The last time I saw my father, I was 16, and my mum had been the one making the dinner reservation.
Now, months in advance of our meeting, I was sat feverishly googling restaurants that would suit the occasion – and it was proving harder than I imagined.
I thought seeing him would be the most difficult part, but apparently, this was.
Friends asked me if I was worried about conversation flowing, or what I thought it would be like to see him for the first time as an adult, but all I could think about was what I would be eating as I contended with these more serious concerns.
You may be wondering, ‘how hard can it be? Just choose somewhere’, but it really isn’t that simple.
My father doesn’t live in the UK, so it’s not like I could just shift the onus onto him.
So instead, I was sat making a mental list of everything I had to consider in advance of booking somewhere to eat. I imagine anyone planning a difficult conversation over meal might have similar issues to contend with.
Firstly, I had to think about location.
There was absolutely no way I wanted him to bring him close to my flat. I didn’t want to reveal too much about myself – gleaning information about someone is a privilege and not a right – and so I wanted there to be zero chance of him popping round to mine for a nightcap afterwards. You can control the image you present when chatting with someone, but I think seeing the inside of a person’s home really speaks to their character.
That ruled out a lot of my favourite eateries.
Then, I realised I didn’t want to bring him to any restaurants that I loved. In case the dinner went tits up, I couldn’t risk a great dish as collateral damage. Similarly, I wasn’t keen on taking him to nice places I had gone to with friends or my mum as I didn’t want memories of this meeting to be the only thing I associated with the location.
It might sound overly dramatic, but I’m the sort of person that goes to their beloved restaurants over and over again (so much so that the word ‘Hoppers’ – a fab Sri Lankan restaurant – was banned in our house because I spoke about it too much).
Eventually, I decided we’d go somewhere near his hotel. Unfortunately, this also happened to be in the area I grew up, which brought me onto my next concern: bumping into someone I know.
Having to do the whole, ‘Hi, how are you? Oh this person I’m with? They’re just my dad – you know, the one I haven’t seen in a while’, as I crossed paths with a friend on Upper Street. I spiralled as I thought of every way that I would navigate that improbable but anxiety-inducing hypothetical scenario.
I wasn’t being completely pessimistic in my considerations though. I also wanted to account for the meal going well. No pizza places, or ‘all the food comes at once’ restaurants – I wanted room for multiple courses; to be able to stay for two or more hours if conversation was flowing.
Recommendations for where to meet your estranged parent for dinner (or other awkward appointments)
I really like this spot and have fond memories of my visit (hence why I didn’t pick it). A North London seafood restaurant, I would highly recommend the food, vibe and price of this place for any uncomfortable chats. The open layout would be perfect for hasty escapes – and even if the meeting goes badly, the food will be delicious.
The Pig and Butcher
If you want more a ‘pubby’ atmosphere but with some lovely grub, The Pig and Butcher in Angel is a less formal setting for any intense dinner dates. I can totally imagine that their Ginger Jamaica cake has brokered many peace deals over the years.
The Sri Lankan eatery would be good for someone keen to make amends with an estranged family member. Many of the dishes are for sharing, so you can work on setting boundaries with each other. It also acts a great ice breaker: ‘I’ve heard great things about this bone marrow dish, let’s give it a try’ etc.
Plus, it’s a chain, so a number of locations across London (Kings Cross, Marylebone and Soho), which means you don’t need to cut ties with the restaurant for good if cut ties with your parent.
This is for the people who want to keep it brief. It’s a chain, it’s tasty, it’s cheap and cheerful, and you can get away with ordering lots of wine (if you need some help to get through the meeting) because the glasses are so tiny. The service is so speedy you can be in and out within an hour if you need to.
See also: Honest Burger, Comptoir Libanais and Nando’s (this one has the added bonus of you being able to find out if they are a Lemon and Herb person and judge them appropriately forever).
On a related note, it meant thinking about the right time to eat – I settled on 7pm. Enough time for a drink at a nearby pub after if things went well and late enough that the restaurant wouldn’t have another booking after.
Then there was the ‘vibe’ to contend with. I couldn’t bear the thought of there being no background music (which I find inherently calming), or it being too loud. The lighting couldn’t be too light or too dark. I felt like Goldilocks and, in the end, it meant going to somewhere I’d been before – I couldn’t just take a gamble.
I needed to know what the food was like, too. This is a man I haven’t seen in 12 years; in that time he could have become a raw vegan, found out he was gluten intolerant, or decided to live on an exclusively meat diet. I mean, I could have asked him, but that would have been too easy.
Finally, I had to consider the price. I was operating under the assumption that he would pay and I wanted it to be a classy joint (to show him that I have matured into a classy woman). But, just in case he didn’t, I needed to ensure I didn’t bankrupt myself during the most awkward meal of my life.
It might sound convoluted, but when you have an estranged relationship, meeting throws up so many emotions and anxieties that having control of one aspect (and knowing that the food is going to bang) really helps.
In the end, I chose Granger & Co (the Clerkenwell branch) – Australian/Asian fare that caters to every diet but remains tasty (think chilli miso salmon, exciting-sounding salads, burgers), lots of natural lighting and a stylish setting.
The meal went well. The food was great – we ate three courses – and the vibe was perfect for what I needed. The fact it is a chain (albeit one I like – I’d been to the Kings Cross branch before) took out all worry of me associating one restaurant with nervous energy.
The price was good with mains sitting around the £20 mark (I neither bankrupted myself, nor him, when he paid); and I only bumped into two people I knew on the walk there (thankfully no one stopped to make conversation).
I didn’t tell him that I’d put so much thought into our meeting – and unless he reads this, I don’t plan on telling him. None of this planning was for him – it was to make me feel comfortable.
I realise my situation is quite unique, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that I’m now pretty good at finding restaurants for this sort of thing.
So, with that knowledge, if anyone is looking for some good restaurant recommendations in London to host an estranged parent-child dinner (they would also work for work meetings, to be honest), you can get in touch with me for suggestions.
Degrees of Separation
This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.
Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.
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