I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the best things about being a Generation F (forties and fifties) man is you’re nearly old enough to acquire a Trophy Wife. There’s a certain age that all men seem to reach, where they start to feel they deserve just a little more… ZING.
Myself, I was lucky to acquire mine more than twenty years ago, when they were a lot cheaper. I couldn’t afford her now. But getting in on the ground floor is always the best way. And of course, a Trophy is forever: They’re resilient and wipe-clean. They liven up any room you put them in. You can fill them with champagne on birthdays and holidays and they never lose their lustre (so long as you polish them properly).
But of course, no man really wants an immobile lump of metal sitting in a glass case gathering dust in the dark. You have to take them out and show them off and bask in the admiration and envy of lesser men. It’s not just about winning, you see, it’s about flaunting what you’ve won.
Anyway, that was the world before Instagram. A happier, simpler time. Now that my Trophy Wife has some ungodly number of Insta-friends I don’t get to show her off so much. She can basically do it for herself.
So sometimes a husband has to put his foot down. (This advice, incidentally, comes from my mother in law – an outspoken advisor on the secrets of long, happy marriages but more of a man than I’ll ever be.)
‘What’s the matter? What’s all this with the foot?’ asked the TW, swathed in cashmere, her coat artfully crumpling on the floor as she returned home slightly later than promised.
‘You treat this house like a hotel!’ I spluttered un-manfully. (I’m not proud of this. It just came out.)
‘Let’s go out. My treat.’ she said, picking her coat off the floor and clip-clopping back out the front door.
So that worked out pretty well. She took me to dinner at the funky end of Kensington High Street. The part where you can still buy a pint of milk and an ounce of Iranian caviar without breaking the bank.
I just think there’s something about West Ken. I can only describe it as… ‘Julie Christie’. Google her, children. Steely London chick proto-hipster. Siren of the seventies. Silver haired and thigh-booted. And, just like West Ken, probably looks exactly the same now! It will always be the Seventies here. The Sixties with a hangover. But not a nasty, headachy, regretful, nauseous one; more like one of those cosy, sexy hangovers you have together on a Sunday morning after discovering a few things about each other the night before.
And right there, like a pop-up Swinging London, is the Romulo cafe! Filipino! Perfect! Just the right tang of 007 and the cutest ‘I know this little place’ vibe you could ever wish to hear whispered through Julie Christie’s candy-coloured lips, with the late morning light creeping through tie-dye curtains two flights up, snuggled somewhere in the back of the Cromwell road.
‘Why do you keep stroking your hair like that?’ the TW asked me after we’d been sat in the romantic whispery table in the corner. Friday night. Filling up fast.
‘I feel like Pierce Brosnan.’
‘Everyone’s being so attentive. We have the best table.’
‘Oh.’ She picked up the menu, ‘They know me here.’
‘How come?’ I asked suspiciously, because, you know, a man has to keep an eye on his influencer.
‘I said you’d write a review.’
‘You did? That’s why they’re being so nice?’
‘Maybe. Probably not. I know people.’
I looked at the menu too. Which was when I realised I couldn’t stretch the seventies gag much further. This was nothing like the seventies. Even I know that, and I wasn’t even there. This was new, joyful, fresh. Everything Julie C’s London wasn’t. This is the kind of food I actually want to eat.
A waitress appeared. ‘Would you like some bread? We make it ourselves. It will take you on a journey’.
I ate the bread. She was right. Kind of a brioche, but not so sweet. Soft. And a long, moreish flavour which could have been the salted butter. We don’t get that at home.
I ordered a Smokey and Stormy cocktail. It arrived in a leather hip flask, and let me tell you, you really haven’t drunk Bourbon until you’ve had it served in a tumbler, pre-flavoured by a West Ken girl with a blowtorch and fistful of hickory chips. That’s cocktail genius, ninja level. I’m spoiled now. I want all my whisky glasses smoking.
But I don’t want to be that guy who starts telling you what you haven’t had, just because I’ve had it and you haven’t and I want to flaunt it in your face, but… you really, really haven’t eaten ceviche until you’ve had it bouncing around in a bowl with lime and ginger and beetroot like a Romulan orgy in your mouth. Or the chargrilled squid on black rice or the pork belly that had the TW (a Lincolnshire girl who knows her pork, by gum) actually drooling. That’s a shot you won’t see on Instagram (but DM me if you have budget).
So I won’t over-egg the pudding. And I won’t mention the prices because, you know what? You can afford it. It’s good. It’s seventies cheap, so you can afford to go long on the tips. Impress your date.
‘I’m sorry about the hotel thing.’ whispered the TW watching me tucking a twenty euro note under my saucer as we rose to leave. (Tip as I say, not as I do.) ‘What’s your review going to say?’
‘I’m not going to tell anyone. It’s too good. They’ll put the prices up and franchise the shit out of it.’ I said. ‘This is our secret. Promise?’
‘I promise.’ She agreed.
The Romulo Cafe, 343 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NW – see website