If food really was the new sex then going to Harry's Bar would be like having Sophia Loren for your mistress and Grace Kelly for your wife. Stepping through the velvet curtain from South Audley Street, you walk into a late fifties Narnia where the women should be wearing off the shoulder Black satin cocktail dresses whilst taking unconvincing puffs from long cigarette holders.
Sigh. Where is Dean Martin when you need him? On this date of all dates, it seemed as though it was going to be o sole mio when my companion ditched me at the last minute for reunion sex with a long lost lover. My husband was in Berlin, my corporate arm candy was going to the Groucho (can't cancel it darling - and anyway, who's Harry?), so that by five o'clock I was almost incoherent with panic, hyper-ventilating between waves of wall-floweritis.
I called the last name on my list: So can you come out tonight? No, I'm busy.
What a shame, Are you sure?.
Yes, absolutely, no can do.
Not even for Harry's bar?
What time? he said immediately.
The menu is in Italian without translation and could possibly be recorded as an aide to seduction: Purea de Melanzana su Melanzana, Cipolla di tropea Bollita al Fieno, Branzino di Lenza con salsa finocchiette. Phew, basta. Is it hot in here or has the waiter just read me the specials? Frankly, anyone who speaks menu Italian is fluent in the language of love. I don't care if he's saying line caught sea bass with a fennel sauce - to me it's amore.
Already one bone-melting Gin martini into the evening, I was so bewildered and happy to be there, that I couldn't decide. Thankfully, my companion arrived with a list of recommended dishes gleaned from a distinguished foodie who is also a member of Harry's Bar. So eager was he to impress Mario, the regal Manager, and Alberico Penati the stellar chef who came up to say hello, that he dropped the name of this oracle of food with the timed precision of a stripper divesting herself of her clothes. There should have been tassles and a drum roll.
Nevertheless we did manage to order some wonderful food. Apart from the antipasto placed on the table with long fingers of grissini, we also ate the most delicious proscuitto which dissolved in the mouth. My companion had an exquisite risotto with a heap of white truffles - the sort of dish you might go to bed and dream about if all your current fantasies had dried up. It was everything a risotto should be, sliding languorously across the plate in a pool of liquor, smooth, rich, creamy - pick a clichˇ, any clichˇ and show it to the audience. I was very jealous but Mario took pity on me and gave me my very own flurry of truffles, sprinkled like confetti across my plate. I had the Carpaccio, which originates from the Harry's Bar in Venice and is named for the Venetian painter rather than being merely a generic term for food served raw and sliced wafer thin. .
If your eyes haven't yet swayed to the bill, then please do sit down. The restaurant didn't charge for either the proscuitto or my truffles and we drank a very modest wine but then if yours is the only fake fur coat on the rack and you have to tot up the bill in your head as you order, arrivaderci bella, you're in the wrong place. All the other customers, mostly very slim women with serious jewellery, and immovable hair, or men with neither, were exhaling money very discreetly. Meanwhile, we sat with our mouths open trying to catch it like second hand smoke.
My companion was peering past my left ear at the woman behind me, seemingly transfixed on her breasts, until he remarked in an awe-struck 36DD voice; I'm sure/italics/ I got more truffles than she did. Believe me, at £50 a pop, he definitely got his money's worth. His veal Milanese was served with a mound of the famous zucchine fritte, while I had lasagne, the ragu so smooth, rich and perfectly elegant that I admit to being underwhelmed. Perhaps lasagne, unlike men, is one of those things that improves with vulgarity. The accompanying salad was small enough to fit into my cupped hands and cost more than my manicure. The ice cream, of which the chocolate in particular was excellent, consisted of no more than one scoop.
At this time of the year, with the poinsettias against the red flock wallpaper, greenery cascading from the ceiling and impeccable staff bustling amongst the rather cramped tables, the room is festive and crackling with atmosphere. If J.F. Kennedy had have lived, he would have been over eighty by now but I'm sure he would be sitting in Harry's bar.
And since it is a very select private member's club, even if I live until I'm eighty, I doubt that I'll be back. Which is a shame. Someone should be told.