DINNER AT CLOONEY

It’s a miserable Saturday night in Auckland, with the rain falling in a perpetual grey slurry and dripping off buildings in the most contrary fashion. Luckily it’s dinner at Clooney with a friend or I may feel like killing myself in this awful September weather.

The table has been booked for 9.00.

“We have nothing earlier, I’m afraid,” the man on the end of the phone had told me with resignation when I rang to book.

“Really?” I asked him. “It’s uncivilised to dine before 9.00, don’t people know that?”

“If only more people thought like you do,” I hear him cheer up. “We can’t understand it either.”

We’re there at 8.30 for pre dinner cocktails in the atrium when a man I assume is the Maitre d’ appears. From the manner in which he is wringing his hands and the clear distress in his approach, I can tell this is not going to be good news. He leans down and explains that the party at our table were seated over an hour late and the restaurant is otherwise full.

“I can offer you one of two things if you’d like to wait,” he says. “Either we will pay for your dinner, or we will pay for your drinks while you’re waiting.”

Clearly there’s no choice about that.

“He got down on one knee to talk to you,” my friend observes as he leaves to find us a bottle of the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. “I thought he might be about to propose.”

At 10.15, with a bottle of the Chateau la Serre on the way, we are finally seated. I think Clooney has the most intelligent and sensual interior design of any restaurant in the country. The thick black cord drapery, the large blown glass lights and the brown leather banquettes all make for an overwhelmingly urbane and refined experience. The cleverness of the design becomes apparent when you realise that it has remained unchanged since 2006, and is still holding its function and beauty in what is otherwise a large concrete box.

“They’ve lost our coats,” two reasonably drunk women tell us from the shadows as we sit. This does not bode well either. The moment our waiter appears, we ask for our own to be returned to us as they contain cellphones, credit cards and in the case of my friend all manner of other useful and legally dubious items. The waiter is very understanding.

“We couldn’t have you not being able to pay at the end now, could we?” he says, before fetching them.

Then comes the degustation, being six courses of attempted divinity, and not really falling all that far short. As they come out our conversation turns to manners, as I have recently written a brief calling for a National Campaign for them, and my friend thinks it’s quite an idea whose time has come.

“We could commercialise the hell out of this,” she tells me. “I’m thinking tee shirts, jewelry, merchandise. Imagine rings with just the word “please” written on them in a kind of scripted font! They’d sell like hot cakes up at Superette.”

“People might think you were a bit gay if you wore one,” I doubt aloud. “For a start, what is your finger actually asking them please for? And also it kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise, don’t you think? Please, thank you, sorry, excuse me – these are concepts that are entirely free from materialism. That is precisely why we need their return.”

But the pork arrives and this exhortation is dismissed in a mist of piquant apple.

Watching the other diners, I am struck by the paucity of their interactions. Everyone appears to be on uncomfortable dates, or in tepid old marriages, or simply lacking the kind of joie de vivre that a place like Clooney so clearly needs if not to feel like a scene out of Twilight. One man at a table not so far off is trying very hard, but his date is having none of it, her back rigid and arms crossed.

I ask my friend what he’s doing wrong. “Lack of connection? No sexual tension? Not enough wine?”

“I just think she’s a bitch,” she says, in what is probably the most accurate observation of the evening.

As dinner draws to a close, we are joined by the Maitre d’, where again the subject of manners arises. I tell him that being a very large party and being an hour late for dinner is simply churlish and doesn’t show much consideration for the restaurant. He sighs and agrees, before confessing that it threw the whole floor into a kind of epicurean disarray from which they never truly recovered.

“Perhaps you should begin writing restaurant reviews,” I tell him, “Of your customers.” I expect it would be one of the most widely read blogs in Auckland.

 

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