So, I have to admit – it’s rare these days that I come away from a date or an event, and can’t wait to put pen to virtual paper.
During the 30 Dates Challenge, I would often get home from a date after midnight, only to then spend three hours before bed, committing every moment of my evening to the blog. In part because I knew so many people were out there waiting to hear how it went, but also because I didn’t want to forget any part of it!
Tonight I went to a singles event, and I couldn’t wait to reach for my laptop. Because if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was on candid camera!
When I found out a few weeks ago that Match.com were running an event in conjunction with Grub Club, I jumped at the chance to attend. I have a lot of time for Match – it’s one of the most successful and reputable dating sites out there, and I like the fact they’re now venturing into regular, varied singles events. Likewise, I love the Grub Club concept. Since discovering the whole pop-up dining phenomenon last summer, I signed up to their emails when looking for unique date ideas, and whenever I get their newsletters I always spot exciting new dining ideas.
Last week I got my first proper taste of Grub Club at the dinner in the St Pancras Clock Tower – one of the most interesting and unique dinners I’ve had in London, and not just because of the location. And so I had high hopes when I heard about the Match singles event.
Tickets for the evening were £35 – which included a three-course meal and a welcome drink. At the time of purchasing the tickets, daters were only told which area of London they would be eating in. We were then sent an exact address 48 hours before the evening.
Dinner this evening was at the Crimson Heart in Shoreditch. Located almost opposite the Book Club, it’s on one of the few streets in Shoreditch I know relatively well (despite being an uncool South Londoner! 😉 ). However I’d never noticed the Crimson Heart before. Luckily one of the Match team was standing waiting to meet us in the doorway, so the venue proved easy to find.
I made my way inside, and was immediately offered a glass of champagne. When the waitress returned with a glass the size of a small goldfish bowl, I couldn’t help but grin. It was going to be a good night!
Pre-dinner drinks were meant to be in the garden area. Except there was a problem. 22 daters were set to attend the event … and the garden fitted a maximum of 10. Which left half of our group literally standing in the toilets with our champagne glasses! Definitely an interesting ice breaker, and the group seemed to take it all in good spirits, which is always a good sign. You always see the real side of someone when things go a little bit wrong!
After a rather prolonged wait, we were allowed down into the basement … and that was when the real fun began. The dining area, at most, would have housed a table for ten. There were 22 of us! And we needed to mix up the boys and the girls … but most of the girls had been standing in the toilet area, so had made it down the stairs to the basement first. There was one long main table, and then a small table which only (awkwardly) seated two, a small table for four, wedged at a rather awkward angle, and then two small couches tucked in a corner, which it later transpired was also 3 place settings!
I think it took twenty minutes to get everyone in through the door, and seated. A feat which involved the landlady barking orders at us, and rolling her eyes when no one sat down on the small sofas – as if they were an obvious place for us to eat our dinner!
As we finally settled into our seats, I heard at least three other daters make gypsy jokes. And that was kind of what the Crimson Heart basement reminded me of – one of the gypsy caravans on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding! There was just so much going on – odd bunches of flowers tied with ribbon, candles, a disco ball, various different fabrics, and every wall had hundreds of magazine pictures covering it.
No one could easily move from their seats, and so we soon realised we’d need to pass drinks and plates up and down the tables, though luckily it was a fun crowd and everyone appeared to have just got to the point where they were prepared to do everything with a giggle. The landlady barked drinks orders over our heads, and thrust drinks at us to pass on at intervals, demanding cash be passed back in return, and we settled into nervous chatter. The location, and lack of space were hot topics of conversation. As was the heat itself. We were now all dripping with sweat. Despite the relatively cool night outside, the basement was crammed to capacity, and stuffy within minutes.
And then came the food.
At this point, I start feeling really bad writing this, because I really hate writing negative reviews. But anyone who regularly reads 30 Dates will know I’m really not fussy with my food, and also that I try to err on the side of diplomacy … so it really is me saying something, when (having backpacked around some of the poorest countries in the world) I describe the meal I had tonight, as the worst I’ve ever eaten.
I’m not even joking, when I say that several daters suddenly converted to vegetarianism as they saw the starter being passed down the table! Never in my life have I ever looked so enviously at a plate of vegetable couscous!
The funny thing is I love king prawns, and I genuinely can’t remember the last time I even left one on my plate.
This evening I was served a starter of king prawns with a mango coulis … and I ate one and a half, and left about ten.
The prawns tasted like they’d been deep fat fried in burnt oil. Several people commented on the ‘odd bitter taste of the prawns’ and I genuinely think it was the burnt oil. The prawns even had brown burnt chunks of them.
After the starters, the men moved places (similar to Table8 … though I should add, the ONLY similarity!!).
As we waited for our main meals, I realised quickly that the man sitting beside me had quite acute learning difficulties. He later explained that he had severe Aspergers. To best illustrate just how acute the dater’s Autism was, he was in his early thirties, but, having worked as a nanny a few year ago, I’d put his social interaction and understanding around a 5 or 6 year-old child.
It’s interesting, because on the one hand, I have so much respect for someone with severe Autism coming to a dating event. I know lots of people who don’t have learning difficulties, who would be scared sh*tless going to a singles event. So to volunteer for a social event when you know you have Autism, is no easy feat, especially a dating event, where everyone judges each other.
