It’s Friday night again and tonight we get to go upstairs. There is something a bit mysterious about anywhere upstairs. There is no window to peer in at, to get a sense of the place. You have to commit, climb the stairs and take your chances. You may be shocked by what you find and have to make a hasty retreat (“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was that kind of establishment”). On the other hand you may find yourself with a few other happy punters, surrounded by the smell and the sizzle of marinated meats cooking over bright blue butane flames. But first you have to commit and climb the very steep and long flight of stairs.
Strop and I committed. We are always committed (well except for that one time at Guzman y Gomez) otherwise we’d be at home watch Walking Dead or Game of Thrones (well I would be – Strop would be watching something more edumakayshional).
We met up at the bottle shop first and stocked up on Pinot Gris before making our way to the bottom of the stairs. I had arrived early and had applied Dogbolter liberally to my inflamed sensibilities in order to wash away the trauma inflicted when I discovered that my aged parents were secret stationary hoarders and fetishists. I had spent the day sorting through cabinets and drawers full of well-filled notebooks, half-used writing pads, unopened packets of christmas cards, greeting cards, visiting cards, and postcards. Not to mention all the drawings produced by their grandchildren down through the ages. It was a lot to come to terms with, knowing that they had been doing this for years and had never once advised me to buy shares in John Sands. So I was ready for a night out with normal people after spending the day filling garbage bags with paper products.
Our co-questers for the night are Anna (making a much anticipated return to King Street after an impressive debut at Thai-Riffic) and Don (on a brief and welcome return to Oz to recharge his accent.) I suspect that I am the only person who still thinks of him as Don or Donny. It’s all Donald or The Professor now that we’re all grown up, but Donny is how I’ve thought of him since we were group-house whipper-snappers back in, what young people reverently refer to as, The Day.
There was no sign of Don or Anna when we got to the bottom of the stairs, so Strop and I began climbing. After establishing that they hadn’t beaten us to it, we chose a table and plonked our paper bag of wine down. Strop was keen to get a beer under her belt by way of catching up to my Dogboltedness, so she proceeded to confuse the waiter by asking if they had any dark beers. This was a fresh concept for him apparently and he shook his head and indicated the cheapest beer on the menu. “This one is good.”
“Okay,” said Strop, “I was going to order the most expensive Korean beer you had, but on your say so I’ll have that cheap one.”
I said “Me too,” because I am gullible and impressed by people who act confident.
The waiter was lying, the beer was not good. It was called Cass and described itself as Fresh, but it was piss. That was the lowlight of the evening.
Strop proceeded to confuse the wait staff further by enquiring about corkage for our bottle of Pinot Gris, and then changing her mind and opting for one of Paju’s own wines because it would work out cheaper. In the middle of all this Don and Anna arrived in a flurry of kissing and hugging. As we nattered away with catchup chat, the young staff gathered at the countered and eyed our old-person table warily. Eventually they sent a senior emissary to find out just exactly what-the-fuck we wanted to put in our wine glasses. Unfortunately their emissary looked exactly like Brains, of Thunderbirds Are Go fame, so I had a hard time keeping a straight face. But he knew how to handle ridiculous old round-eyed people and we soon had palatable alcohol to drink and were starting to think about food.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any notes about what we ordered – mistakenly thinking that Paju was the kind of joint that would be all over the internet, and I could check the menu later. I mean, they’re Korean – Samsung is Korean – it stands to reason that their menu would be online. Wrong. But everything was yummy, so no biggy.
Because Paju uses BBQ in its name the unwritten Rule of Nominative Nosh applies so we had to have BBQ in the mix. We had a brief discussion about BBQ and gender roles, during which I may have put my foot in it, commenting on a table full of women doing the BBQ thing. It was just like being back in the 1970s only funnier. We ordered a first round of pre-cooked things that came with a huge range of condiments, and a second round of raw things ready to be cooked, including inter-coastal beef, which Strop surmised must really mean bits of meat from between the ribs, and nothing at all to do with shipping canals or Florida. I was a bit disappointed by the mundanity of this typographical explanation.
After we had ordered the food we were immediately moved to a larger table and provided with two gas powered barbeques. Wow I thought, we must really have over-ordered, but apparently not, we had just managed to confuse them again and soon one of the barbeques disappeared.
Food arrived – we ate it. More food arrived – we cooked it then ate it. All this while talking a lot about nostalgia and death and knitting and tea cosies. At least that’s what my indecipherable notes seem to say.
Funny how with good friends you just seem to pick up where you left off.