When I was at uni, my group of friends and I had a bit of a birthday tradition going. Every time one of our birthdays rolled around, we would celebrate with a slap-up meal. There wasn't a whole lot of choice in Cambridge, so we became fairly regular customers at Côte, Café Rouge, Bill's and Byron (still so much love for that place!) And if restaurants failed, there was always formal. Usually followed by getting a little bit tipsy. See below for a stereotypical example, way back on my 21st birthday. I imagine that most friendship groups do this - but it's left me feeling that birthdays with friends are not about the food, but about celebrating friendship - and silliness.
And things haven't changed. Last month we had Roxy's birthday to celebrate, so a group of us convened at Browns in Covent Garden for a spot of post-work feasting and imbibing. All I really knew about Browns beforehand was that the one off Upper Street does a mean virgin piña colada. Suffice to say, I hadn't been since I was about 14...so my expectations were nice and low.
We ordered bellinis and a bottle of white wine while we mulled over what to choose for mains. Now, the wine was unfortunately not all that palatable (not one of us managed to finish a glass) but the bellinis were lovely - exactly what the doctor ordered on a Friday.
Apparently, pasta was also the prescribed dish for that evening.
Crab and king prawn linguine for me, with a generous helping of pesto.
Lobster tagliolini for Gisella.
And ricotta, beetroot and white truffle tortelloni for Rox and Imarin. Was so impressed at how this was plated, seeing as it's a chain restaurant!
But as I've said, we weren't really at Browns to eat. (I mean, we were, but you know what I mean). The food was just a backdrop for all the gossip we needed to catch up on! We definitely ended up annoying our fellow diners with loud, unsavoury dinner table conversation and ensuing raucous laughter. It made me realised that I'd missed these girls a whole lot.
And of course we had to order dessert.
Gisella had three flavours of crème brûlée, served in the most adorable little espresso cups.
Roxy and I went for the same thing - an absolute mountain of meringue, cherries, strawberry sauce and white chocolate buttons. Browns' take on a classic Eton Mess. The pudding reached an impressive altitude, but was a bit too sweet for me to surmount.
Imarin's dessert was also a beast - the biggest slab of sticky toffee pudding I've ever seen, served with a little quenelle of stem ginger ice cream.
Suffice to say, we all had eyes too big for our stomachs and could only chip away feebly at our monster puddings.
The coolest thing about Browns is that the building it occupies used to be a courthouse - and you can still go up and see the old courtrooms, if you so wish! It's lovely that Browns have kept them more or less intact, and I reckon it'd be so cool to have a party in one...
Birthday girl holding court from the judge's seat, flanked by a benevolent Im and a rather menacing-looking Gis. Hope you enjoyed your birthday, Rox!