condition issues they all sell when the time comes well. It is a real joy to handle these things, to feel, yes, feel where their quality lies. I am confident that the value will only increase for these fascinating expressions of an English idea of French bronze.
Back to lunch though I cannot describe every dish and each friend I met with. Lunch is a perfect blend of time pressure with hedonism. Because of the uncertain length of lunch it intensives the agenda. You cut to the chase.
So here goes. Dover sole is the gold standard of fish. On a menu it stands out as both a challenge and an opportunity. It is always über expensive and slightly intimidating. It arrived and it was a good size, not too small or big. It was a delightful brown but not obscuring the delicate white flesh. The taste was heaven; it was that miraculous mixture of the flesh being both milky and meaty. It had a perfect crunch which was buttery and salty. I asked the kitchen how they had achieved this. Apparently the pan gets very hot, salt is added and super-heated. Then butter is added but not too much, like a splash of oil, and thence fish. A few minutes each side and then rushed to the table. A minor Masterpiece. Our conversation ranges over local theatre, life drawing and the draw of novelty (both people and things ) he is a million years old but he is a life enhancer. Great company. Then the exhibition. According to the grandees the show is not intellectual. The catalogue is poor. There is no proper thematic link or chronology. However it is the most successful show at the RA in years. David, my old teacher from school, has put together an astonishing collection of treasures. There are no entrants who appear for their merit. Everything is there because it is a treasure, dare I say it, a Masterpiece, not because it is worthy. A wonderful show. I went because neighbours of ours had designed and installed the show "Stanton Williams ' we were so lucky to see the show with no one there, so to speak. Great things in a wonderful setting. It was a challenge intellectually because it was not all spelled out. We or you had to work it out, I suppose the grandees must be scratching their heads as they see a new dynamic; not dumbing down, not intellectual challenge, just fabulous things elevating the soul and the mind.
Or maybe I should say Dover sole and the mind.