Friday, 3 April 2015

"Va Roule Ma Poule"- a lunch of love; a dinner suit for the Master Chef; and a jacket for la Belle Giselle

The earth has spun on its axis and Summer Time is now upon us in the Northern Hemisphere. First picture in from Bedlam's observation tower:

Entertainments, it seems, are best kept indoors for a few weeks more. One of the our top recommendations for dining non al fresco would be crazy good value set lunch at London's greatest gastro temple, Le Gavroche, in Mayfair

For  back in January - you know we love a rewind at Bedlam -  Mr Wesley and I were allowed to attend my Ma's 80th and Pa's 86th birthday bouffe there, on the proviso we delivered my ninety-five year old godmother to the restaurant. You may recall, dedicated readers of these postings, that it was Elisabeth who gave us a roof and her old sewing machine when we first started out, in her apartment building in St.James, snug behind the Ritz hotel. Not a shabby start at all.

So it was there that we arrived to collect her and await a taxi that never came. Elisabeth told me to find the number in her address book and check where it was. By the time I had run back upstairs, located the book, stared in despair at the smudged and faded entries one written over the other as the decades have removed or replaced friends and services, puffed back to the lobby, called the car service to be told that no car had been ordered, then tactfully suggested that perhaps we should just get the next black cab that pulled up, time was ticking on. I could picture my pa fuming "tempus fugit" or something that rhymes with that, while his face got progressively more puce and hear my mother saying "Now, now Arthur, just relax, I'm sure they'll be here soon."

From the back of the cab I had the idea to tweet a message to Master Chef extraordinaire, Michel Roux Jnr., to say we were en route, stand back, nonagenarian trouble's coming atcha - and was there any chance of a lift rather than stairs? Within seconds he personally replied to say he was most looking forward to greeting us, and a lift would be available. After extracting Elisabeth from the cab - "What a good looking driver," she remarked - we moved through the doors, three or four little steps at a time, then a rest.  Finally - I'm picturing our party on pudding by now - we get into the service lift which opens into the kitchen. It was at full lunch time service throttle. Instead of clattering pans and blue air, everyone in the kitchen stood back respectfully, offering welcomes and hellos until we reached Chef himself, who shook Mr Wesley's hand warmly and gave Elisabeth a little bow that made my eyes glisten. I heard someone say, "What a great suit he's wearing," and we made our way into the dining room and collapsed into chairs held back for us with care.

Mr Wesley escorts Elisabeth through the kitchen at Le Gavroche
Lunch was mouthful after mouthful of rolling eyes and hand gestures expressing inexpressible delight. Every detail, from the china and the cutlery to the attentive but not stuffy service, was what you would hope a celebration meal would be. 

And then Michel appeared at the table to ensure that everyone was having a fab time, which we clamoured to assure him. When he had made his way round to Mark and me, he confessed our Twitter name had intrigued him, that he had already had a look at the website and would, accordingly,  like to talk dinner suit. At which point our flutes ranneth over with bubbles of bonhomie.

Michel congratulating my Pa on being really old; in the middle, my other, "Carry On", godmother Barbara Thomas (widow of film director Gerald); and Ma Butler on the right.
And so it is on this cold and rainy day, that we are awaiting Michel Jnr. and his wife Giselle at the studio to deliver the jacket we have made for Madame, and fit Chef in his dinner suit. Giselle's jacket we have named "Uptown Punkette". She chose the most Mayfair of tweeds, a deluxe burnt orange wool / cashmere mix from the Holland & Sherry "Callanish" range, before enquiring if the collar and pocket flaps could be done in denim, to match the blue overcheck. Never let it be said that we don't encourage ordering off-menu. And so began a hunt for a cloth de Nimes that would do the job. From clothier to clothier I schlepped with the Callanish bunch in my hand. Everything was just a shade away from being right. "Sacré Bleu!" I muttered, "I can SEE the exact colour in a pair of favourite, faded old jeans...!!"

WHOA, back right up to that thought.

