Susie Rushton: My dream dinner is going to have to wait

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

Just before 11pm on New Year's Eve, when everyone else at dinner was throwing back the bubbly and feeling nostalgic, I crept into the next room to send an email from the hostess's laptop.

"Dear Sir/Madam," I began. Hang on. Should I write Señor/Señora? No. It's not as if I'm going to write the whole thing in Spanish, or even Catalan, which would be more correct for an email sent to El Bulli, Ferran Adria's restaurant in Roses, up the coast from Barcelona. All I need to do is sound enthusiastic.

"I've wanted to visit your restaurant for such a long time," I gushed, "but have never requested a table before. This year I'm ready." Did this sound suitably passionate? Or would they respond with a restraining order? I pressed delete. Maybe I'll keep it simple, but ardent. "I'd like a table for two people, for either lunch or dinner, on ANY date in 2010." Any Goddam date!

I was writing what was basically a begging letter, to a place that sells plates of food, and I felt ashamed. But by now it was 11.03, three minutes after midnight in Spain, and reservations for 2010 opened in January. I signed off with my mobile number, clicked send and returned to my friends.

Rumour has it that within an hour of opening its booking system, an entire year of tables are taken. Still, I thought, I have a chance. I could almost taste the foie gras pavlova with crispy shark's fin wafers.

For three weeks I heard nothing. On Monday, a reply plopped into my inbox. It had all the verve of a missive from the Inland Revenue. "The demand has again surpassed our limited possibilities of reservations for one season and we regret not to be able to full fill [sic] more requests," Adria's gatekeepers concluded.

I'd only just digested this bitter news when Adria announced on Wednesday that he plans to close the restaurant for two years after the 2011 season, to write "an encyclopedia" of his recipes. Which should give me plenty of time to learn to write "I can do any day" in Catalan.

Boomtime rats

More demand outstripping supply on the home front. Shortage of property is pushing up house prices in London by up to 20 per cent, it was reported yesterday, giving the estate agents Winkworth better-than-expected revenues. It has also turned my search to find place to live into a Sisyphean task.

At night I toil on the internet property search engines, scrutinising an ever-dwindling pool of tiny, expensive flats. By day I receive the specs of details of minuscule apartments in converted chimneys with restricted head-height and colossal service charges. "Vendor won't look at less than half a million," says the cheery note accompanying a PDF.

On Saturdays I trudge the wind-whipped streets meeting estate agents and intruding on grumpy tenants coping with hangovers with, quite possibly, their own ill-starred online property searches. Winkworth say that property prices are now restored to levels last seen in boomtime 2007. Avarice and mendacity are back, too.

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