So, IÕm sitting in the Club Class departure lounge, admiring, well perhaps this is not quite the right word, more like puzzling over the, gloomy, boardroom-like interior of the room. ItÕs as purple as a branch of Biba, right down to the perfectly co-ordinated bottle-shaped vases, each housing a single mauve lily Š but, sadly, without a matching personality. ItÕs colder than the inside of a VampireÕs coffin and about as busy. Behind me, by the bar, is a group of bespectacled, besuited folk, hunched over a single open laptop, completing that departure lounge air of earnest desperation, which, I share, wondering where my lunch companion, my pre flight glass of champagne and my good intentions about not drinking at lunch have all gone to. The good intentions are irrecoverable, but the other items arrive only a little behind schedule. My companion, apparently, has been sitting in Business Class Š next door in NeatÕs Brasserie, obviously not having realised that IÕm an upper class sort of gal, intent on joining the sky-high price club for the £49 menu. Not that the Brasserie offers cut price bucket seats. With dishes such as grilled sea scallops £19.50, salad of langoustine £12.50 and dessert at £7.50 each it is obviously easy to bump yourself up to gastronomic prices.
Well, okay, IÕm not really at Heathrow, but on the second floor of the Oxo Tower. However, even with the St PaulÕs skyline on the other side of the muddy Thames, youÕd be hard pressed to know the difference. Yes, thereÕs the view, not quite so impressive as from the Harvey NicholÕs terrace upstairs Š but as magnificent rivers go, the Thames is more of a border crossing than a romantic vista. ItÕs water with history while upstairs in the restaurant itÕs bottled water with kitchen history. Richard Neat, the chef/owner of the restaurant is a chef with pedigree - currently the only Englishman to hold a Michelin Star in France for his restaurant Neat in Cannes, having previously earned two in 1996 during his tenure at Pied a Terre.
But now our Rich is back, planning to divide his time between this new venture and the sister restaurant in the South of France. I was meeting an e-mail acquaintance who I had not clapped eyes on until he sat down beside me, which added to the air of awkward formality. One minute youÕre conversing in enigmatic phrases of less than three words and next you have a whole dialogue to get through, complete with punctuation and pauses. The food however was seamlessly executed, with an excellence of precision and presentation, though some dishes lacked sufficient gutsy, spontaneity and became so perfect, but so what? From dishes such as snails with morilles, scallops with black pudding, scrambled egg and caramelised apple and lamb cutlets with ballotine of offal, we chose some of the tamer offerings. As you would expect, everything was beautifully arranged, as airbrushed smooth, and well stacked as a table dancer, and took long enough to arrive to allow ample time to watch the barges chug up the river, And down the river. And for the tide to come in. The tian of pan-fried skate wing with crab was spot on, pert, pristine and lined with tiled slivers of cucumber, while the confit of quail with truffle tossed salad fragrant, robust and delicious.
Main courses on offer were veal sweetbreads with Parma ham, saddle of rabbit, sea bass scented with anise and mussel soup and pigeon breasts, served with white bean gnocchi and a pea veloute Š though there is a shorter, cheaper £29 lunch menu for those looking for a meal that is lighter - on the pocket at least. All were equally beguiling Š designed to lull one into a pleasant, satiated befuddlement where the idea of returning to work and doing anything beyond dozing at your desk, is an impossible notion. Or so deemed my companion, smooching up to pudding wine and a dome of mango and creamed rice with lime puree, recalling fond memories of boarding school in Heaven. I had banana chibouste with lemon anglaise, which sounds like a frilly corset but was in fact a fairly ordinary mousse, but with the same clothes constricting qualities. Also on offer was vanilla scented fromage frais with strawberry sorbet, tarte tatin, and chocolate soufflˇ, for which there was a £5 supplement (melted to order between the thighs of Nubian maidens, perhaps). Fromage frais? Well, IÕm sure itÕs wonderful, but it would have to be scented with Chanel No 5 before I would be interested. Nothing else to set the heart of cholesterol queen such as myself afire with flames of pudding passion.
Then came the petite fours which were not served on a two tier tray like the chockies offered to the two chubby boys in check shirts and pinkie rings sitting opposite. Maybe the dickie bowed waiters knew instinctively, that we were plate people who wouldeat everything and licked the pattern off the dish, given the chance.
After lunch I received an e-mail from my companion saying simply ŌÉlaterÕ. Ah e-mail - it makes a sparkling conversationalist of all of us.