Brompton Cross is the sort of place where you can spend money by osmosis. It seems to just seep through the seams of the Kate Spade while youre standing outside Joseph, even though nothing in any of the frock horror shops actually fits. The failure to squeeze into a Betsy Jackson corset invariably results in a depressed dawdle through Divertimenti where the Le Bourget paella pans always fit. Though how many pasta machines, cherry stoners and spring form cake pans does a girl really need? The Conran Shop is another centre offering palliative care for the clothes crossed lover: Whilst suffering pangs of petite frock fallout I have amassed enough tableware to host a sit-down dinner for thirty. And, God knows, Id rather chew my own arm off than give a dinner party. Much simpler to go upstairs to Bibendum and be a guest, albeit of the paying variety.
In the past, Bibendum was the sort of place we would go for own-money celebrations - wedding anniversaries, male birthdays, or the departure of in-laws. Invariably the besuited customers would reflect the food - substantial, serious, masculine and pricey, with starters coming in at around £10 and main courses, £14.50 and up. At lunch however, the room is bright, airy and elegant and the atmosphere much more congenial. There are crumpled linen jackets, sockless loafers (aka the husband) and women - some even in hats. This is matched by an equally convivial £28.50, 3 course lunch menu, but dont go tippytoeing away with the notion that this is light ladies who lunch, undressed salad territory. Much like the stained glass window showing a gargantuan Michelin man, foot outstretched in a high Kung Fu kick, the food packs a punch. The Michelin man perched astride the imminently pinchable ashtray could be stuck on the weight watchers fridge as a warning to all who go there.
Too late for me then. Ive already gone. Though a reader I met recently did accuse me of false advertising. I pictured you as a prediet Vanessa Feltz, he complained - so strangely disappointed that I wasnt sure whether to be flattered or not.
From choices such as deep fried pork belly and oysters with spiced peanut sauce, and foie gras, artichoke and French bean salad, I had a gorgeous, oozing soupy, black as a business suit squid ink risotto, garnished with frilly grilled squid and gremolata - a Milanese mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon peel, more usually served with osso buco. My husband chose a silky smooth chilled lobster bisque, with a faint whisper of tarragon and possibly the best Ive had this year. Well, okay, possibly the only one Ive had this year, but if, say, Jude Law was the only man you had slept with in the last six months you couldnt hope for much more.
Second course offered a menu staple - deep fried haddock with chips, or alternatively grilled Gloucester old spot pork chop with hummus (which sounds like a marriage made is cross culture hell) or chicken breast with herb polenta. In a rare culinary foray I had just that morning made spring-form trays full of polenta from Patricia Wells Paris Cookbook (simple enough for even a non-cooking utensil Queen such as myself, to follow), so I veered towards calves liver and bacon. This was served with a sweet beetroot puree and quite delicious, though a tad cloying matched with the equally sweet, rich tenderness of the liver. My husband, the sanctimonious slimmer, had a whole grilled seabass with sauce vierge - a shame as the flesh was disappointingly watery and completely without flavour - great for the diet, but bad for the appetite. Each dish was also accompanied by a small selection of vegetables.
As usual, theres always room for pudding - in this case a frozen maple syrup and walnut terrine which we agreed to share but which I ate alone while my husband nipped outside and replenished the meter. At the risk of incriminating myself on the charge of eating naff, processed ice cream, mlud, I confess that this was exactly like a very, very elegant Viennetta (but it was just the once and I didnt swallow): vanilla ice cream sandwiched between layers of crushed nuts and maple syrup praline. And then, of course, for another £3.50 they bring you the coffee and the unnecessary chocolate truffles that you really dont need, want or care for, but eat anyway.
As it was our nth wedding anniversary, I feel its bad enough to count the years, without worrying about the calories. The nice thing about having been married for longer than Methuselah's wife is that, barring any accidental carnal contact between the spouse and Liz Hurley, another few chocolates here and there are not going to make much difference on the great scales of matrimonial bliss. But rather than return home for celebratory sex we went downstairs, slowly (the restaurants tiled floor is not conducive to a speedy exits in slip-on stilettos) for another twelve plates and a Colombian clay pot from the Conran shop. Well its either than or go to Agnes b and weep.