I sent a message to Madame, to see if she would have any objection to the cloth being sourced from a vintage pair of jeans. Pas de tout came the reply, for she is a a cool chick (and, on that subject, Happy Easter everybody). As it transpired, we had a visit from our beloved honorary son and one time intern, Ingmar Patton, great grandson of one of history's best dressed generals, General Patton. We are sentimentally thrilled to be making his graduation suit from his school Schule Schloss Salem. Here he is at his fitting:

At that time, our intern was a Dutch art school student, Marlies Heerema. The Dutch are, largely, well disposed toward General Patton and, I hoped, by association, his progeny. And so I packed them off together on the downtown bus to Brixton (in the pouring rain), with the Holland & Sherry bunch, to trawl the charity shops for jeans. They returned having successfully executed their mission (it's in the genes. HAHAHAHA!!! Sorry, drinking alone in the studio, writing), with a pristine pair of jeans from Dr Barnardo's,  fresh stock donated by H&M, so, thank you H&M, I could assure Madame R that no smelly ass has ever had anything to do with her jacket trim.

Marlies & Ingmar flushed with the spoils of success after their mission to Brixton
The Dr Barnardo's jeans against the Holland & Sherry wool / cashmere tweed with the paisley lining by Huddersfield Fine Worsteds
In the meantime, Michel was not forgot, and we were making progress with assembling only the finest ingredients for his dinner suit. He had an idea for something a bit skull & cross bones for the lining, which we were going to print on silk twill, or Bedlam's print dept. Mr. & Mrs. Hatley, were, anyway. When you consider the traditional elongated white chef's hat, there is something about it that lends itself to a skull, and when Mr Wesley cunningly added crossed cutlery underneath, voila,  un motif worthy of the Master. We sampled for him three scales and four reds, and from such assiduous preparation does one deliver the dish:

The large, medium, and small scale on red #1, and then the smallest one sampled on three further reds
Dig the prongs 
Flora - we ador'er - our current intern from Westminster University, with the unfurled finished silk for Michel Roux jnr.
Michel's lining is the reason Madame edged ahead of her mari in the delivery stakes, how come we have her finished jacket, with buttons from Grandma Butler's button box (hence no set, but enough for variegated blue on the cuffs to match the denim, with a different one to fasten), with his suit for fitting tonight. Here, alors, we present for your La Belle Giselle's "Uptown Punkette" jacket:
"Va Roule Ma Poule!"

What do we learn? That if you want to become a Master of your Craft, you put in the years, and never stop taking the trouble to ensure that every last detail is comme il faut.

If you are not so far from us, and seeking another NON al fresco entertainment ce soir,  then we cannot recommend too warmly the theatrical presentation at our local theatre, the Southwark Playhouse, ,"The Cutting of the Cloth". It closes tomorrow, so you have two chances left to see the lost play of Michael Hastings, who did his apprenticeship on Savile Row before becoming a world renowned playwright, discovered in his desk after his death. A perfect example of ensemble work, one of the cast, Abigail Thaw, was in the year below me at RADA. Her older sister Melanie was in the year above me. Their  daddy was John Thaw.

The story concerns the tension in a Savile Row workshop in the 1950s between the school of hand stitching a bespoke suit and the new fangled machinists. It is a rewarding, engaging and emotional evening. Would Michel Roux Jnr. eschew technological assistance in his kitchen? He proudly told us that the convection cooking (I think I got that right, let me double check when he arrives!) keeps temperatures and tempers in check - hence they can be so polite when funny people pour out of their lift. But, we propose, success, or recognition of your artistry, is a delicate mélange of advance and old fashioned passion that makes the dish, or the dress, so sweet.

You may enjoy knowing that when Ma Butler learnt that the great Chef was to attend the studio, she insisted on preparing a plate of her "signature" canapés, delivered with the message that should he be sufficiently impressed that he would want to add them to the repertoire of amuse bouche at Le Gavroche, she was quite happy to share that with him. Here Michel delivered his verdict:

And here, a post script addition do we have the pleasure of presenting Madame Roux in her finished jacket, (and perfectly judged denim skirt to go with it), while Michel tries his work-in progress dinner suit. Brian assisted with the fitting, much to Mr Wesley's frustration, as Flora is back in Brighton for the long weekend: