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Farewell favourite restaurant, hello hometown

Posted on 22 March 2009 | 8:03am

Nice but sad evening out last night. Nice because we saw old friends – my first Mirror editor Mike Molloy, his wife Sandie and daughter Kate. Sad because it was the last time we will go to our favourite restaurant.

We have been going to La Casalinga in St John’s Wood High Street for thirty years and all that time Lucio, as waiter, head waiter and finally as the boss, has been there to put the world to rights and take us through the long list of specials he served up every day. He (or at least his name) has a walk-on part in my novel, All In The Mind. When I needed an Italian for the plot, Lucio was the man.

In recent years his complaints about the cost of trying to run a small business have grown louder and louder. His views on Westminster Council are not printable on a family-friendly blog like this. So as his rent and rates continued to rise, he has decided to move on. Last night, we went to say goodbye, keep in touch, all that. The night before Paul McCartney, often to be seen with his agent and a bowl of pasta at the back, did the same. Today there is a Mother’s Day lunch and that’s that.

It will be interesting to see what follows. But as you walk along a street that already has a Starbucks, a Cafe Rouge and a Carluccio’s, it is clear the big brands, chains and fast food places seem to have an advantage when it comes to survival and growth. La Casalinga was a bit pricier than a cappuccino and a granola bar, but it gave us many great nights and we’re sorry to see it go.

Talking of great old brands under pressure from modern times and money shortages, I’m off north today to see Keighley Cougars rugby league team. I know it is Mother’s Day but my Mum appreciates me supporting the town where I was born and spent the first eleven years of my life.

Today’s visit stems from a blog I wrote a few weeks ago when I was asked to support a new drive to put Keighley on the map – lovekeighley.com – and confessed that playing for Keighley was one of my many unfulfilled sporting ambitions. Cue a call from the club asking me … no, not asking me to play (yet) .. but inviting me to come and see how they are doing. So I am off to do a piece for a magazine on life at the sharp end of sport.

Talking of rugby, congratulations to Ireland on winning the Grand Slam in the other code. Of the players I got on with really well on the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2005, Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara were close to the top, and we’ve stayed in touch. So I was thrilled for Stephen when he hit what looked like it was going to be the winning drop goal for Wales, thrilled for Ronan (whose wit and wisdom you can find on the ‘Irish Lions’ video seven or eight down in the vlog archive) when he hit back to take the lead with his, then  really sad for Stephen when he narrowly missed the penalty that would have won the match.

It did not surprise me that they wore each other’s shirts during the presentations. There is a huge mutual respect there. But it showed once more just how narrow are the margins between elation and devastation in sport.

  • paul robinson

    The big guys are winning,Trying to give the personnel service is excellent idea but people during tough times go for price , i know from taxis people will spend a fortune on drinks and takeaways at weekend but begrudge paying a fiver to get home (door to door )

  • Alan Quinn

    Interesting to know that the tories flagship borough puts up business rates so much that they squeeze out well run ventures.
    In 2004 the income from car parking fees alone in Westminster was £32M.
    So much for tory “efficiency”.