M y parents are heartbroken. Their favourite restaurant, Laurent, a cosy couscous place in Childs Hill, has
closed. 'We are heartbroken,' says my mother, 'Laurent just had enough.' `Oh dear,' I say, sympathetically. `But a new Italian place has opened, where the waitress adores your father, and we absolutely love it! she adds. I think my mother has issues around loyalty. She should join the Tory party. That said, her sight is not what it was and she might have difficulty operating with any degree of accuracy in the shadows. 'Sorry, Ms Widdecombe. Didn't see you there. Now move into the light so I can see your new hair-do properly. Smashing!' Boris for PM? You bet. Boarding school for everyone and lots of Latin to keep yobs off street corners, Plus, for anyone hoping to settle in this great country of ours where the trains are crap and there's no post, a Classics test followed by ten of the best. No crying, mind, or it'll be straight back to Chile, where they'll really give you something to cry about. I'd vote for him. My son would vote for him. Who says young people don't vote any more? I ast Saturday, after Pop Idol, my son voted for Michelle four times and twice for Sam. He was going to vote for Roxanne, too, but I thought that was taking the piss. Disfranchised? The poor boy is almost hysterically overly franchised, if you ask me. As for Diane Abbott, I do think you should always do what is best for your child, except when it's going to cost large sums of money which could be better frittered away on yourself — in which case, forget it.
So, off to the new place, which is either in West Hampstead or Cricklewood, depending on where you are coming from and how smart you want to affect to be. We drive along Golders Green High Road — `Golders Green four miles, but to you two,' as they say — my old childhood stamping ground, once a thriving place, but now tragically decimated by Brent Cross shopping centre. No more Chinacraft, no more Odeon, no more Lindy's Patisserie (where the Eastern European grannies in lipstick — so wildly applied it was practically all over their faces — used to gather for apple strudel); no more one-off women's wear shops that never quite bought into the non-Jewish 'less is more' philosophy and instead went full out for the look that said, 'Obviously more is more and a lot more is a lot more, and if you've got a lot more, then bloody well wear it, flaunt it, drive it, triple-park it outside Blooms.'
We arrive at Giacomo's, which is a very small neighbourhood establishment: just 30 covers in what looks like someone's Artexed front room, decorated almost solely with shelves of empty wine bottles. But that's OK. In fact, it's more than OK. A good cosy local place is worth a billion sniffy walnut-veneered West End jobs where you have to book 40 weeks in advance and hand over your mortgage details so that they can repossess your home should you fail to show. The waitress, Antoinetta, who is young and Italian and blonde and very pretty, does indeed adore my father and gives him a big kiss, but then she is one of those wonderfully friendly warm kissy sorts and kisses the next customer, too. 'I thought I was the only one.' sighs my father mournfully.
We settle at our table. We are brought bread, olives, oil. My father has come well prepared for a good night out. I've forgotten my hearing aid and my glasses, so I can't hear anything or see anything,' he announces. I think he would be even more useless operating in the shadows than my mother. 'What? What? Anyone there?' My son, who would be a nice Jewish middle-class boy if he didn't think he was a black rapper, says to him, `Whassup, my bro?Fine, thank you, and you?' replies my father. My father and son get on very well except in those instances when they don't. One row, if I recall rightly, culminated in my father saying to him, 'You'll miss me when I'm gone'; to which my son replied, `No, I won't. I have got another granddad, you know.'
We arrive at 8 p.m. and by 8.15 the place is full. Everyone — but everyone — is hugged by Antoinetta. Alas, though, although in some ways tonight is a good night to come (Hallowe'en, so the alternative would have been staying at home with all the lights off pretending not to be in), it is also not such a good night, as half the restaurant is taken up by a large table of very loud, foghorny girls in their twenties celebrating a birthday. They wear their jeans low and their thongs high, which perplexes my son. `Why dey do dat, my main man?' he asks. `What? What?' says my father. He turns to my mother. 'Are you quite sure my glasses aren't in the car?' 'No,' says my mother, curtly. I don't think my mother has ever worn a thong. She has a good selection of shower caps, though. They must count for something.
The menu is quite traditional, 1970s Italian bistro — pizza, pasta, veal with spaghetti — and what's wrong with that? 'Modem Italian' means, on the whole, a single sad ravioli served on a huge white plate, then chips on the way home. Also, it would probably come with rocket. Aren't you sick of rocket? What is the point of rocket? It's just compost with peppery ideas above its station. You know how we all love to laugh at 1970s food — the Florida cocktail, pineapple juice as a starter, the melon boat that sailed off one day and thankfully (I admit) never returned? Well, [bet in 30 years' time everyone will be laughing about rocket.
Now to the food: my partner and I start with the green-pea soup which, we agree, is delicious: grainy-textured, intensely pea-y, certainly freshly made. According to my parents, who have made this place their home from home — they like to eat out, babysitter for shower caps allowing — the chef is Antoinetta's Polish boyfriend. I think we should all 'big it up' for Antoinetta's Polish boyfriend, as my son would say. My mother and son both have the cozze alla Provenzale (mussels, garlic, tomatoes, white wine) to start, and the mussels are miraculous, the size of slippers, with a generous helping of sauce. Next, my father and I have the pasta of the day — linguine with wine, chili, garlic tomatoes and lobster. (We're a bit rubbish on the kosher front.) Fantastic: very garlicky with huge, juicy chunks of lobster. 'It's good, isn't it, Dad?' 'What? What?' The portions are huge. I can't finish mine, which is unusual as I am, on the whole, an eminently greedy person. (The joke in our house is that I'll sometimes have breakfast before going to bed at night, just in Cage I oversleep in the morning. 'Oh, ha, ha,' I'll say, while finishing my cornflakes in front of Newsnight.) My partner thinks his tagliatelle with mushrooms in a cream sauce is `magnifico'. We finish with sorbets for pudding: lemon and raspberry. Fresh, sharp, homemade.
Giacomo's is a wonderful cosy Italian with a wonderful cosy atmosphere serving excellent food at excellent prices: £5 for starters, on average, and £7.50 for mains. And no big white plates. And no rocket. Just hugs for all of us from Antoinetta when we go. 'I thought I was the only one who ever got a hug,' says my father mournfully. Never mind. Maybe my mother will put on her very best shower cap for him when they get home.
Giacomo's, 428 Finehley Road, Childs Hill, London _WW2. Tel: 020 7794 3603.