When I arrived, I ended up waiting for him about 15 minutes. I had wanted to try Mishkins since it opened but the anticipation for the meal was also met with trepidation as a meeting with my ex is never the easiest thing. We are not, however, here to thrash anything out. We are the poster children of divorces. We are amicable towards each other, our new partners are amicable towards each other and amicable to the other respective ex, it’s just all very amicable, amicable, amicable.
Up until the point of meeting I’m truly looking forward to catching up. We were together for 8 years so when we split up, it was not only losing a partner, but a friend as well. As I sat waiting, and the apprehension began to carve its way into my mind, I scrolled through the menu for some distraction: pastrami sandwiches, meatballs, matzo ball soup, beigels with lox, various other options described with words like ‘schmaltzed’ and ‘schmear’ thrown in for a bit of Yiddish authenticity. I realise that this is the perfect place for us to eat. The food being served here has tradition behind it. A tradition with the power to heal as well has to comfort. The only thing it lacked was an authentic spraying of Jewish guilt, but being that it was a meeting between to people who used to be in love, there was plenty of guilt anyway.
He finally arrived, a bit awkward as he always is at the beginning when we see each other. We exchanged pleasantries and sat down at our table. I always find it strange when we are together now that we were ever together then. We are such different people. Or maybe our differences weren’t so glaringly obvious when we were together. I don’t know. But it is testament to our (attempts at) maturity and our mutual respect for each other that we try to continue a relationship of sorts, despite the painful memories that are so intertwined in the dissolution of a marriage.
We order. He has a Reuben with a Half and Half (half onion rings and half French fries); I ask for matzo ball soup and meatloaf and mash. We talk about our respective current relationships. His seems good. He worries sometimes, but generally, he is happy. I am happy too. Extremely happy. I downplay it to some extent because I don’t want him to feel bad. We gossip about our friends and their latest dramas.
Our food begins to arrive. The Reuben is a dream; it is juicy, meaty, served on lightly toasted rye. The sauerkraut that comes on it is perfectly spiced too. It is a marriage made in heaven. My matzo ball soup arrives too. It is a rich chicken broth, with one matzo ball and lots of shredded chicken and carrots and celery sitting at the bottom. As I eat it, I can almost feel myself being hugged by a Jewish grandmother (not my own sadly), who pats my head and says “There, there, everything will be fine, eat this.”
Next comes the meatloaf and mash. The meatloaf comes in its own individual mini-loaf tin, and is complete with a soft-boiled egg nestled within it; it’s yolk runny and golden. The mashed potatoes are creamy, buttery, smooth. I could have licked the bowl. We both agree it is delicious. I reminisce to him about the one time I made meatloaf for him and he didn’t like it. He says, “Well, it didn’t taste like this.”
We move on to other topics. We order more wine, and puddings. I have a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and he orders the special chocolate bread and butter pudding. He comments on how hot the waitress is. We talk about work.
I am going through a career crisis of sorts, whilst he continues to rise up the corporate ladder. He says I’m brave for changing gears but I am not sure how much I believe him. I can almost hear his sensible brain saying, are you crazy? You’re considering giving up a well-paid job to write? About food? But he knows from previous history that I am not afraid to take risks, and I know he is supportive.
The puddings arrive. We are too full to finish them but we keep powering through. I eat half my cookie, which does no more and no less than what it is supposed to. It is a great chocolate chip cookie, and the vanilla ice cream is pretty good, but that is all. It won’t win any awards, and it doesn’t expect to. His bread and butter pudding arrives. It is wonderful, but heavy, and after a meal like the one we’ve just had, we are able to eat only half of it.
The bill arrives and it is time to head home. We’ve managed to rack up a rather pricey bill for a mid-week dinner, but it was worth it. I feel nourished, not overly full, just happily satisfied, which considering the peaks and troughs of the previous couple hours, is not too bad.
We part ways and I am left to walk to the Tube to ponder the night. I am thoughtful but hopeful in the knowledge that we are slowly rebuilding a friendship where there was only hurt and anger. I arrive home to the warm arms of my other half and I am content and comforted.
photography by Paul Winch-Furness