Just back from New York where I did all the usual cultural things like manicure, pedicure, haircut, lie by the pool and preen, shop in Bergdorf Goodman, lie by the pool and preen, manicure - well you get the idea. In between these intellectual pursuits I went clubbing in the West Village, had my fortune told (apparently Im going to fall in love with a much younger man - postcards to the usual address, please) had my palm read (Im going to have five children - theres a surprise - the next one well call Jesus) and a henna tattoo. All the Sex in the city girls were having them done on their muscular Matchmaker arms so they looked like Sex in the City jail bait. I had mine across my chest transforming me into a Maori wrestling pin-up. It looked great - well - until it started to fade. Now people just keep trying to wipe it off. The BA steward though Id spilt coffee over myself, and I could see my friend Michael eyeing it dubiously the other night in The Atlantic Bar: What have that on your chest? he asked eventually. Did you burn yourself? So look, enough already -its art. Right?
The Atlantic is impossible to mistake for anything else. No little stain on the sternum this, but a vast cavern of a place where you can drink good but expensive cocktails and pose. Originally, it was the function room of the Regent Palace Hotel. It had a stage at one end and was built after the first world war to encourage weekenders to schlep into the smoke for a bit of slap, tickle and live entertainment. Much as it does now, possibly, as the Atlantic is one of those gargantuan destination bars beloved of the upmarket bridge and tunnel crowd at weekends, and enjoyed by townie loafers during the week, who seem to take up residence there between the twin annoyances of work and sleep.
The restaurant is also sizeable but not dauntingly so. Tables are well spaced with comfortable cherry red half-moon banquettes for those who want a bit more intimacy. Lighting is good - bright enough for illumination but dim enough for disguise. Waiters are in dove-gray dental smocks that have been put in with the dark wash, and Sade sings songs for ageing lovers in the background. The room is very grand, having been restored several years ago when the Atlantic opened, from a dilapidated shell to its former post glory. Theres an ornate a gold panelled ceiling held up by hefty marble pillars, veined like the stout legs of goddesses whove sat too close to the fire, ceiling fans, crimson walls and acres of gilt and post War plush. There is also a new chef - Stephen Carter - previously of Stephen Bull and Bank, who has initiated a new menu with a strong emphasis of British produce featuring things like Cumbrian air dried ham, Telmara Duck, Angus beef and Wessex saddleback pork chops.
After a cocktails - you just cant go to the Atlantic and not drink - we set forth through a white fish soup - rather thin, mostly mussels with too much emphasis on cream, but which was, none the less, deliciously velvety and rich in a self-indulgent, bad for your health sort of way. Michael, a clean living American, looked at me as though I was biting the heads off babies. Arent you worried about the cholesterol? he whispered, glancing over his shoulder for the United States Fat Police to pounce on me. He had Rosary goats cheese salad which I refrained from pointing out was hardly All Bran. The cheese was sharp and unctuous, the salad of pickled carrots, courgettes, yellow tomatoes and celery - all sprinkled with paprika, similarly tangy and he felt that overall the tartness was a little too much.
Next up I had the label Anglais free range chicken, he had saddle of lamb with a generous stew of butter beans and more yellow tomatoes - asking for the lamb well done, much to my horror. Thankfully the chef did not refuse point blank to cook it this way. He pronounced it very good, but who knows after the poor thing had been charred beyond any possible recognition of pink.
I cant say that I wanted to stand up and cluck about how much my chicken actually tasted of chicken as label Anglais purports to, but it did have a gentle moist, flavoursome tenderness to it that was very pleasing and the accompanying dollop of colcannon went down well. The side order of lemon spinach was pretty awful however - like something youd clean pans with.
Ignoring all the lovely, lovely infantile desserts like bread and butter pudding and chocolate brownie mess, we finished with a selection of sorbets served American-style with a cookie. I never understand why restaurants think flavours such as mint, cassis and mango sit easily on the same palate. Just because theyre all cold doesnt mean they compliment each other.
As we left Michael looked pointedly at my chest. I glanced down - ready to snap at him - but, sadly, this time It definitely wasnt the tattoo It was pistachio coloured sorbet. Ah well - well call it food art.