A mechanical curtain about the size of a hangar door opened slowly, groaning. On the other side of the curtain, a vast room contained a sea of round tables. There must have been a hundred. On every table sat a burning candle inside a tall white cylinder embossed with a design of black tracery resembling curled wrought iron. The glow of the candle reproduced the tracery, in shadow, across the white linen on each table. It was perfect.
Then seven hundred people galloped in and sat down.
Wine waiters circled tables backwards with one arm behind their backs and the other pouring from linen-shouldered wine bottles into impossibly large glasses. Try it sometime. It's not easy, especially when people put things on the ground behind their chairs; I don't know, bags, coats, award trophies, walking sticks. Then the food arrived. Battalions of waiters came out from somewhere far away, beyond the black curtain, plates up their arms like shields. They dealt them around the tables without spilling a morsel. Or not that I could see. To my right, Sandra's 'potato and cheese gnocchi with tomato ragout and shaved grana' was gnocchi in napoli sauce with a few extra words. I was dealt the 'chicken, cherry tomato and fetta risotto with salsa verde drizzle'. Sandra's gnocchi was OK, she said, but it was the bought-in style of gnocchi, not home-made. Then again, when you're serving 1000 people, you don't have the luxury of nonna rolling out potato dough in the kitchen. The overcooked chicken pieces in my risotto would have been better omitted. The salsa verde was pesto and too heavy for an entree, which becomes apparent if you can still taste the pesto when you're eating the next course. Apart from that it was just fine.
Some musicians carrying instruments were filtering through the crowd, high-fiving people. I thought dinner-dance bands were supposed to just materialise, like sunset. These guys were collecting accolades before the show. The wine waiter did another lap, forwards this time, and tripped over someone's award, a brass bird of some kind in flight stuck into a timber base. He limped away. He might have broken a toe.
By now the decor was slowly disintegrating into the usual function mess of confused crockery and cutlery, accidentally extinguished candles, leftover bread rolls and half-empty lipsticked glasses. A few years ago there would have been cigarette ends butted into every second plate. Tonight, half the crowd was outside, probably butting their cigarette ends into the over-sized pot plants or cracks in the wharf. Meanwhile, the waiters were dealing again and the head waiter, with one of those microphone things in his ear connected to kitchen central, was darting about, barking 'vegetarian option here, here, here and here' to the waiters. I wonder how he knew. Everyone had moved around.
The band, sectioned off at one end of the room behind a filmy sheer curtain, couldn't wait any longer and started belting out too much bass, rendering normal conversation impossible as we ate. At least, I tried to eat, but my 'rack of lamb with summer bean cassoulet and fondant potato' came in one of those bowls in which the bowl section is an inverted hub cap in a plate the size of a cartwheel. How can you dissect a rack of lamb in that? You need a lateral sawing action with rack of lamb and you can't achieve that in a bowl, no matter how large the rim. But it was pink and tender and the dew-drops of jus were cute. Sandra's 'salmon fillet with rosti potato and hollandaise' was also in a hubcap but it was a lot easier to eat, she informed me.
The band got louder. I don't know how. The music was described on the menu as a kind of acid-house Caribbean funk. That could be anything, but in this case it meant a wailing keyboard, a guy with no shirt on hitting five drums with his hands, several trumpets and a blatting saxophone fighting each other and someone singing a completely different song.