We're at The Capital - a true temple of dining which, tonight at least, seems to have lost most of its congregation. In the bar there's a solitary, darling old man having audible trouble with his dentures and only ten of us in the restaurant - all talking in hushed whispers. The rest of the faithful have either converted to fusion food, or disappeared to Volvoland for half term leaving the hotel with the air of one of those grand hotels where people go to retire: very OAP.
My girlfriend and I in matching lipstick and dˇcolletage look just a tad out of place. Worse, the Menu Dˇgustation arrivees offering us five courses for £60 - and she chooses this moment to announce she's on a diet.
This is not the time to split a Caesar salad and hold the dressing. Houston. We have a problem.
Sweetie - try the a la carte, I urge but I can almost see the calorie odometer turning in her wide, frightened eyes.
Maybe I'll just have two starters, she says, trembling.
I lie shamelessly about the relative merits and butter:cream ratio of - say - seared lamb, feta and spinach tortellini versus roasted pigeon but it's obviously going to have to be a fish moment. Sautˇed langoustines with lemon scented couscous and John Dory to follow.
You can have the foie gras. You're voluptuous, you don't need to diet, she says.
This leaves me to carry the weight as it were, with sea scallops and caramelised endives (no, no - of course they don't use butter in this dish) followed by fricassˇe of rabbit and fondant potatoes.
She isn't drinking so that means champagne which I convince her doesn't count. And as for the appetiser - a plump, pouting poached oyster with scrambled egg and spring onions - well you can burn it off later - aphrodisiac and all that.
The oyster was delicious - nearly as sublime at those drowning in veloutˇ and topped with caviar at the Lindsay House - another Church of honest-to-God Chap's food.
Here I should probably confess that though I know enough not to stir my coffee with the fish fork - I do not have A level cutlery. While others were swotting up on their seven course place settings - I was behind the bicycle sheds smoking cigarettes and flirting with cafeterias.
Therefore the table at the Capital Hotel was somewhat of a trial, set as it was with sufficient aged buttery silverware to start a novelty percussion orchestra with Evelyn Glennie playing Ode to Joy on the range of spoons. Yes, dear shocked, reader in Tunbridge Wells, before you rush for the Basildon Bond - I know you work from the outside in. But what was the large spoon on the right that looked like an overweight butter knife?
'That! That (italics) is the sauce spoon,' spat the waiter with the same indignant contempt an Arsenal supporter displays when his team scores an own goal - but thankfully without the hand gestures.
No need to take that tone, I responded, but dining snobs, sadly, are always with us. The waiter was not impressed and thereafter treated us with the disdain usually reserved for lone working women who loiter in hotel lobbies waiting for john-o.
The starters certainly didn't need a fanfare. My scallops were just quietly and modestly wonderful all by themselves and the endives soft enough to eat with a spoon. Even a bloody sauce spoon. The langoustines were also good, though the couscous perhaps too intensely bath-oil lemony for my liking.
The 'tranche' of John Dory had enough accompanying vegetables that, in denial, you could pretend it was light and low cal though girlie subtlety is not what this restaurant is about. My rabbit, however, was achingly, pulsatingly rich in the way you could say the Sultan of Brunei was well-off. This dish definately employs a man just to change the lightbulbs. You eat it with one hand on your heart checking for palpitations and it doesn't disappoint.
This was followed by the avant dessert - a miniature fig and date cake - with a verveine sorbet which I really didn't like - it was too perfumed, like eating cologne, and, hell - had no dairy products.
We said we'd share a pudding but they brought us one each and it seemed futile to complain. They were whisking our plates away so fast that they might as well have offered to put our coffee in a thermos and call us a cab. But we were in no hurry, so we ate it lingeringly - Caramel and coffee melting pot with crunchy puffed wheat. I love pudding - it's the culminating moment of the meal, with expresso the equivalent of the after-sex cigarette. But this rather defeated me. Too sweet, too smooth, and puffed wheat - sorry but it's only a sugar puff, no matter how much you try to disguise it.
And frankly, after petits fours - voluptuous is really just a fancy word for fat. Forget aphrodisiacs - It's home for a night of mad, passionate, overindulgent sleep.
Signature dish - again the menu changes according to season The chef - Eric Chavot's Menu Degustation - is probably the only choice for true believers.