11 Feb

Love Story

A short anecdote from Robbie, the hero’s best friend in the story I’m currently revising.

Eight years ago today, I fell in love.

Not that you’d have known, if you’d been there. Think midnight in mid-January. A pair of twentysomethings, one Italian/Scots mongrel and one Hibernian thoroughbred, legging it from Camden’s finest kebab shop to my best mate Ian McKenzie Kinross’s place.

I stopped dead in my tracks. Didn’t feel the icy, horizontal rain. Didn’t hear Mac, asking me what the fuck I was doing.

Could be interesting,’ was all I said. He grunted a reply, and we set off again.

There are rules about manly displays of emotion. I’d learned to control mine back when all I had to do was keep my zits at bay and hope my voice wouldn’t break at the wrong moment. When I suddenly stopped watching Nigella lick her lips, and started checking out her hands. When I lived a double life, glued to Great Chefs Television on YouTube with my bedroom door closed, hiding my ma’s Good Housekeeping under the mattress.

As soon as I could, I got a job in the kitchen at the Kinross Arms. To this day, I can breathe in the clean, salty smell of really fresh seafood and feel sixteen again. It was perfect, until I went away to college; when I came back, nothing was the same. I wanted to show them what I’d learned. They thought I was pretentious. We went our separate ways. We’re friends now, though.

Later I got a gig in Paris. Things turned serious and I wasn’t ready to settle down, so I hit the road for a while, cooking and learning and moving on.

Mac’s the smartest man I know. That night in January, we ran back to his place, and he broke out the whisky.

What time’s your plane tomorrow?’

I’m not going,’ I said, and he smiled.

That place is a wreck, Rob,’ he said. ‘It’s a bomb site. You could do much better.’

I glared at him and he laughed his head off. ‘Just checking it’s the real deal for you,’ he said. ‘It’ll cost a fortune.’

I don’t give a shit.’

Nobody will lend you the money.’

I’ll find a way.’

I’ll help,’ was all he said, but I knew what he meant. His dad had died a couple of years before and left him what I’d consider a small fortune. No pressure, taking your best mate’s inheritance.

By September I was a wreck. There’s fear when you realise it’s actually going to happen. Terror when it becomes clear you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re guaranteed to fuck this up. And euphoria when everything comes together and you’re too knackered to speak but somehow the adrenaline keeps you going.

Today, Roberto’s is eight years old. My best friend’s cash is safe, the derelict shop is a gastronomic temple, and the future beckons. Who’d stop at one Michelin star when we could have three?

The best relationships last a lifetime. We’re going to grow old together.


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