Thursday, 18 August 2011

Sophie's Steakhouse. Wow trousers.

As my Aunty Margaret used to say, some people are all talk and no trousers. If I remember correctly, she was in the midst of explaining her thesis on the great transvestite orators from the early 19th to mid 20th centuries, but in abstraction, the phrase conjures up notions of bollocks-less threats, failed promises and dashed hopes.

According to their website, Sophie’s Steakhouse prides itself on “putting the emphasis back on the customer” and on its “food, service and atmosphere.” I like eating, receiving and breathing these things so some friends and I toddled off to the Fulham Road one (there is another in Covent Garden) to judge for ourselves. Was this talk, or was this trousers? In short, trousers. Great big mustard chord plus fours with velvet trim, a sheaf of forgotten fifty-pound notes in one pocket and an unopened packet of aniseed balls in the other.

Sophie’s doesn’t take bookings, so one polls up and hopes for the best. We were lucky enough to get a table immediately, but the bar is excellent should you need a place to wait. Once seated one is presented with a small plate of salami to be getting on with whilst perusing the menu. It’s a nice touch. I often wish I were presented with a small plate of salami at other moments in my life.

It’s a Steakhouse so I had lobster, because I’m a wild horse and you can’t tame me. It came fully shelled with avocado in a club sandwich. It was one of the most AWESOME (yes I used Caps Lock, what of it?) sandwiches I have ever eaten. Even thinking of it now sets me salivating. The fish and chips and steak of various kinds were received favourably by the others. We had to restrain one of our number from drinking the special steak sauce directly from the bottle.

Pudding was perhaps a little less awesome but still did the job. The fudge brownie was served warm and gooey and it in turn made me feel warm and gooey.

The service was excellent. Our waiter and waitress (both with cheek bones you could cut glass with and legs for days—where they find these people I don’t know) were intimate without being invasive and relaxed but proficient.

The atmosphere is energised, with a throng of people about the bar and, when I was there at least, there were some groovy tunes on the sound system. Although why Rhianna doesn’t know her name by the end of the song ‘What’s my name’—having so importuned for its entirety—is a mystery to me.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Graduation - A case for in absentia

By some miracle or (more likely) through some administrative bungle, I have a degree. Whatever the reason, it's mine now and I’m not giving it back, so there. Oliver Ray BA. It has a rather pleasing ring to it, don’t you agree? It should sound good. Those two letters symbolise three years of hard(ish) work, lectures, rent, tuition fees, booze, tears, ink, laughter, torpor, tutors, friends. BA. Done.

But once the results come in there is still one thing left. The Graduation Ceremony. The truth is, I didn’t want to go. But there was a meal after with family and friends, so I changed my mind.

Tickets were £25. A maximum of three could be purchased. Gown rental was £39. To put £114 in some kind of context, that’s almost a velvet smoking cap from Lock & Co. It is precisely two DVD box sets of The West Wing Series 1-7. President Bartlett wouldn’t stand for this kind of shit. Nor would Rob Lowe.

The day arrived. I threw on a suit (dashing), threw myself into a cab (stuffy), threw money at the cabbie (annoyed) and passed through the doors to the Barbican (mysterious). Naturally, it would make far too much sense to hold the ceremony where we actually studied. Picking up my tickets was easy. Queuing for robes was a bore, and once donned they had the curious effect of making one want to indulge in a bit of ritual Satanism. Then came the ceremony. The fact is, unless you are as benevolent as Pudsey Bear, you don’t give a ha’penny fig for ninety percent of the students that walk up there. And that’s fine. Everyone else feels the same way. But you clap, you listen to the speeches and place mental bets on which jokes have been dusted off year after year.

There are some exceptional students, some mediocre (that’s me) and some that frankly make the whole thing drag on. Yes, actually, I AM looking at you Peace Studies, don’t think we can’t see you skulking at the back, you self-righteous nonsense mongers. Eventually my turn came. The trot up the stairs, the brief pause at the edge of the stage. And then up on to it. Suddenly walking demanded my full attention and I stepped with the exaggerated care of the slightly inebriated (though of course I wasn’t. How very dare you). I shook the nice man’s hand (“I’ve never met you before and doubtless never will again, but very well done”) and received my scroll.

Back in my seat, I found the scroll wasn’t my degree, but in fact a printed letter. ‘Dear Student’ it began. OH, the insatiable flirts. The text was humdrum, with the odd platitude shoved up it for good measure. I have made life long friends and have been taught by some of the best minds in the land. I don’t need raw hands and empty words. I’d rather have a smoking cap or the complete West Wing. Oh, and then a job.