The epiphany didn’t come when I expected it, but that’s probably the point with these things. I wasn’t perched on a hillside, watching rays of sunlight break through black, foreboding clouds.
Neither was I staring out to sea just as a giant whale smashed the surface of the water.
My moment of realisation came when a small cake flew across the dining room of one of the London’s finest restaurants.
It had been deftly, but unintentionally, flipped into the air by my father at the end of an exceptionally good lunch at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. The setting, it must be said, added to the charged significance of the flight of le petit gâteau.
The last time I dined alone with my father was 25 years ago, at exactly the same place. There have been plenty of shared meals in between but other family members, friends, or sometimes complete strangers, have been present.
I think I was in my final year at university when we last dined together, just the two of us, at The Connaught. I couldn’t tell you what we ate that day but it was lunch and I’m pretty sure there was a cheese trolley.
The trolley, and the male clubbiness of the restaurant, have gone. I miss the former, but I don’t miss the latter. This is a far more relaxed and elegant space under its female French influence.
We regrouped in Carlos Place, after a quarter of a century, because I had a couple of work engagements in London. I suggested we should meet for lunch, which I would sort, but didn’t tell Dad where we were going.
I hinted at Albanian. He had no idea until we pulled up at the front door.
His excitement was no doubt quickly dampened by the thought of: “Crikey, how much is this going to cost?”
I assured Dad he didn’t have to worry (for once). This was my thing. He’d brought me here 25 years ago and I was repaying the favour. So get on and enjoy yourself.
It’s probably overdoing things (but hell, I am a journalist) to suggest the meal signified a watershed moment, a dramatic shift in the father-son dynamic.
I can still return to type and play the part of a stroppy 16-year-old with accomplished zeal, but it struck me that here I was, in charge of proceedings, at a place where previously I would have much looked to the old man to lead the way.
And so the cake incident came to pass. It took place at the end of a fabulous meal. I don’t think I will enjoy a better dish this year than Darroze’s sublime roasted blue lobster, bathed in a stunning Arbois sauce, with potato gnocchi, Pertuis aspragus and meaty morels.
Dad’s world-beating Scottish scallops, pan-roasted with tandoori spices, would have sufficed more than adequately on another day. But, oh, that homard stole my heart.
Dad’s Armagnac Baba pipped my own choice this time, not that he gave me much of a taste, and what with the cheese we couldn’t do justice to the bon bon trolley.
But before we left the dining room, as is the custom here, we were presented with a nifty envelope-style grey box containing a sweet gift from the kitchen.