And obviously, when you set up a dating website, or organise a dating event, you never ask a customer whether he or she has a learning difficulty.
But unfortunately, an event like a dinner party, which revolves so heavily on social interaction, with little distraction, is the kind of event where a condition like Autism or Aspergers can make the evening very difficult.
Having said all that – he definitely left with a grin on his face, and was the one dater who audibly had the most fun tonight, so it would have been a shame to deny him that.
To sum up that particular hour of my evening – it was like dating one of the most extreme characters on the Undateables (I say characters, because some of them really are characters!). The gent who sat down beside me was really well-meaning, but you could tell that he had very nervously learned a lot of questions and lines he needed to say at dinner, and he was going to say them at any opportunity.
He rather sweetly / awkwardly developed a rather strong attachment to me early on (I think because I was talking to him more like a six year-old, than a thirty year-old. Not in a patronizing way, but I realised he was more comfortable with a more basic line of conversation). Unfortunately this meant, of all the ten people on our table, I was the only one he wanted to talk to. So every time I began talking to anyone else, he would interrupt, mid-sentence, and start asking conversation starter questions, just to me, like “do you have any brothers or sisters?” or “have you been on holiday recently?”.
I know how nerve-wracking dating can be, and how much effort it must have taken him to attend (he’d come some distance to be there), and so every time he interrupted a conversation, I felt I couldn’t ignore what he’d asked, so I’d stop the conversation I was involved in, answer his question instead, and end up talking exclusively to him.
However it was really difficult to do this, and not lead him on.
As the night progressed, he tried to buy me champagne (It was a Monday night, so I wasn’t really drinking, and so he ended up drinking an entire bottle to himself, which didn’t help), and taking several photos with me, and then rather awkwardly of me, as we sat at the table! It was all really sweet – but was genuinely like dealing with a five year old, who has a crush on you. (Something I once experienced at a friend’s wedding, but in that instance, his parents eventually distracted him … where as tonight, there were no distractions.)
[On a serious note, I *think* I managed to direct my ‘fan’ in the direction of Stars in The Sky – the company on the Undateables specifically designed for daters with learning difficulties. Unfortunately I don’t think ‘mainstream’ dating events are the best places to date if you do have a learning difficulty which affects your social skills, because the reality of the situation means that your disability becomes the most defining characteristic of you. Whereas, if you’re at an event, or using a service, specifically designed for singletons with similar learning difficulties, then your Autism isn’t even a talking point any more and you can concentrate on just being you.]
Meanwhile, our ‘main course’ had arrived, and I genuinely started looking around the room for a candid camera.
Our main was described by the chef as ‘aphrodisiac green rice’ ….It looked like green soup with bits of rice in. And to taste, it seemed to be made of rice, mint and several chillis.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Most people had little more than a spoonful. I ate the whole bloody thing because my stomach felt like it was about to implode! (I’d come straight from a Bikram yoga class, and already skipped the starter)
The boys moved on again …. And it took some persuasion to get my new fan to move down the table.
And then, after about a half an hour wait, dessert arrived.
Tiramisu …Now, I’m not a coffee fan, but by this point I’d have probably eaten anything.
I was wrong.
We think the chef mixed up the sugar with salt! The whole thing was covered in an odd, salty cream. I’ll leave the jokes to you guys …
Needless to say, another course went untouched by most of the daters.
The food was genuinely the worst I’ve had in years. I can barely cook anything, but I have this rule that if I’m eating out, I want to eat something which I couldn’t have made myself. Not only could I have made better versions of everything I ‘ate’ this evening (and that really is saying something), but I genuinely could have made a better meal with Super Noodles, and a pack of Angel Delight! (For non-Brits reading this … those are really crappy foods!)
The event had been sold as Italian pop-up, and I love Italian food … It would have been so easy to do a simple sharing platter to start, which could have worked in the cramped area. And even just to have done a simple pasta, or an actual risotto, or even pizza – and we’d all have been pretty happy. But the ‘Italian’-inspired pop up was a real flop … and I ended up stopping off on my way home to buy a second dinner from a 24 hour Tesco … not how I saw my evening ending!
However, before I got to that point, there was one more element of hilarity in store for my fellow daters.
Because the gent with the Aspergers had drunk an entire bottle of champagne, all to himself , and had a touch of Dutch courage. And apparently he hadn’t forgotten me over dessert.
From the far end of the table, he loudly (and for about five minutes) thanked me for my company that evening, involving the entire room, and repeatedly trying to get my phone number. I really didn’t want to lead him on, and equally wanted to treat him the same as I would any other guy I wasn’t interested in at a dating event, so I spent five minutes politely dodging giving him my phone number or Facebook details, while the rest of the table looked on in stifled amusement.
As he finally left the room, I genuinely thought the candid camera crew was about to leap out.
The entire night was a comedy of errors, but to be fair, the daters all dealt with it in their stride, and only three daters disappeared before the end of the night, which given the state of the food, I was surprised about. (Though possibly they just couldn’t find their way out of the cramped room!)
I will still definitely give both Match and Grub Club another go, as I do have faith in both companies …. But I’ll be giving the Crimson Heart, and any pop-up Italian food I see advertised, a wide berth for a while!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx