The scene: A rainy, mid-week date-night at Hawksmoor Seven Dials with the Accidental Boyfriend just before Christmas. The downstairs bar and restaurant are both stuffed with drinkers and diners; a last minute table reservation was hard to come by. The place rings with chatter and the chinks of tableware and glasses being returned clumsily to the table-tops. Having deposited our heavy overcoats and dripping umbrellas in a vast wardrobe upstairs, we take our seats at a small table along the back wall - one person sat on an endless leather banquette, stretching the length of the place, the other on a chair in the midst of the whirling service.
The food that is brought out to us is glorious, and the wine, expertly chosen for us by a sommelier suprisingly attired like a lumberjack, is perfect. We are halfway through our starters when a couple is seated at the table beside us. He is slightly awkward-in-himself tall, and smart, clad in a sports jacket. She, dressed older than her age, could be a recently-trained primary school teacher. They are clearly on a date, although their polite unease with one another suggests it is still early days in their relationship. While he orders a bottle of wine, she delicately sips at a cocktail; she does not seem to be enjoying it overly much. Conversation does not seem to be flowing easily.
The Accidental Boyfriend and I are halfway through our extremely tasty mains when it happens. There is a slight scuffle next to us, and the woman gathers up a cardigan and handbag, throws a poisonous glare at the man and sweeps out of the restaurant and back up the stairs to the street. The man swivels around quickly to watch her leave, then spins back in his seat as if attempting to maintain a sense of nothing being amiss. Trying hard not to seem too interested in what is happening right next to us, we pretend to be deep in conversation, but can't help but steal a few looks to our right. The man is now anxiously checking his phone for a text message that refuses to come. Sighing and resigned he slumps back into his chair. He takes several deep swigs from his wine glass. Reaching around for his jacket he looks like he is readying himself to flee the scene of this disastrous dinner. But then, like an extra in a farcical restaurant sketch, a waiter appears with an armload of plates, laden with food. Not missing a beat before this half-empty table, he places an enormous steak and several sides in front of the lone diner, and a scallop starter in his absentee date's place. And then rather than turn tail and flee - as many a lesser man would have done - the man takes one look at the groaning table before him, lays a white napkin across his lap, and tucks in to his steak. He finishes it. And then starts on the scallops. As nonchalantly as if both plates had been ordered by him alone. He eats the lot, then, as calmly as he had dined, he opens his wallet, draws out a bundle of twenties, pays and vanishes. Stood up but unbowed.