Eleanor is a letterpress printer and designer based in London. Her shop Marby & Elm is on Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell.

London. September 1997

One still, one sparkling

by Eleanor Tattersfield

The call came from The Dorchester two days before my departure for New York in search of the man himself. Would we be able to find a table for them this evening at 7pm? I was in charge that night, one of my turns at being the manager. Of course, I said, no problem, we would work it out somehow.

I would be meeting him this evening, in two hours…I would be in charge of his world for the time he would be there.

Nerves. Excitement. Which led naturally to: Outfit? Hair? What was I wearing? Was this what I would have worn if I’d known? Was this the armour I needed?  Were these clothes saying all I needed to say when my impact needed to be memorable and quick?

My boss and head chef knew of the infatuation and without hesitation helped me to prepare even suggesting that this was not the best outfit and that we could use help, “get your mother to drive over with some more options?” Kindly and promptly she obliged, filling her car with dresses, shoes, tights, dry shampoo, hair accessories: the whole nine yards. It was a kind of cross-generational family hysteria – we all found the whole thing rather ludicrous but funny and became a bit giggly.

Gathering the staff together before service I had a serious message to convey: “If anyone here likes him as much as me please say now, otherwise NO-ONE is to go near the table, OK? ‘” None of these young hipsters could have been less interested. 

All was ready, the setting sun was blinding through the doors, making momentary silhouettes of the first guests arriving, adding to the tension. As more diners were being calmly shown to their tables in what seemed like an eerie quiet, murmurs of chefs, clinking of glasses, stacking of starter plates… the curtains were up but the cast were still adjusting their costumes.

I kept a keen eye on the door and a fast heart beat.

His party of four bustled in, of course like everyone else. There was an unexpected normalcy in all the proceedings. I led them to table 61 in my section, my table. Everyone was prepped, NO-ONE was to go near that table all night. 

I couldn’t make eye contact with him, from everyone else smiling eyes and ‘thanks’ and ‘one still, one sparkling’. I wrote down their order:

2 x squid 1,3

2 x mozz 2,4

3 x turbot 

1 X Lamb 2 ,

‘2’ denoting his position on the table, the position I couldn’t even look at.

The starters came, I placed them down carefully. I was charming, charming with all except him.

And then the main courses. 

I had cleared the plates, they were American and I knew the drill; a swift dessert and then back to the hotel, no late night revelling. Never, “Shall we have another bottle?”

I had 15-20 minutes, tops.

To do what exactly? The thing was unspecified, the much anticipated thing…I was counting myself in endlessly, “1,2,3… no”, another round of the restaurant, “1,2,3…” but my body was not responding to the cue. Nerves, the unknown, not knowing what to say.

Rose, the head chef and did I say earlier, proprietor (hence the liberty to do what we did) kept looking over across the sea of heads of the now full and buzzing restaurant floor as she deftly tossed some cavolo nero with Trident-like chef’s tongs.

On approximately the 24th circumambulation of the restaurant I approached his table as one member, the youngest, got up and headed for the bathroom.

The next part happened in slow motion and without premeditation:

Look down / Empty seat / Sit down /Elbows on table / Head towards him / Eyes locked / Mouth open

Words spill out from someone else’s script.

The opening line is all I remember: “I am leaving for New York in 48 hours with the vain hope of meeting you and now you are here, I’ve no reason to go…” (old sycophant that I am!)

There was more, much more, I was like a person possessed by a person with far more confidence than me, a poltergeist with vim and verve had taken over of my body. I rambled on. Others later said the girl in the bathroom was seen stood staring from the bathroom door window until her seat was made available again.

Memory loss, time lapse. 

At some point he said, “Well, you must call me when you are in Manhattan and we can get together, come and hang out on set…” Could he really have said that? Then he scribbled his number down on my waiter’s docket and handed it to me. 

‘Sure’ I said casually.

As I walked away from his table I glanced over at Rose and discreetly waved my little piece of paper at her. She clenched her fist and pulled back her elbow like a tennis player who’s just scored a winning point. 

Next stop, New York City.