On the Monday following Jinnie’s housewarming party it was the talk of Vauxhall Cross. The Sunday papers had published stories and pictures of the Prime Minister attending a private party in Hadley Wood. The story hadn’t mentioned the Secret Intelligence Service or even hinted at a link but they seemed to have taken the PM at his word that he was there because it was a housewarming party for the new home of one of the director/partners that owned his favourite restaurant. The reporters had obviously been on the internet and discovered Jinnie’s name from the online records at Companies House, that was easy as she was the only female director. They had also been on Zoopla and published its wild overestimate that the house was worth a million pounds. There were stock pictures of the house stolen from an online estate agent and some of the party that looked like they had been taken from long range from the golf course.
The later editions of the papers had picked up on the Trattoria Trevi being awarded a Michelin star and put two and two together and made five, saying that the party was also to celebrate that event. Several MI6/SIS employees claimed to recognise fellow workers in the photos and word soon got back to Jinnie and her friends that some heads of department were complaining that they had not been invited, while others spuriously claimed to have been there. At lunch, as usual, Jinnie ate in the canteen with Emma and was told that ‘C’ had been highly amused by the rumours circulating the building and was delighted that practically no one had recognised him and those that had knew better than to say anything. It amused him that he had even chatted with some of his own employees who clearly had no idea who he was. Emma said he had sent his thanks for a lovely evening and said he was now itching to try the Trattoria Trevi as the PM and the Italian Ambassador had both recommended it highly. Jinnie explained to Emma that the restaurant was often fully booked for weeks ahead and even she had to make her own reservations weeks in advance.
Over the next couple of weeks, the papers moved on to other stories and quickly forgot about the housewarming party. However, it did lead to a couple of the papers republishing their reviews and one critic managed to get a cancellation on a Tuesday evening and wrote a glittering review saying there wasn’t a better or cheaper one Michelin star restaurant in the country. Alberto brought this up at a regular management meeting and it lead to a discussion as to whether they should increase their prices. The decision was taken not to make a general increase, they were already on a decent profit margin and they didn’t want to be greedy. Besides they had a unique selling point in their reasonable costs and worried that if they increased prices it might drive customers away. It was agreed only to increase a price if the profit on a particular dish fell due to the ingredients costing more.
The Sunday before Belinda’s garden open day, over lunch at her Parents, Jinnie had mentioned that the following Sunday she and Paolo were going to visit the garden. Mr Walsh said it must be something special to drag them away from their Sunday lunch. Jinnie explained that she had found the house and grounds on the internet and that it had six bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 4 reception rooms, 3.5 acres of spectacular formal gardens, six acres of woodland and a lake and was according to Zoopla worth £2.5 million. Mr and Mrs Walsh looked at each other, nodded and said could they come. Jinnie said of course, it was an open day in aid of charity and anyone who paid to get in was welcome. Penny said in that case Daniel and I want to see this garden as well.
Belinda lived in West Sussex, on the opposite side of London to Potters Bar and Hadley Wood, so the decision was taken to find a restaurant near Belinda’s home and have a family lunch before proceeding to the open day. Jinnie took on the task of finding a suitable restaurant and booked a table for six at an Italian in nearby Turners Hill saying to Paolo, “You never know we might find a dish we can add to our menu.”
The three couples all set off in their own car for the trip around the M25 and down the M23 and across country first to the restaurant and then to Belinda’s. Not knowing the area they had all entered the destinations into their sat nav and shortly before 12:30 Jinnie and Paolo were first to arrive at the lunch stop. Jinnie was impressed from the outside, it was a detached building, with a good size car park, in a semi-rural position on the edge of the village on a fairly busy road and had what her dad called “street appeal”. Paolo said, “I hope the food tastes as good as the place looks.”
Jinnie and Paolo had found the family table and were perusing the menu when the other four walked in together. Mr Walsh said, “What looks good on the menu, I’m hungry.” Paolo said, “It’s mostly traditional Italian fair so you should find something you like.” The waiter came over and asked if they wanted to order drinks while they made their selections. As the waiter was obviously Italian, much to his surprise, Jinnie decided to order in his native language and Paolo joined in. The waiter reacted and asked them if they were Italian, Paolo said yes, but when Jinnie said no he congratulated her on her accent and said he would never have guessed she wasn’t a native of Rome.
