Monday, 15 November 2010

Opera Dinners Make Tube Strikes So Much Easier to Deal With

By Cat McGovern

Tonight is the night that London comes to a standstill for 24 hours. 10pm is when the stations close and chaos will pursue. Luckily for me I’ve convinced the boyfriend to pick me up from Bel Canto after dinner just in case I can’t get home. Hurrah! Take that tube strike; cars rock!

Ahem, anyway I spot the grand signage that is Bel Canto, which is found inside the Corus hotel, and try to make my way in. However, a notice telling me to go through the hotel instead thwarts my feeble efforts. This causes me slight panic as I get lost very easily and it makes me nervous navigating around streets/roads/life solo. Fortunately I’m carrying some sense of direction with me today and descend the stairs easily, navigating to our press table with a minimum of fuss.

At present myself and the other journalists are the only people at the restaurant, which is a bit daunting to say the least, as Bel Canto isn’t your normal sort of restaurant. At this restaurant the waiters and waitresses sing opera whilst you eat. This concept sounds rather bizarre to me and everyone at our shared table agrees. Also, I have no knowledge of opera or had any previous desire to find out, so this could be an interesting evening.

We order from the set menu; a reasonable £35 for 2 courses and £42 for 3 courses. As we have no idea what to expect and when, we talk amongst ourselves and admire the surroundings. Adorned in red curtains with opera costumes and pictures, Bel Canto has quite a romantic atmosphere to it. Casey, one of the PR girls who invited us for the evening, mentions that Bel Canto experiences a lot of marriage proposals. Immediately the girls around our table get a bit dreamy eyed.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, singing erupts. We honestly don’t know where to look or what to do. We’re all a bit shocked. Their voices carry so well around the restaurant, and they’re really engaging. It lasts a few minutes and we all clap, still a tad taken back by it all.

Between singers, tunes are played on the piano and one in particular catches our attention. We all excitedly nod and say that we know it. Unfortunately it’s only because it is the British Airways signature music (The Flower Duet by Léo Delibes, I later research). Alas, we are not cultured; we are just seduced by popular culture.

Our starters arrive and eagerly I tuck into a crab salad. Second bite in, more opera is sung. As we are unaware of the etiquette associated with people singing whilst you eat, we all politely (as we are British), refrain from eating.

Couples begin to trickle in and they too watch the singers with admiration and glee. We all keep a beady eye on their tables just in case one of them whips out a ring and gets down on bended knee.

As the night goes on, we become accustomed to the opera, so much so that it washes over us. We eat our meals, chat amongst ourselves and really start to relax. We recognise a lot of the songs and realise we’re not as uncultured as we originally thought.

By the end of the meal, all the waiting staff ask the diners to get involved in the singing by raising a glass of cava to the proceedings. By this stage I am so into my night at Bel Canto that I proudly ‘la la la la la la laaaaa’ as instructed.

Meal over and it’s time to retreat. Taxis zoom up and down the streets in anticipation of the mad rush and my chariot (Alfa Romeo) awaits. I start humming and gesticulating opera at the boyfriend and inform him that we should go to Bel Canto together as it was so much fun. Perhaps he’ll propose. Let’s wait and see…

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