My first visit to Deca was a bit of doozy. You know you're having a tricky night when you suffer from both table envy and/italics/ food envy. It’s that thing of looking longingly at other people’s plates wishing you’d ordered what they had, and then gazing winsomely at their big, noisy table wishing you were on it, instead of having the waiters' bums in your face when they served them.
At one point, when I was munching desultorily through my sweetbreads ‘Pojarski’ (here,chopped sweetbreads and ham hock bound together in béchamel sauce, formed into a patty then fried) when the jolly man at the adjacent table, leaned over and whispered to me. “I’m very curious about what you’re having”. I was so delighted by the diversion I nearly leapt on to his knee. But the moment passed as fleetingly as his interest, and I was left having to eat the darned thing.
I was with a fish eating vegetarian who only eats meat in kosher restaurants and avoids shellfish, molluscs or other things that cling, slither or crawl. Since the vegetarian options on Deca’s menu are few and far between and potted shrimps, deep fried oysters, crab salad and lobster with daikon sauce were all verboten, it was quickly obvious that inviting him along was a bit like taking a transvestite to Moss Bros and expecting him to enthuse over the double breasted suits. When his starter arrived - a gorgeous artichoke heart stuffed with mushroom duxelles and draped with hollandaise sauce, I asked the exemplary maitre d’, Jean Luc what the pool of jus surrounding it was. ‘Aah, ‘tis just a leetle sauce, he said, just as my friend dug his fork in, ‘….made with veal stock.
Oh God, the brandy butter I gave a friend’s brand new Muslim bride flashed through my head like a trailer for Scream 2. The dish was hurriedly redone, sans veal stock, while I tackled a blissfully simple salad of grilled red peppers buried under a small avalanche of crumbly, creamy feta.
His main course, fillets of uncompromisingly plain, charcoal grilled John Dory sprinkled with thyme olive oil was perfectly executed but by pudding - caramelised oranges with dinky little rum baba sponges balanced on the top like alcoholic marshmallows, I was flagging. And when no petit fours arrived with the coffee, gloom descended.
So a great excuse to go back for a more omniverous taste test. Especially since the restaurant is right next-door to Rigby and Peller. Eat, drink, buy bras - what more do you want from life? There’s even a hotel over the road…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The elderly grande dame of Nico Ladenis’s empire, Chez Nico on Park Lane, has recently closed, making way for this new chic sibling, Deca – his 10th restaurant. Deca aims to be less formal and less expensive, while continuing to offer a selection of traditional Nico dishes, like tortellini of langoustines and warm escalope of foie gras with orange and brioche, both at prices that are, relatively at least, easier to swallow.
It’s an engaging and classy restaurant - attractive, well-groomed, stylish and ash blonde - if you gave it a Fendi handbag, a pair of beige Tod’s and a small dog, it could be one of the posh mummies I stand outside the prep school with at ten to four. But the restaurant at least invites you back for coffee, albeit without the chocolates. I particularly love the toned, brunette muscle chairs that look as though they’ve been working out at the upholstery gym.
Second time round I had asparagus risotto rich enough to have an account at Hermes just for the mistresses’ headscarves, with a few puffed-up deep-fried oysters in the lightest of batters, served with tartare sauce. This was followed by basil infused sea bass in an open ravioli, meaning covered with a single piece of lasagne like an actress in one of those television sex scenes who, after rolling about with naked abandon for thirty minutes of prime time, then wraps herself in the bed sheet to walk to the bathroom to preserve her modestly. I also managed a large bite of my partner’s sucullent breaded pork chop from the £12.50 set menu that offers fantastic value between 12 and 3 and 5.30-7.00. Neither pear tart, peach melba nor the tooth-meltingly sweet iced almond and hazelnut praline could get a look in afterwards. Sadly, lycra will only stretch so/italics/ far. My only criticism is that there were no large bottles of mineral water, and a half bottle of Evian costs a whacking £3. £6 for a litre for water – seems a bit excessive even if it is filtered through virgin’s knickers. But then compared to my distinctly non virginal bill at Rigby and Peller, it seems petty to complain.