The food was good but not of the level of the Trattoria Trevi, which Jinnie knew was exceptional. The word that two Italian speakers were eating lunch spread quickly through the staff and several different waiters served them to practice their native language. Finally, as they left, the manager came over to them for a chat. Just before they left he explained that the restaurant would be closed in a few weeks as the owner had died suddenly and his widow had no interest in running a restaurant. No one was interested in buying the business and she was on the verge of selling the building to developers who proposed to convert the building into flats. Jinnie looked around the busy dining room and said, “What a pity, closing down a successful restaurant. Did you think of clubbing together and buying the business?” The manager said, “Yes, but we simply couldn’t match the developer’s offer.”
On the way to Belinda’s home, the germ of an idea started to form in Jinnie’s mind, but as Paolo turned into the private road leading to Belinda’s private estate it was replaced by the vision of many fine houses with big landscaped gardens. The sat nav announced, “You have reached your destination,” and Paolo was directed to join 30 or 40 other cars parked in a large grassed field next to a magnificent white-painted house. The two-storey building comprised two angled wings, either side of the main entrance, over which was a massive balcony. Walking from the field to the house Mrs Walsh said to Jennie, “Just look at that house, it is magnificent, I can’t wait to see the garden.”
On the drive a trestle table had been set up and Jinnie recognised Melissa and Belinda’s designer, Andrew sitting behind it taking the entrance fees and handing out maps of the grounds. Melissa recognised the party and welcomed them saying, “Mum said you might come, she is round on the patio in charge of selling tea and cakes. Brian is in the garden somewhere chatting to visitors, last time I saw him he was with an old friend. If you follow the path around the side of the house you will come out on the patio, next to the fish pond and in front of the rose walk.”
The family emerged on the patio and were greeted by a view of a huge garden. Steps from the patio led up to a landscaped rose garden, with walkways, pergolas and beds. The other side of the rose garden was a croquet lawn and then an arboretum with rough-cut grass leading down to the lake. There were several paths and even a stream feeding the lake and then running on across the back of the next-door field. On the far side of the lake was the gate into the woods. The family agreed to wander the grounds and to meet back at the patio for tea and cakes.
Mr and Mrs Walsh wanted to visit the massive greenhouse shown on the map while Jinnie and Paolo wandered off to the lake and woodland. Penny dragged Daniel off to find the peacocks. Jinnie and Paolo turned a corner near the lake and near bumped into Brian who was showing Dirk the boat house he had constructed. Dirk was the last person Jinnie expected to bump into, but he explained his old friend Brian had told him about the open day at the housewarming party and had suggested he might like to come and see the property. Brain suggested Jinnie and Paolo join them on the rest of Dirk’s tour of the garden, lake and woods. They saw the tree house he had built in the woods for the grandchildren, the swings and slide he had built them in the arboretum, the chicken house, the peacocks, the tench in the lake, the carp in the patio pond, seedlings in the greenhouse, and numerous plants which he knew all the names of.
Brian told them how when they bought the house they had discovered the original 1960s landscape architect’s proposal for the gardens. They had traced the garden designer from the name and address on the proposal and invited her for tea. She had arrived with her original notebooks and planting plan and the garden was now virtually the same as it had been designed to be in the 1960s, with a few extras such as the tree house and playground.
Over tea and cake, Belinda explained that the field where they parked had been retained by the previous owners as they had two horses which they kept in a stable block on the “paddock”. About 18 months ago the previous owners had decided they were getting too old for riding and offered to sell them the “paddock”. Belinda and Brian had decided that if they didn’t buy it developers would and that would devalue their house and garden.
This tale brought Jinnie full circle back to the idea that had been nagging at her all afternoon. She asked Belinda if she knew the Italian restaurant in Turners Hill. “Oh yes,” said Belinda, “We have eaten there many times, but it is very popular and for a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening you have to book a couple of weeks in advance so I hope you weren’t planning to visit this evening.” Jinnie said, “No, we had lunch there and thought it rather pleasant.” Brian said, “Yes that is right, but it is nowhere near as good as your Trattoria Trevi.” Jinnie thought, but didn’t say, ‘But with a bit of investment it could be.’
When the gardens closed at 19:00 and the visitors had all gone, Belinda showed her house off to the family. At the conclusion of the tour, Mrs Walsh told Belinda what a magnificent home she had. Belinda replied, “But you forget that I have a huge advantage, I have talented designers at my fingertips and skilled workers who could put in a day or two here when we were between projects. But that was before I worked on the Trattoria Trevi!”
Driving home Paolo turned to Jinnie and said, “You are too quiet you are planning something.” Jinnie laughed and replied, “You know me too well. It is to be our secret at the moment and I need to discuss it with the board, but I think we have found Trattoria Trevi 2 this afternoon.”
© WorthingGooner 2022