16 MARCH 2002, Page 72

IT's Mother's Day and I've told my partner and my

son to take me out for a nice surprise dinner. Or else. Truly, I deserve a treat. I'm a very good mother. I'm not one of those mothers who, say, steams the 'Bonne Maman' label off pots of strawberry jam SO that, come the school fair, I can pretend that it's home-made. The fact that I know about this sneaky underhand technique which always wins sighs of admiration from other mothers (how do you have the time?) is neither here nor there or anywhere else, and I'll personally take on anyone who suggests otherwise.

Certainly, I adore our son, who sometimes washes but mostly doesn't, and consequently smells rather, but who still manages to brighten our household, mainly because he never turns off any bloody lights. However, he's now nearly ten, which means that he is no longer quite as easy to fool, particularly at Scrabble.

'Mum, what does "qzwy) cq" mean?'

`Qzwyxq. Well, dear. "qzwyxq" is what some naughty, slipshod mothers do when they steam the 'Bonne Maman' labels off strawberry jam because they don't want to turn up at the school fair with a packet of Jaffa Cakes yet again. Now, it's on the triple. so that's 496 points to me, tra-la, tra-lee!'

Seriously, he does ask some pretty awkward questions these days.

'Mum, what's oral sex?'

'Haven't the faintest.'

'Mum, what's a paedophile?'

'It's a . kind of potato.'

'Why don't people want to live near them?'

'Urn . because, darling, in the middle of the night, they gather on street corners and then come and suck your blood. The Paedophile is not like the Mans Piper. The Mans Piper is a fine, upstanding potato who will always babysit and feed your cats when you are away. The Desiree, on the other hand, is OK, but not as trustworthy on the babysitting front as she's at the Dubonnet as soon as you go out and probably gets the boyfriend round, too. Now, Duchesse potatoes are all very well, but they have airs and graces and expect you to curtsy. . . . ' Once I dig a hole. I certainly like to bury myself in it. I may even be quite like the King Edward in this respect.

Anyway, I wake up on Mother's Day in a state of great anticipation. Which of the following shall I receive in recognition of being the sort of mother who has always resisted the temptation to qxwyxq: 1) A cup of tea in bed; 2) An expensive gift, chosen with thought and care; 3) Failing 2), a home-made gift, although preferably not another calendar with gold-sprayed bits of dried pasta falling oft 4) An expensive, shop-bought, hand-made card that all the gift shops in Crouch End now seem to sell for 15,99 a go; 5) Failing 4), a home-made card, made with thought and care.

The answer? None of the above. Not even the cup of tea. Eight o'clock, no sign of it. Nine o'clock, 9.30, 9.45. . . 'WHERE IS MY BLOODY CUP OF MOTHER'S DAY TEA? WHERE IS MY EXPENSIVE GIFT CHOSEN WITH THOUGHT AND CARE? WHERE IS MY CARD?' Eventually, my son shuffles in (no great surprise, as I've smelt him coming) with a card that he has made. Well, it's less a card, more a bit of paper with 'I love you mum' scribbled on it, but it's very nice indeed. In fact, it even makes me feel a bit guilty about the Scrabble business. Should I confess? No, because he'll get really cross. The one thing you should always remember about your children is that one day they'll be choosing your nursing home, so if you want somewhere nice near Harvey Nichols rather than some dump in Hastings with one telly forever tuned to Michael Barrymore's My Kind of Music, you will never own up to anything. Especially not qzwyxq-ing at Scrabble.

Come 6.30 p.m. I'm dressed up and ready to go. So, where are we going then? 'Well, we were going to go to that new place in Highgate.' But? 'It's closed on Sundays.' So? 'There is also the new Italian in Crouch End.' What time did you book for? 'Well, we haven't booked exactly.' You haven't booked exactly. Look, you've either booked or not booked. 'We haven't booked because . . . we haven't. It'll be fine, though.' As it turns out, it is not fine, though. We go to the new Italian, Sosta. It's fully booked. We try the South African place that we quite like round the corner: closed for a private party. By the time we've traipsed around most of Crouch End even KFC is beginning to look tempting, and I'm in such a big sulk that my bottom lip looks like Ann Widdecombe's bosom. Did you see her and her bosom on that Louis Theroux programme? On reflection, Ann Widdecombe's bosom is not so much a bosom, more an entire shelving system from Ikea.

To cut a long story short, we end up back in the car and take a short trip in the opposite direction towards Finsbury Park, which isn't as smart as Crouch End, does not specialise in £5.99 greeting cards, and instead has lots of shops selling 29 mops for a pound. Here, we'd noted a place called La Ventura which looks vaguely interesting, offering as it does a regular 'clegustation' menu (unlike the Dixy Chicken place next door, which offers a 'disgusting' one). The initial signs are good. The menu in the window looks appealingly adventurous, plus there's a little poster saying that it's just been awarded a second AA rosette which, I've since discovered, puts it up there with Le Pont de la Tour and Maison Novelli.

So, in we go. It is quite smart. Pale-blue, with proper tablecloths and napkins. The waiter, though, looks like Manuel from Fawhy Towers and wears an obvious vest under his shirt. There are only two other occupied tables. 'Are you doing OK?' I ask Manuel. He says, cheerfully, 'We're in our fourth year, and it's just becoming worthwhile. We were very busy at lunchtime.' Who decides on the menu? 'There are three chefs, and they argue, argue, argue.' The menu, which had looked appealingly adventurous on the outside, now seemed downright eccentric. Is the place French? Italian? British with a French/Italian twist? I couldn't say. There is Barbary duck served with a forest-fruit reduced sauce on the menu (very Mike Leigh) but, then again, there is also roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And some of the dishes seem very effortful. For starters, I order the deep-fried goat's cheese served with a mango and tomato salsa. I had no idea what a mango and tomato salsa might taste like. And now that I do? Not a combination I'd recommend, frankly.

Our son has the Barbary duck (served with spinach and mashed Paedophile) for his main course, which he pronounces very delicious. My partner has the roast pork with a reduced cider sauce. He says it is perfectly nice but it's like you can see the joins'. I have the fresh salmon fishcake served with a garlic sauce and spinach, which is very fresh and tasty. It all comes vertically served — you know, with everything arranged in precarious little towers rather than spread out on the plate. I think that the chef might once have had aspirations to be an engineer.

Our final bill came to £87, which I think is very good value, considering we had a bottle of good wine, too. I'm not sure it's quite up there with Le Pont de la Tour or Maison Novelli, but it's quite a nice, if eccentric, neighbourhood restaurant. Still, when we get home I do, I admit, have a bit of a go at my partner.

'You could have booked somewhere.'

'I know, I know. . '

'I mean, it's not that much trouble, booking somewhere.'

'Look, don't go on.'

It's only a matter of picking up the phone. . .

The tip for an unsuccessful relationship like ours? Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.

La Ventura Restaurant. 28 Crouch Hill, London N4. Tel: 020 7281 5811.