So last week I turned 24! Insert panicked rant here about how time's flying scarily fast, and how I'm in my mid-twenties already (seriously though, how?!)
My birthday fell on a weekend this year, and instead of seeing friends on the actual day I opted for Friday night drinks with my nearest and dearest at Cocktail Trading Co's latest outpost in Farringdon. CTC has long been a favourite of mine for its inventive, delectable cocktails, and I'm glad I chose it for my birthday. It was a perfect space - intimate, but with a specially booked seating area allowing me to buzz around the table, catching up with friends from all the different sections of my life, and quaffing alcohol from snowglobes as well as concoctions garnished with Sesame Street characters. And the best part? Watching my 'normal' friends' jaws drop open in astonishment at the artillery of flashes and cameras that emerged when the drinks were brought to the bloggers' end of the table. Oh man.
As we all know, drinking must be followed by dancing. We headed up the road to Piano Works in Clerkenwell which, unbeknownst to me, wasn't a cool little bar with acoustic music but an underground club with a live band shelling out pure cheese: Taylor Swift, Oasis, the Christmas classics which have soundtracked every birthday night out I've ever had, and, at midnight, R Kelly's Bump 'N' Grind, requested on a napkin by a friend who knows me far too well. Thanks to everyone who came to the various stages of the evening - love you beautiful ladies (and gents) long time.
After a hellishly expensive Uber ride home (though not as expensive as that one time I inadvertently took a €300 ride from Pisa to Florence - true story) I woke up on Saturday morning, miraculously hangover-free. At the base of my bed was a veritable Kilimanjaro of presents from my wonderful and thoughtful friends - seriously, Christmas came early for me this year! I spent my day luxuriating in front of Netflix, nibbling on chocolates (about 50% of my presents this year were food-based, of course), and in the evening we headed to East London to celebrate my 24th at Beagle, under the railway arches at Hoxton.
For me, the best birthday venue is always somewhere I've only vaguely heard of (like Ember Yard in 2014), leaving me with an open mind and non-existent expectations. Beagle fit the bill perfectly, and their excellent modern British dishes had me grinning like an idiot. Tout d'abord...oysters! Luscious and juicy (and legitimised by the month ending in R); with these and a glass of fizz in hand, I slipped effortlessly into celebratory mode.
To start: grilled cuttlefish with freekeh (aka my favourite word) and coriander. With full-bodied flavours and a range of interesting textures, this was an instant winner.
Two of us ordered the aubergine, tomatoes and labneh atop griddled bread. The hunks of aubergine were delightfully smoky and almost meat-like. Full marks.
For my sister: a sweet, fresh Dorset crab and chilli salad.
Mains: roast cod with leeks and mussels (not pictured as it got eaten far too quickly for me to take a decent shot!), roast pork with crackling that brought me right back to childhood...oh, and the T-Bone to end all T-Bones.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Especially when it's accompanied by an exquisitely creamy celeriac and anchovy gratin.
B and I shared this outstanding aged Longhorn forerib, and even our combined herculean effort barely scratched the surface. We decided to tapau (takeaway) with not even the slightest hint of shame. Meat of this caliber is too good to leave behind! The bonus roast bone marrow was great too, especially when sprinkled liberally with salt crystals and accompanied by a hefty forkful of watercress and duck fat chips.
Second stomach syndrome: Even if you're full to bursting after your mains, there's always space for a little something sweet. Particularly when it's a top-notch Valrhona chocolate mousse with malt ice cream and praline.
I ordered the innocuous-sounding pistachio ice cream with cardamom biscuit, and the flavours of the ice cream were just that: innocuous, dare I say it, a little bland, the milky sweetness reminiscent of Indian kulfi. (Life is hard when you've had the very best pistachio gelato available in Sicily!) But my oh my, that cardamom biscuit. It seized the mild kulfi flavours and took them on a magic carpet ride. I was so bowled over that I only remembered to take a picture when I was halfway through.
Thank you to my friends and family for ensuring that I had such a special birthday weekend! I felt incredibly lucky and very loved, and hope that I can reciprocate the favour to you all throughout 2016. Twenty-four years seem a lot (my scrumptious banana and salted buttercream birthday cake was groaning with candles!) and honestly, I feel a bit shocked when I'm telling people how old I am now - it seems like I was 17 just a moment ago. But as one of my good friends told me, it might actually be a number that suits me. Perhaps I'm finally growing up. 24 - I'm ready for you.