Before the arrival of children, it’s easy to take your freedom to go out of an evening for granted.
Some of the nicest nights Mrs OBEM and I spent in our pre-children days were those random evenings where we decided on the spur of the moment not to go straight home. Instead we would eat out or at least have a drink or two on the way.
That sort of spontaneity has been removed almost entirely from our lives. Instead we have lurched to the other side of the spectrum – meticulous planning is the order of the day.
This is to be expected though, and should come as no real surprise to any parent. There is no point dwelling on it. Much better to utilise your new-found planning skills and focus on the question of how to maximise your night out when it does finally arrive.
Location, Occasion, Vocation
We are lucky in that from our Zone 4 location we have some good restaurants and takeaways nearby. Our favourite Italian is within walking distance. Our preferred fish and chip shop and Turkish restaurant are within a 5 minute drive and there is a decent Thai not much further. We have two Indians of the “not much to look at from the outside” and “why are they advertising sky sports shown here” variety which both do a mean sheekh kebab. In fact, the only thing that we are lacking is a decent Chinese as distinct from a greasy one.
All are perfect for a quick night out or lazy night in, where you want a decent meal that won’t cost the earth. None of these are particularly special though. Sure, they may dust off an old CD player to blast out a version of Happy Birthday by an aged foreign crooner that you’ve never heard before, but that isn’t always what’s needed.
So where to go for something a little nicer?
Location and occasion are intertwined when it comes to deciding on a venue. The more special the occasion, the further away the location can be.
So for us, the obvious choice would be to head into the West End where the options around Fitzrovia, Soho and Mayfair are endless. But that, as the kids say, is “going out out” and that isn’t always what’s needed either. And if you commute for work, the last thing you want to do on a Saturday night is heft back into town on the tube.
But as with everything, there is a sweet spot. A happy medium. Somewhere the extra travel is worth going beyond the boundaries of your locale, but the prospect of the journey doesn’t immediately deflate your anticipation. Somewhere offering that step up in quality makes it suitable for an occasion where you want to enjoy yourself but still function the next day.
And so it was that we ended up at Patron in Kentish Town to celebrate my Brother-in-law’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. Not a significant birthday but worth heading out of the area for dinner.
I think we found our sweet spot.
French Martinis for Mrs OBEM and her sister, Negroni’s for me and my BiL loosened us up before our starters. Chicken livers in marsala cream were rich and flavoursome as were my BiL’s mushrooms on toast. To say that the girls’ baked camembert also ticked that box would be stating the obvious.
Our mains of confit duck, moules marinere, onglet steak and pork belly give you a sense of the small, classically French menu. They were all executed superbly, as were our sides of truffled frites and a spinach soufflé.
The wine list contained a couple of reasonably priced gems – a Sancerre and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Anything non-gallic would have been criminal.
I was slightly let down by my crème brulee which, although bruleed beautifully, retained that refrigerated edge. But by that stage, the drinks ensured that it didn’t taint an otherwise lovely meal.
And so, after a thoroughly enjoyable few hours, we hopped in a cab for the short ride home. It was a meal that suited the occasion perfectly, and, if Mrs OBEM and I had actually gone home and not back to BiL’s place for some more drinks, we would have been fully functioning the next day. All boxes firmly ticked.
How to find yours
Patron is not the only place that fulfils these requirements for us. For many years we have enjoyed l’Absinthe in Primrose Hill. Like Patron, this too is a French bistro type place – serving traditional dishes done really well. There’s a good reason we like going there, namely that there is nowhere near where we live that serves good French food.
And so, in an effort to help you find your sweet spot for that next special occasion, here are the criteria you should be looking for:
- Cuisine you can’t get within a 10 minute drive;
- No more than half the time of your daily commute to get there;
- No more than a £20 cab ride to get home; and
- While price is no indicator of quality, you should certainly be expecting to pay up to twice than you would for your local meal out (any more may be considered a blow out).
Apply these criteria and see how you go. Bonne Chance!