When Nina met Benedict Allen

Benedict Allen at WestBeach

Benedict Allen swoops into WestBeach; some might think, fashionably late, but my guess is Allen is trying to be anything but fashionable as he arrives, unfazed, casually dressed and ready to enlighten 30 or so diners with his tales of arduous journeys through some of the world’s most unfamiliar terrain. He is one of our country’s most intrepid explorers and along with being graced with his most awesome presence, diners are treated to a wine flight and a feast of five delectable courses; which bear a cheeky link to Allen’s past conquests.

Allen is articulate as he speaks and dances a graceful public speaker routine, using his whole body to engage his audience. As the diners begin to feel the effects of the wine flight, they find courage to thrust their hands into the air, like keen school children, needing to know every detail. Slowly they are coming to terms with his incredible bravery; although at first, feeling it implausible.

Why would a man willingly put himself through such torture, allowing himself so many times to reach deaths door?  Yet somehow with perseverance and endurance, a little bit of a luck, he escaped death many a time. The unlucky proverbial canine, who we now know surrendered his life in the name of exploration was mentioned within the first three minutes of Allen taking the stage; something for which Allen has become synonymous which needed to be addressed immediately as it seems the ghost of his somewhat unsavoury meal follows him wherever he goes- yet without it he would not have be here to tell the tale.

Allen takes his time telling his stories and pauses graciously to attend to those waving hands. He dines with the guests and speaks in-between courses and even sits happily with one guest and long time fan who has travelled from Scotland to hear him speak.

Allen sets the precedence with his unhurried arrival, so that the rest of the evening follows suit. Courses arrive nonchalantly and I find space at the bar; my aim to sink into the surroundings and listen in unnoticed is immediately foiled by the welcoming demeanour of the WestBeach staff.  Instead I find myself cradling a large glass of something red and warming whilst exclaiming ‘It tastes like velvet’. The barman congratulates me on my amateur observation of one of their Italian wines and then I find myself looking down at the first of the five courses: the ever so chic Barbequed Pulled Pork salad. I appreciate the humble appearance of sticky sweet shredded meat enveloped inside a crispy leaf before discovering its moreish textures of soft pork against crispy lettuce and cashew nuts. I turn down the glass of Rose Champagne I am offered which will no doubt accompany the textures and flavours of the pork and instead invest some more time with my new burgundy buddy, still reeling in smugness from my correct description of its silky palate.

The next course somehow by passes me, but as someone who seems to have inadvertently followed the rule of dining like a pauper in the evening, I am thankful for the break. I’m back in there though with course number three and now I have company at the bar: a fellow creative, who is also there to ‘work’ yet somehow seems to be enjoying the perks of the job as well. So we joyfully tuck into the beef stew and sweet potatoes and tick off a few arty topics whilst we are at it.

I leave just after the third course – overcome by tiredness. But before I go, I bag a photo with Benedict Allen just before he takes the stage for his third stint of the evening. He is happy to quickly become acquainted with me so we can stand hip to hip for our pose and I find him to be enchantingly delightful in that awkward English manner and I wish I could have stayed longer to see the evening through, as by the time I left, it seemed things were only just getting going…