Ballet dancers as evoked by Degas performed their frozen movements on the walls of Café European. Another print by Monet hung by its side. A few Dalí pieces were also scattered along the wall. The dim candlelight played with the vivid colors in the paintings, warming the cozy room. My table was in a corner that provided a street view from the window. From this vantage point, I was able to gaze across the room and observe the few other tables present at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.
They were mostly older groups of friends enjoying a bottle or two of wine. The owner was figuring numbers on the register. Laid-back, instrumental music played softly overhead.
A slender, mousy girl approached my table with an easy smile as I perused the menu. An array of British items were available. I decided to envelop myself in the mood by ordering hot chamomile tea, from Bigelow, of course. She nodded quietly and slipped away.
Upon her return, I decided to order cheese parcels as an appetizer. A crispy trio of toasted filo pastry bundles served surrounding a small lake of redcurrant and port jelly materialized extraordinarily fast. I exuberantly crunched into the first one, filo flakes flying all over the plate, and discovered the melt-in-your-mouth taste only brie can deliver. Quickly, I devoured the other two “parcels” as well, detecting mozzarella in one, and white cheddar in another. Dipped into the jelly, they were a wonderful first taste.
The young girl reappeared, and inquired after my dinner order.
I could have ordered bangers and mash for a true English meat-and-potatoes style meal. Or I could have gone for the decadent beef Wellington. For the true mutton lover, they even offered an entire rack of lamb with all the trimmings.
Being a Friday night, however, I opted for the fresh salmon salad.
Again, its speedy arrival was pleasantly surprising. A mixture of greens, red cabbage, shredded carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers ensconced a fillet of steamed, marinated and chilled salmon. Served with a side of the same vinaigrette that coated the salmon, the dish was hearty enough for a meal, but light enough for the time of day. In other words, it was a balsamic perfection of which my mother would have approved.
Having saved room for it specifically, I ordered their fresh fruit crumble with zeal. A mountain of crusty cinnamon apples and raisins, it was steaming underneath a dollop of vanilla ice-cream. It was hot and cold and tasted of homemade love. As it turns out, crumble is what we from the States call cobbler, and it was the best I have ever had.
As it was 10 p.m. at this point, and the restaurant was officially closed, I was the last remaining diner in the room. The owner, in his authentic British accent, was directing my server in her closing duties, telling her which items to keep and which to throw out. Whenever she had a question, she called to him saying “Dad.” When she dropped off my check, I couldn’t resist nosily asking if I had heard her right. She smiled and informed me that, yes, her mom was the chef and she and her dad served the dining room.
“It’s nice, you know,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of family-run restaurants anymore.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Moriah Parrish cane be reached at email@example.com.