This past week I was lucky enough to catch up with one of my dearest friends in Vancouver. Merle lives in England, but her husband Vic was coming for a conference and the wives were all going to be in attendance as well. It was the perfect opportunity for us to spend a few days together and then have evenings to enjoy with our men!
Merle and I have been friends for thirty years. We met travelling in Europe and our friendship was forged when we discovered we shared a common love of good food and drink, especially when it involved a unique experience. Early on our Contiki tour our group was let loose upon the Left Bank of Paris for a coffee break. While other travellers shared their bargains, slurping a quick espresso at the bar for a few Francs, Merle and I were proud to state that we had enjoyed a delightful time with a flirtatious waiter in the salon area of the café (the most expensive place to sit) and had ordered large lattés. We never looked back after that, and have shared treats and delights together all over Europe, in the UK, in South Africa (her native country) and in Vancouver. This trip was no different.
We met for dinner the first night and decided that Italian was going to be our theme. I had a place in mind and it was, as they say, "right up our alley". Campagnolo Restaurant is an unassuming little spot in East Vancouver not far from the train station - a bit like an alley outside, but charming and clean inside. With the comfortable ambience, the gracious service and the traditional Italian flavours we felt transported. As always, time was suspended and even though we hadn't shared a meal in over a year, we picked up the conversation like we had chatted last week. We shared stories and tastes with equal comfort - as a forkful from one dish was passed my way I passed along what was new at Rabbit Hollow, and as Vic topped up our wine glasses from the bottle he topped up the news on how their grown children were advancing with their lives. It was a beautiful evening, seamless in every respect. We sampled sea asparagus (called "saamphire" in South Africa) and we shared impressively-shaped and named pastas: gnudi and strozzapretti, all with a healthy dose of laughter and love.
The next few days continued in that same vein. We took Merle during the day, whisking her off to our favourite spots: Granville Island Public Market for JJ Bean coffee, some fresh fruit and a sniff of the flowers; English Bay for a relaxing break on the beach, watching the seagulls and the children play; Thomas Haas for heavenly almond croissants and barista lattes with artful foam; Gourmet Warehouse for nifty kitchen gadgets; Patisserie Lebeau for fluffy Belgian waffles with maple syrup. Then in the evening we would meet Vic and gather for a leisurely meal. We never missed, thankfully, with each experience contributing another wonderful memory to our banks of treasures created over the years. Our server, Johnny, at Joe Fortes, was impeccable and charming, making the fresh and perfectly cooked fish taste even better. The tastes of wild mushrooms, duck fat popcorn and marinated octopus at Forage were creative and fun, along with local wine to show off to our South African friends. By the time we had to pack up we not only had full tummies but also full hearts.
I'm sitting alone in my kitchen now, missing my friend already. But I am sipping on a lovely cup of Waitrose tea, imported specially from Oxford. And I know Merle is going home with maple syrup and homemade apricot jam from Rabbit Hollow. Those little goodies will help to tide us over until the next time we can meet across a table and add the spice of friendship to the flavours of our meal.