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Fathers, sons and cakes.

Byline: RICHARDMCCOMB

The epiphany didn't come when I expected it, but that's probably the point with these things.

I wasn't perched on a hillside, watching rays of sunlight break through black, foreboding clouds.

Neither was I staring out to sea just as a giant whale smashed the surface of the water.

My moment of realisation came when a small cake flew across the dining room of one of the London's finest restaurants.

It had been deftly, but unintentionally, flipped into the air by my father at the end of an exceptionally good lunch at Hlne Darroze at The Connaught. The setting, it must be said, added to the charged significance of the flight of le petit gteau.

The last time I dined alone with my father was 25 years ago, at exactly the same place. There have been plenty of shared meals in between but other family members, friends, or sometimes complete strangers, have been present. I think I was in my final year at university when we last dined together, just the two of us, at The Connaught. I couldn't tell you what we ate that day but it was lunch and I'm pretty sure there was a cheese trolley. The trolley, and the male clubbiness of the restaurant, have gone. I miss the former, but I don't miss the latter. This is a far more relaxed and elegant space under its female French inf luence.

We regrouped in Carlos Place, after a quarter of a century, because I had a couple of work engagements in London. I suggested we should meet for lunch, which I would sort, but didn't tell Dad where we were going. I hinted at Albanian.

He had no idea until we pulled up at the front door.

His excitement was no doubt quickly dampened by the thought of: "Crikey, how much is this going to cost?" I assured Dad he didn't have to worry (for once). This was my thing. He'd brought me here 25 years ago and I was repaying the favour. So get on and enjoy yourself.

It's probably overdoing things (but hell, I am a journalist) to suggest the meal signified a watershed moment, a dramatic shift in the father-son dynamic. I can still return to type and play the part of a stroppy 16-year-old with accomplished zeal, but it struck me that here I was, in charge of proceedings, at a place where previously I would have much looked to the old man to lead the way.

And so the cake incident came to pass. It took place at the end of a fabulous meal. I don't think I will enjoy a better dish this year than Darroze's sublime roasted blue lobster, bathed in a stunning Arbois sauce, with potato gnocchi, Pertuis aspragus and meaty morels.

Dad's world-beating Scottish scallops, pan-roasted with tandoori spices, would have sufficed more than adequately on another day. But, oh, that homard stole my heart.

Dad's Armagnac Baba pipped my own choice this time, not that he gave me much of a taste, and what with the cheese we couldn't do justice to the bon bon trolley.

But before we left the dining room, as is the custom here, we were presented with a nifty envelope-style grey box containing a sweet gift from the kitchen. As we stood to depart, Dad swooped wildly at the cake box, which flew open and propelled the contents several feet into the air.

I scanned the dining room. Amazingly, no one had witnessed the great ptisserie escape. By golly. We were going to get away with it.

"Leave it. Leave the cake. Walk away. Walk a-way," I said under my breath, like a father talking to an errant son.

At which point, Dad, holding the empty box flapping in his hand, turned and started ferreting under the table, clawing at the table linen. He was after the cake. Oh my God! The thoughts raced through my head: they are going to think he is simple, and they know he's to do with me, that he's my dad, and they know me here, and I've got a reputation to protect.

"Dad! Leave it!" I hissed. "Just walk away, as if nothing has happened. Just walk. It doesn't matter."

By now, a child-like grin had broken out across his reddening face, exacerbated by the largesse of the sommelier and the additional shots of Armagnac on the baba. Dad looked like he wouldn't be able to contain an outburst of schoolboy giggles. He was going to blow. The baba had sent papa gaga. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say: "What do I do?" "Just follow me," I said. "It's OK." And he did, still carrying the empty box, like a comfort blanket, its disgorged contents destined to be sucked up a vacuum-cleaner. What a way to treat one of Hlne Darroze's cakes. Two Michelin stars she's got. And my dad propels her baking into the air.

Of course it is Father's Day this weekend.

I've never really thought about the signifcance of the day. I'm a father myself now and I wouldn't want to think my children owe me anything, although some basic decency wouldn't go amiss. Less still would I want my two girls to look at me as a role model. Larkin is generally believed to be correct in his observation that "They f*** you up, your mum and dad." They do. All parents go through life tainted by this unavoidable guilt.

So if there is one thing I would like to thank my own dad for on Father's Day it is this: that despite the passing of 25 years, and the blurring of familial roles, he still has the ability to join me for lunch at The Connaught and make me cringe and weep with laughter in fairly equal measure.

If I can do the same to my own children, it won't have been a bad innings.

CAPTION(S):

Richard as a child with father Robin and mother Ann. A father himself, McComb wants his girls to owe him nothing
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 14, 2012
Words:1013
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