A few weeks ago the film ‘The Terminal’ — about a man stranded at JFK airport — came onto Netflix. I watched it and, perhaps because Tom Hanks says it so many times, I decided with a friend to ‘go New York City!’
We booked flights, applied for a visa and, taking the fashion advice of NYC patron, the Duke of York, packed three suits. Having never been to this city — or the US at for that matter — it’s fair to say I was both extremely terrified by the never-ending towers between heaven and earth, but also very aroused.
New York is a most enrapturing place, as no doubt many others will testify. You can feel the air between buildings literally bringing together all the steel, hopes and dreams of the bustling island to create a synchronisation of go-getting. Which is why this next bit is odd.
When I arrived back to the UK, my friends, family and colleagues ran through the typical script we all get after a holiday. ‘What did you get up to?’ ‘Did you have a great time?’. And, most people who go to New York will probably say, “the skyline is fantastic” or “the 9/11 memorial was deeply moving” and maybe they’d mention Central Park, Grand Central Station or a Broadway musical.
However, all I want to talk about is The River Cafe at Brooklyn bridge.
And, no, it isn’t because the food was deliciously Michelin starred. It isn’t because of the deeply charming white-tailcoat waiters, and it isn't even because the singer Pink! (I’m assured by my friend) was at the cocktail bar being strange.
No, no, no, noooo!
It’s their seating arrangements!
You see, this is an area where many restaurants fall down. Many squeeze people in, lining us up industrially to get as many covers as possible — leaving little to no privacy.
The best you can often hope for is a diamond formation seating plan, where tables are slightly turned at angles — meaning people can be sat close while having some sense of being alone. But all normal plans come with pitfalls. Whether it be earwigging neighbours, being too far away across a giant table, squashed in a booth or just sat obtusely and out of view, near a toilet. In my experience, no restaurant I've ever sat in has come close to the pure mastery of the River Cafe's temple to chairs.
So, what is it? Well, as we entered the restaurant, we were faced with a delightful looking table — white cloth and candles — which seemed suitable for four, pushed against the wall, but you and your companion sit on a velvet bench, next to each other.
At first, I was very sceptical and believed it to be unnatural, like seeing a Labrador hump a poodle. But then I paused and had another thought — labradoodles exist.
Despite seemingly being totally exposed to the restaurant, as I turned my head to discuss with my friend, it clicked. We could talk about anything in this set up: Pokemon, our preferred BDSM fetishes or even Jeffery Epstein conspiracies — there was total intimacy between us without the table being closed off.
It also made it easier for the waiter to keep refilling our glasses. And, after a truly tremendous tasting menu with many bottles of red wine, in my head the deal was sealed: the designer of this seating plan must be Jesus or at least touched by divinity. Much later I recall the famous painting of the Last Supper by da Vinci where they were all sat on one side — coincidence?
And there we are. Even though I did everything in the NYC Lonely Planet guide, all I can talk about are tables and chairs. Brilliant.
The table of dreams