Up, Up and Away
Bill Knott unfurls a mysterious family heirloom and embarks on his dream epicurean adventure
By Bill Knot with Illustrations Wesley Merritt
April 26 2019
I had always, I thought, been my Uncle Eric’s favourite nephew: in his will, however, his only bequest to me was a rather scruffy Persian rug, together with a claret-stained pamphlet written in ancient Farsi.
Fortunately, Uncle Eric, who was the Emeritus Professor of Mesopotamian Studies at Oxford, had taught me rudimentary Farsi over tea and crumpets in his study when I was a boy. I tried a few sentences out loud: to my amazement, the scruffy old carpet started to quiver, then slowly left the floor and floated a few inches above it.
A good deal of trial-and-error followed. My grasp of Farsi was far from perfect, and the wine stains had rendered some of the text illegible, but I finally managed to clamber aboard and navigate myself to a nearby pub.
Sat at the bar, it occurred to me that, in terms of sustenance, I could do a lot better than a pint and a ploughman’s; and so, early next morning, I loaded my carpet with a few necessities and headed south. Apart from a minor scare when I was mistaken for a drone somewhere near Gatwick, the voyage to my first stop, in the south of France, passed without incident.
I hovered over the Étang de Thau, the lagoon in the south of France that produces some of the world’s finest shellfish. The waters are dotted with brightly-coloured fishing boats, and huge frames from which thousands of ropes of mussels and oysters are suspended: the best, the legendary Tarbouriech oysters, are lowered and raised from the water (using a solar-powered Heath Robinson like device) to simulate a non-existent tide in the placid lagoon, which makes them fat and sweet.
Narrowly avoiding a flamboyance of flamingos as I landed my carpet, I happily devoured a dozen of these divine bivalves in Tarbouriech Le St Barth (lestbarth.com), a glorified fishermen’s shack with a short but fabulous menu. Nor did I stint on a crisp, lemon-scented bottle Picpoul de Pinet, the splendid local white: it is a little-known fact that nobody has ever been breathalysed on a magic carpet.
Time to hit the Amalfi Coast for lunch. I invariably arrive at Da Adolfo (daadolfo.com), an alfresco jewel perched on a shingle beach. It’s a 10-minute boat ride from the harbour front in Positano, and the restaurant’s ferry – a red fish logo atop its mast – acts as a shuttle service for diners.
This time, however, I approached discreetly from Laurito, the hamlet behind Da Adolfo, and fluttered to a stop by the small kitchen. Sergio, the owner, usually takes everything in his stride, but he was dumbfounded. “Che magnifico tappeto!” he eventually exclaimed, reverentially stroking my carpet as though it were a Ferrari.
I feasted on mozzarella grilled in lemon leaves; prawns no bigger than a little fingernail; gilthead bream with steamed mussels; and fresh mulberries, strewn with sugar and served in a bowl of ice. The local wine was white, chilly, unpretentious and delicious, while coffee and a slug of nocino – strong, bitter-sweet green walnut liqueur – fortified me for the onward journey.
Waving addio to a still-awestruck Sergio, I piloted my trusty rug westward, across the Med and the North Atlantic, putting my foot down (metaphorically: actually I just
mummered, برو سریع خیلی ,which is Farsi for “go very fast”) until the Manhattan skyline hove into view
Cranking up Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” (surprisingly, the carpet boasts a superior kind of car stereo) as I darted between the Midtown skyscrapers, I swooped below the Williamsburg Bridge on the Brooklyn side of the East River, landed on the cycle path, dismounted, and – rug tucked under my arm – strolled into the welcoming arms of Peter Luger: actually, he died in 1941, but the famous steak house named in his honour (peterluger.com) happily survives. Luger was German, and a thoroughly bierkeller-like atmosphere pervades the magnificent oak-and-brass dining room.
A diner here need utter just four words to the waiter: porterhouse steak, medium rare. Mine was perfect: gloriously marbled, richly flavoured and running with juices. A bottle of house reserve Napa Cabernet matched it rather well.
Time, finally, for a cigar and a digestif: back across the Pond, then, to a little place I know just next to Belgravia Coach Station, where I could cap my adventure with a large Springbank malt, and a robust, spicy Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 to keep it company.
Curiously, although the terrace at Boisdale was packed, not a soul saw me land. You might suspect that they were they all too drunk… but no: Uncle Eric’s magic carpet was, so an addendum to the pamphlet says, woven by a renegade Scot from a long line of kilt makers.
Several centuries ago, frustrated by life on the ocean wave, he jumped ship in the Persian Gulf and went back to the family business: perhaps unique amongst Persian carpets of the 16th century, it is woven in tartan. At Boisdale, my camouflage was perfect.