My memories of Le Caprice are mostly of sitting in the dining room trying, in vain, to see a celebrity who wasn't just a 2-D black and white Bailey print, hanging on the wall. In truth, I've spotted more actors and pop-stars in Cafe Rouge in Hampstead that in the haunt of what A.A. Gill calls our 'generation A list'. But then, being a DD list person myself, perhaps they were there and, like the Emperor's new clothes, I merely failed to see them.
Nevertheless, it is one of my favourite restaurants in London - a place that at least promises to include a whiff of glamour with the bill, which is always preferable to a handful of mints or two After Eights. The last time I went to le Caprice I didn't even eat. We had a bottle of wine and ordered some food - then I had an explosive argument with my husband and left before it arrived. A shame, because the food is invariably very good.
Reading A.A. Gill's collaborative book of gutsy, glossy pictures and recipes from Le Caprice, I read the chapter about the woman crying at the table and wondered, for a split second, if it was me. But no - I was at the bar.
Oh - happy days.
So in an attempt to recapture some of the nostalgia, though hopefully without the box of Kleenex and embarrassing exit, I thought I'd try and staunch my loathing for A.A. Gill long enough to cook something out of the book.
Oh well - okay, not loathing exactly. You either love him, hate him, or like New Labour take the Third Way and pretend to heartily dislike him while secretly finding him terribly funny. It's the same shameful tendency that makes one watch Australian soap operas clandestinely, or keep pornography under the bed.
I'm thinking brunch, which always seems to me be to be the cheapskates Sunday lunch - instead of roast beef and trimmings you fob your guests off with scrambled eggs and a bagel with smoked salmon. But double fried
- egg with foie gras and ceps - maybe not. Buying a whole 'lobe' of anything makes me feel distinctly queasy. What about eggs benedict? Fine if there are only four of you - poaching eggs for twenty six is a bit beyond me.
So a quick crisis of confidence later - something that Mr Gill certainly never seems to suffer from - and I've decided on Chopped Steak Americain with a mustard/tomato sauce. Or beef burgers are they are more commonly known.
I also make gallons of the beetroot soup with creamed horseradish. A chilled soup isn't the most obvious starter for a cold November day, but - this is the real world. Tell me what else I can do with the five pounds of muddy organic beetroots I bought from Islington Farmer's market? One gets so carried away at these places - visions of whole food heaven and country kitchens swim in front of your eyes as you walk round with your obligatory wicker basket like a farm-wife on egg day. Next thing you know you're coming home laden with produce which no-one wants to eat because it all looks so healthy.
I actually know people who get mixed boxes of organic vegetables delivered to the door once a week which they keep for decoration, while still buying the pre-washed, pre-packaged stuff from Sainsbury's.
I like to eat mine.
The Beetroot soup is a doddle - you peel and simmer the beetroot in the stock until it is soft (the recipe suggests using cooked beetroot but I used fresh). Next you liquidise it in a blender and then - the messy bit - you strain it through a fine meshed sieve. By the time you finish you look like an axe murderer and there is usually beetroot juice splattered all over the kitchen. Or is that just my own Lizie Borden tendencies?.
I also kept the pulp of the strained beetroot and mixed it with some of the horseradish and put it in the fridge. We had it next day with sausages and parsnip mash as a sort of relish - it was delicious.
The Chopped Steak is another easy dish - there's nothing to do except make the sauce and cook the beef patties. I used a cast iron grill to get those nice ridges on them for the authentic diner look but I did have to leave the book open on the table when I served them just so that everyone would know this was a Caprice recipe and not just any bit of old mince made into a burger.
Frankly, there's no difference - though the tomato sauce is a nice touch.
I was planning to make a nice stodgy pudding to follow. According to the book, if Mr Gill took a woman on a date and she didn't eat pudding then - brace yourself girls - there would be no second date. God, how could we live with ourselves having missed that chance of a lifetime?
I thought about Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding which seemed about as rich and calorific as you can get, and slotted the book into the cunning little plastic contraption I have that keeps my recipe books splatter free.
Unfortunately my assistant, the surly sixteen year old while 'trying to help', started following the wrong recipe. Thus we had chocolate Brownies and toffee sauce.
And here's where it gets interesting. The recipe says line a deep baking tray with buttered greaseproof paper. Now what is that? How deep is deep and how wide should the deep baking tray be? We didn't know. Luckily we only have one - a square cake tin -
so we didn't waste too much time pondering these and other questions of deep philosophical import.
It should have been ready after 25-30 minutes - though still soft in the centre. It wasn't. So we forgot about it. After fifty minutes we smelt burning, panicked, whipped it out the oven, deposited the tin on top of Delia's Frugal Food (we had red cabbage a la Delia as well) and then spent several minutes running round the room wondering where the singing smell was coming from.
Delia now has a bad case of sunburn.
It was a fine meal once we'd aired the kitchen and turned off the smoke alarm. No-one turned up wearing pink fishnet stockings, red stilettos and a green lurex dress like they do in the book (sorry but is Essex in Mayfair, suddenly?) and no-one cried or left in the huff.
A success then.