At my eighth birthday party I hid in a tree after a girl mocked me because my nostrils flared when I laughed. At my tenth birthday party my friends had to be collected early when I broke out in hives because I was overwhelmed. At my eleventh birthday party the wafer fence on my Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book swimming pool cake was too close to the candles and set on fire, so I ran away and hid. At my fifteenth birthday party the pig piñata I made out of a papier-mâché covered balloon, to impress my fifteen year old friends, was kicked to smithereens on the floor. On my sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays I sat waiting by the phone for a call that never came. For my twenty-sixth birthday, I went for dinner at Bodega. We sat in the window and ate pumpkin empanadas, corn tamale, fried cauliflower, silverbeet and chickpea salad, and the banana split. The service was genuine, the food was glorious and the night ended in contentment and stretchy pants. And no visit to Bodega ever falls short; being made to feel welcome, taken care of and part of the family, then leaving stuffed to the gills. I’ve sat outside on the street two hot days before Christmas, sharing a cheese platter that smelled of feet and toasting the season with friends, escaped from a boring party to hang out, eat and talk shit about the boring party, celebrated with old friends and minded my manners with new friends – all in the company of that glorious food. At Bodega’s seventh birthday, on an icy August night, they presented eleven of their iconic dishes: morcilla with apple and radish salad (2006); bacalao stuffed piquillo peppers with salsa verde (2006); steamed milk bun, BBQ tongue, crab and salsa golf (2012 – 13); hiramasa fish fingers on charred toast, cuttlesfish ceviche and mojama (2007 – 13); scallops and morcilla with braised cabbage, pickled cauliflower and tahini sandwich (2009 – 13); buttermilk pancake, salt cod, 62˚ egg and smoked maple butter (2012 – 13); pork and sweetbread cabbage rolls with verjus, muscat grapes and olives (2008); fried cauliflower, silverbeet and chickpea salad (2006 – 2012); Suffolk lamb, eggplant and “Kenjisan” roasted miso paste (2009); chocolate yogo, Earl Grey tea ice cream and Dulce de Leche (2007); the banana split (2007 – 13). The service is still genuine, the food still glorious and the night ended with a lady relieving herself on the floor outside the bathroom – proof that even the best birthday party can end badly, but you’ll always leave Bodega contented.