At 4pm on Friday, the last day in the office for most people before Christmas, the fire alarm went off. Without having to say so out loud, everyone knew that most of us wouldn’t bother returning for half an hour’s worth of work, so we shut down our computers properly before walking down the three flights of stairs to the ground floor. Outside we stood in the cold for half a minute, looking up at the Shard, then as one mass moved to the pub and ordered twenty cups of mulled wine.
We got to talking about the best food in London. My company has small offices across the world, and a lot of British employees use their annual plane ticket back to come home for Christmas. What they were most looking forward to was eating. A Berlin-based editor was planning a pile of ‘proper’ dim sum on the weekend. A Johannesburg-based writer lovingly described the pho he’d had for lunch. Someone mentions crispy aromatic duck, and it lodged in my mind, mentally crackling.
At around 4:30 someone from another department stuck their head in the pub and gave us the all-clear, and the poor souls who still had work to do finished their drinks and pulled on scarves and coats. The rest of us pointedly waited a few minutes, luxuriating in the pre-emptive weekend atmosphere of not having to do anything, then said our goodbyes and merry Christmases and peeled away.
I went to the station, got a train to Charing Cross and walked straight up to Four Seasons on Gerrard Street. I sat down. I ordered a portion of duck. It came. I ate it. It was fantastically good, as you’d hope from Chinatown’s self-proclaimed roast duck specialist: juicy, glistening fat, crispy skin, flavourful falling-apart-tender meat. Really, I think it was one of the best meals I’ve had all year. I felt so rich, being able to want a food and just go out and order and eat it. Not only in money, although being able to spontaneously drop £14.90 on dinner (with tea and service) is not something to take for granted – in 2008 that was most of my weekly food budget. But neither is living in a city where delicious crispy duck is so easy to find, nor is having a free hour to sit down, tuck in and enjoy excellent food without having to do or think about anything else but how nice it is.