Apologies for returning so soon to my very own Bermuda Triangle the small scrap of W11 on Kensington Park Road between Elgin and Blenheim Crescents where a formerly tired 192 has just reopened its doors with collagen injected into its upholstery, a shot of Botox along the frown lines and a brand new owner. Now, despite launching a legion of talented chefs, 192 wasnÕt always about the food. The first time I went was on an antediluvian visit to London with the Mister, then boyfriend, when it seemed fairly ordinary to me. Other restaurants Š Mr Chow, Montpelliano, Langan's, San Lorenzo Š all still in business Š had much more pizzazz and glamour. Not until we moved into the area in the mid-eighties - when nipping out to Portobello Road for a pint of milk after dark was like wandering into a scene from Thriller Š did I get it. The point of 192 was/italics/ proximity Š you had to be there.
Over the years IÕve not always had a great meal there Š but IÕve never had a bad one. IÕve cried, argued, walked out in a huff, smoked, gossiped and laughed myself horizontal along those tatty red banquettes. I hated my life there and met someone there who changed it so I hated it less. The Mister got legless there after the birth of son no 2 and no 3, I went straight to 192 to celebrate getting this column, and again to eat steak and chips after Palestinian fat camp Š aka a week in Gaza with Mrs Arafat who told me I needed to lose weight from my thighs.
And then it closed. It was like hearing that your old boyfriend, the confirmed bachelor youÕd been keeping as emotional insurance, had married a twenty five year old MTV presenter. No more bolt hole. So, youÕd think debauched revelry would follow the discovery that, less than two months later, the boyfriendÕs back - same name, same dˇcor upstairs (though the pit formerly known as the basement is improved), much the same menu and full, already, with the same old, same a lot older and less hip than they like to think they are, customers, prompting you to wonder if theyÕll ever die, dry out, drift away and discover a new life outside W11.
Lately, my visits have evolved into lunch with my uberchic, magistrate friend Gay, sister member of the Prada shoe appreciation society. (We donÕt talk about it but 192 is rather goldŃchain handbag ladies who lunch territory until the 3.30 school run cut off.) It goes like this Š kiss three other people you know, feel smug and plugged into Notting Hill networking mummysville, have 1 glass of wine, unless itÕs Lent, 2 starters (I havenÕt had a main course in 192 in living memory), 1 pudding, two spoons, and an expresso, while looking like you have a publishing deal and discussing ABC Š anything but children. Our friendship was built on a mutual aversion to babies despite owning several between us. This visit was different Š it isnÕt Lent or lunchtime, but it was happy hour.
As I said, the menu is virtually unchanged Š itÕs divided into three parts, like Gaul Š starters, salads and pasta dishes which can be had in small or jumbo portions, and main courses. Starters including things like a chunky Caesar salad, steamed mussels in Thai broth, bruscetta with buffalo mozzarella, or asparagus. I had several crab ravioli all wearing the clammy, wrinkled pallor of shut-ins whoÕd been in the bath a bit too long, and out of it for longer. But portion size was generous. My friend had seared scallops with cauliflower puree Š classic 192, and with a nice balance of rich, caramelised flavours.
To follow I had a small portion of pumpkin risotto Š pleasingly calorific and warming Š with chunks of pungent, garlicky chorizo enfolded in the soupy, marigold-coloured rice. Heaven. Pappardelle with wild mushrooms and confit spring lamb was also available as was a warm salad of goatÕs cheese and leeks or rocket salad with French beans and globe artichokes.
My friend had, gulp, a main course Š sea bass, a little over done, with lentils - simple and unassuming, served with a side order of rocket mash and perfectly crisp French beans. Other dishes on offer were equally straightforward - roast cod with spinach, peas and broad beans, salmon with aioli potatoes and salsa verde, or duck with stir fry vegetables. A robust lamb shank, the outside of which looked like weathered patio furniture that had been over-enthusiastically varnished, was perfect for the rugged cave man types who are, of course, numerous in W11 and distinguishable by their tasselled Gucci loafers.
Puddings cost £4.50 each and include lemongrass pannacotta with ginger rhubarb compote, choccie mousse with champagne granita or coconut poundcake, but, in an another break with tradition, we went mad and had a cappucino. WeÕll be wearing thongs next.