Last night I enjoyed a wonderful early birthday meal at the lovely Al-Shami Lebanese Restaurant, tucked away down one of the many winding streets of Jericho. The food was delicious, and got off to an unusual start with huge platters of raw vegetables (something common to many Lebanese restaurants), which added a brilliant splash of colour to the table:
I felt extremely healthy nibbling away at this selection, although I fear that any potential vitamin benefits would have been washed away by the red wine... I always love catching up with old friends over a leisurely meal, and of course birthday dinners have the added bonus of including some very nice presents as a side dish!
Even the weather this weekend has been in a celebratory mood, and Oxford's been revelling in glorious hot sunshine. I've been able to indulge properly with a couple of long, lazy afternoons lounging outside at the pub with friends, a pitcher of Pimm's on the table beside us. Pimm's is one of my favourite things about summer in England, especially when it's made properly - with lashings of fruit and mint and plenty of ice. There's only one fly - or rather, wasp - in the ointment. Or, with my luck, several wasps. Unfortunately, the stripy little fiends enjoy a summery tipple just as much as I do, and I must confess that even a perfectly made glass of Pimm's can somewhat lose its appeal when you've just watched a wasp take a bath in it. As a consequence on these occasions, the table becomes something of a battleground. I'm not a particularly helpful member of the defence force, usually only managing to swat the air ineffectually in one wasp's general direction as I try simultaneously to ward off another who's after a juicy chunk of strawberry bobbing at the top of my glass. Luckily, I have some better co-ordinated friends who variously squish, drown, or decapitate the enemy in order to avoid any unwelcome added extras floating among the cucumber...
My weekend's exertions have left me in need of an early night, but first I should point out a new addition to my Oxford restaurant list: Al-Andulas in Little Clarendon Street. This is an absolutely fantastic little tapas bar which I went to for the first time this evening. I love the type of meal where you can pick and choose from lots of different little dishes, and I've walked past this place on many occasions, and have been wanting to try it for a while. It certainly didn't disappoint, and I'll definitely be returning again very soon!
Sir W was no stranger to Spanish cuisine: his father, Sir Charles Cornwallis, was based in Madrid as the resident ambassador to Spain from 1605 to 1609, and Sir W visited him there. I'm not sure that tapas would have been on the menu, but the analogy Sir W draws in the extract below suggests that he too would have approved of the 'few dishes well dressed' that I so much enjoyed this evening. This comes from the 1601 essay 'Of Silence and Secrecie'; Sir W has been contrasting different oratorical styles, and has concluded that it is definitely quality, rather than quantity, that matters:
'it is ... as it is betweene a few dishes well dressed and a great feast. The sparing speaker giues you that which is wholesome and ouerburdens not your memory with superfluitie; the wording Orator is like our English feasts, where the stomack must winne way to the second course, with bearing the burthen of the first, & when he comes to it, hath lost the bettering himselfe by it, through the heauinesse of his first receipt.'