Cafˇ Grand Prix, LondonÕs largest dining destination, newly opened in Mayfair, is perhaps not the most tactful place to take a chap on crutches with a titanium pin in his hip whoÕs just had a nasty road accident. Its sister restaurant in Monaco is set in the pit of a Formula One Grand prix circuit, where diners can eat while blurred cars zoom past them like bluebottles on speed. Nearby Piccadilly certainly has the fumes, but little of the glamour. We chose it because it had both a lift, and secluded, spacious banquettes for my guest to recline in, as, since his accident, he canÕt put too much weight on the hip. Sadly the lift was out of order but staff would have carried him down if heÕd let them. At street level thereÕs a showcased Formula One car next to the inelegantly named Pit Stop Brasserie, which rolls of the tongue like lead shot in a pigeon breast. In the basement lies RosieÕs Bar, done out, according to my companion, in 70s porn. Burt Reynolds should be there in a chest wig and medallion. Between the two, a short hipple down glossy marble stairs is La Racasse the high-class restaurant.
Inside itÕs very Nutcracker Barbie - just the sort of room you could imagine twirling through in a ball dress Š high ceilings hung with glittering chandeliers, surrounded by faux mirrored windows and with a row of semi circular banquettes slightly recessed into the back wall, upholstered in pale lime green velvet. ThereÕs even a crescent shaped balconette with a private table overlooking the room for those who want to wave Evita-like in a V&A tiara and elbow length gloves, while singing DonÕt Cry for me Michael Shumaker. People like me in other words Š I knew I should have had my hair done a la Eva Peron. Other diners were very European playboy Kens, all discreet Dunhill cufflinks, ski-tans, square jaws, minor titles and major trust funds. Or look, thatÕs my fantasy and IÕm sticking to it. Now, since this column began I have a acquired a number of pen-pals Š charming readers who feed my e-mail habit and who, on occasion, IÕve taken out to lunch in my vain quest for a reliable walker. None can stand the pace (IÕll tell you Barbie never had this trouble with Ken). When I told my friend Mo that I was taking this particularly accident-prone reader to dinner as a consolation prize, she gasped Š you canÕt. You donÕt know him. Look, heÕs 28 and on crutches. How racy can it get? I replied. I do need a love slave for the garden shed since the last one escaped but a 40 plus gal canÕt be top of his wish list.
I was right. Though how older men get off on the young chickie thing I donÕt know. I wanted to hang a sign on him saying Š havenÕt paid for him, honest. The food, however, I did pay for, and gladly. Every dish retained a visual simplicity, was beautifully presented with clean flavours, fresh ingredients. The menu breathed summer in the Med Š just a glass of wine short of a siesta on a drugged with the heat holiday. We passed up ravioli of sea scallops with sauce vierge, oysters, or escabeche of sea bass in favour of a delicately marbled foie gras terrine, as pale and creamy as a Manet nude, served with a pleasingly tart salad of blood oranges and beetroot the colour and sheen of La Peron's lip gloss. I had a deep terracotta crab soup; peppery with cayenne and crunchy with delicate croutons so light they almost floated off the table. To follow my filets of red mullet presented as another still life, nuzzled by fat langoustine tails and served on a saffron yellow couscous, with a bracing harissa sauce that packed enough of a punch to pull the whole dish together, but not enough to knock your taste buds out. The young Che had roast Pyrenees lamb with cassoulet of beans, which was both dainty and hearty at the same time. Roast pigeon with lettuce, peas and carrots, spaghettini of lobster and braised halibut with white asparagus were also on offer. CheÕs dessert was caramelised pineapple with spiced cinnamon ice cream and mine a chocolate mouse sandwiched in slivers of mille-feuille. Best of all was the wine. The sommelier brought us three different matched wines, adding up to little more than a generous glass each, which neither interfered with driving or CheÕs mind altering medication.
I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, but never more so when an impressively diva-sized bouquet arrived at the Castillo next day. In almost 3 years of wining and dining assorted strangers this is the first time anyone has ever sent me flowers. Most people donÕt even send an e-mail. Ah, the lovely Che Š how revolutionary of him.