Finding north London’s Oslo Court restaurant for the first time feels almost invasive. It’s only a very discrete sign the leads you to enter a 1930s block of flats, to be met not by a maitre d’ but a concierge. “The restaurant is to your right,” he says. Then, through the door, a narrow hallway leads you past the kitchen to the dining room. It’s as if you’ve snuck into a private party – but you’re welcomed as if you’ve got an invite.
Inside, elegantly dressed patrons sit at tables that are draped with salmon-pink tablecloths, part of Oslo Court’s signature décor. Tony Sanchez, the owner, zips between taking a seat with some of the restaurant’s regulars and directing bow tie- and black suit-clad waiters. Phone in hand, calendar under arm, he’s also the one on the end of the line taking bookings.
But the true star of the show is Neil – no last name needed. Neil is Oslo Court’s 62-year-old dessert waiter. Having moved to London from Egypt at the age of 18 he’s been doing the same job at this same restaurant since his 20s. His first job and – he hopes – his last.
He is one of the main reasons why many people keep coming back here. Ask Tony and he’ll tell you that callers will often make sure he’s working before confirming a booking – but it’s almost a sure bet.
What’s striking about Neil is that he flies in the face of what we’re often taught to recognise as success. As my cohort fixates on landing corner offices at the UN to feel like we’re contributing, or rising to become the blogger or Twitter account to follow, here is a man that has more job satisfaction than 90 per cent of us.
Dishing out raspberry torte daily, no matter how divine it may be, doesn’t often make it onto a list of aspirational careers. But what Neil does he takes pride in and does with care. He is, of course, just the most flamboyant example of Oslo Court’s entire staff, all dedicated to detail and service. Meaningful contributions come in many forms. And among the rose-adorned tables of this hidden-away culinary gem, success and satisfaction come in making all feel part of the Sanchez family, whether staff or patron.
It’s a good lesson learned. We needn’t all break records, make headlines or even change jobs to feel like we’re getting from our careers what we should be. Neil’s hard work isn’t driven by unbridled ambition or competitive spirit – but a self-worth is found in a job well done.
David Michon is Monocle’s managing editor.