My 25th birthday was on a Friday. My brother picked me up after work and drove me back to Croxley Green. Here I discovered that I'd accidentally forgotten to bring my Mum's birthday card with me, but I had printed out HAPPY BIRTHDAY on a long chain of computer paper at work, so I think I got away with it. That evening the whole family went down to the new Beefeater at Scotsbridge Mill, which had only been open for six months and was the swanky new dining experience in town. We kicked off with a drink by the bar, which I suspect was quite lightweight, then crossed the mill race to our table for the evening. To our surprise the local vicar was sitting at the neighbouring table, so we tried hard to ignore him and enjoy our double birthday meal. I had soup, steak and profiteroles, because that's how 1990 rolled, and because I always was a bit mainstream. Somebody had turned the heaters up a bit high, which didn't help the ambience. By the end of the meal I was bloated, and hiccupping, and almost fell asleep on the sofa when we got home. A birthday to remember.
My 26th birthday was on a Saturday. In the morning my Mum gave me a cross stitch tapestry of Windsor Castle and I opened 14 cards. At lunchtime I was forced to watch Saint and Greavsie rather than The Chart Show, and in the afternoon I went up in the loft while my Dad and brother went to watch Watford lose to Newcastle United. That evening the whole family went down to the Beefeater at Scotsbridge Mill, because the only other places open in Croxley were pubs. We kicked off with a drink by the bar, and then the waiter led us to the table in the farthest corner with the best view out over the river. I had soup, steak and profiteroles, because menus in 1991 weren't as varied as they are today, and because I know what I like. The bill came to £49.95 for a family of four, which seemed a lot back then, and I didn't feel quite as overfed as I had the previous year. Afterwards we drove home and poked around in the living room cupboard, playing back some of the now-embarrassing tapes my parents had recorded of my brother and I talking and singing when we were very young. A birthday to remember.
My 52nd birthday was on Thursday. In the morning I went for a walk round the Olympic Park, because the weather was champion, and had a swing in the Blue Peter garden. I was shaken when I got home to find a hearse parked outside in the street, and a family in black gathered by the Gladstone statue to follow their loved one into church. Laid out in pride of place behind the coffin was a giant Arsenal shield made of flowers, while three of the tributes on the top of the hearse spelled out UNCLE, BROTHER and SON. The fourth spelled out the name of the deceased, and thankfully wasn't my name otherwise I'd have considered the entire montage disconcertingly prescient.
At lunchtime I went to Scotsbridge Mill, even though it's now twenty miles away from where I live, because this seemed an appropriate place to revisit. This time I took BestMate and BestMate'sOtherHalf, because both of them can be flexible on a Thursday, and headed up to Rickmansworth by tube. The restaurant is no longer a Beefeater, because that franchise closed in October to make way for an "award-winning, premium steakhouse brand". The new set-up is a bit more smart-casual, and a bit less salad-bar, with a menu and price hike to match. Meanwhile their website claims that this is "one of the best steakhouses in Croxley Green", and I'm pleased to confirm that this is true, there being non-existent competition.
This time we didn't kick off with a drink by the bar because there isn't one, but were shown straight through to our table. And bingo, we got the premium pews, not in the annexe across the mill race but immediately on top of it, with the River Chess rushing a few inches underneath. The Thames Salmon Trust installed a fish ladder here in 1989, according to a plaque on the walkway, not that I spotted salmon anywhere on the menu. Through a slot above the rushing water I was impressed to see a heron standing patiently on a log, and here it remained throughout the many minutes we spent choosing from the menu, flying off immediately our selection was made.
I had thought it would be most appropriate to have soup, steak and profiteroles, except they don't do soup any more, the starters being fiddlier sticky grilled dishes that would've made my eyes roll in 1991. Thankfully the pulled brisket croquettes were very nice. So indeed was the steak, which hadn't changed much over the years except the tomato was poncier, the chips came in a hard-to-empty bucket, and the lettuce had somehow been elevated to a centrepiece of the meal doused in your choice of fat-soaked dressing. It turned out profiteroles were no longer on the main menu either, so I made do with chocolate orange brioche bread and butter pudding and custard instead, which was no hardship.
The bill came to considerably more than £49.95, which is steakhouse inflation for you. The toilets were just as far away up just as many stairs as they'd ever been. The heron never came back, but a couple of finches performed a mating ritual on a ledge above the weir during dessert. Most joltingly the waitress hadn't been born the last time I was here, and struggled to understand the concept that I'd come back to Scotsbridge Mill precisely half a lifetime after my previous visit. I guess this sounded quite odd, but sitting above a salmon ladder in my home village somehow the whole thing made some kind of sense. They're not yet taking bookings for 2043.