I love going out. This job is like having a prolonged adolescence, but with funds, no curfew and a better complexion. I love the curt, dominatrix ‘goodbye’ as I cut the cord with AOL, the last, outraged gasp of the computer and the slam of the door behind me. I love the twenty Capstan cough of the mini cab engine idling at the end of the gate and the lipstick kiss on the rim of the first glass of wine. Sometimes I even really love the food. But though the superficial life is a fine one, there are times when reality sticks a six-inch Global blade into its soft underbelly. January, when my father died, was one such time. Suddenly, it seemed frivolous to be worrying about the saltiness of the soup – and, anyway, I was carrying my own supplies.
Feeling similarly minded this week, I wanted to go to one of my favourite restaurants – The Lindsay House. It is the perfect restaurant of its type. Firstly, it’s small – set over several floors of one of those tiny houses with lots of stairs with lots of rooms, each the size of a pocket handkerchief. You ring the doorbell to gain entry and, once inside, there’s a distinct sense of being hidden away and removed from the world. Secondly, the décor is not fancy – the restaurant has off white, some might say dirty white, walls, bare floorboards that might have been polished once in about 1911, and open fireplaces which, when lit in winter, roar with enough ferocity to bring a menopausal flush to the cheeks. The customers can roar equally ferociously when the place is full. Acoustics can be a problem, especially if you are seated next to a large table of well-oiled business men but at least the atmosphere is never hushed and stilted.
I have eaten here on numerous occasions, usually paying my own money (most memorably for poached oysters), which brings to me to the third point in its favour – the food and the warm welcome. Dinner is £44 for three courses, lunch a bargain at £23, and with Richard Corrigan hands-on in the kitchen the cooking is robust, sophisticated and very real. The menu features dishes such as smoked eel with dandelion, fennel and chorizo, pork with black pudding, crubben and choucroute, haunch of venison, and poached halibut with samphire and a salt cod torellini. Richard is also very real, a big Irish chap with a ready smile and a loud voice, often heard bouncing through the walls from the kitchen, while as Front of House, Thierry ushers you to your table with one of those French accents you could pour, and invariably proffers an invitation to the Groucho Club afterwards. Or maybe that’s just me.
We arrived on a quiet night when the rest of the world was glued to a television set. Two city chaps sat in one corner, deep into a second bottle of wine, saying things like ‘he’s massively over-extended’ much less discretely than they imagined. Otherwise, there was a totally enthralled couple, on maybe their second date and with an enviable amount to talk about (but little chemistry), and a party of pristine, neatly folded, Japanese who seemed as fascinated by us as I was with snatches of the banker’s furtive ‘well, I thought you should know, after all he is our Vice-President no matter what we may think of him’ conversation.
I slurped my way through the last memory of summer – a palate deadening, overwhelmingly peppery, but pretty gazpacho of wild crayfish with a courgette mousse. My companion had crispy frogs legs with garlic cream, spinach and bacon, which I tasted, despite my usual froggie Douglas Bader qualms; delectable little morsels, but who’d be a frog? Next up, one of the perks of the job – scallops with sweetcorn and chicken wings in a pool of brown butter – sent out by the chef as an unnecessary indulgence - what designer sample sales are to fashion writers, except the fashion writers buy the samples and don’t wear them. I eat the samples and wear them on my hips. To follow we both had grasse (my companion is very posh). Grouse en croute to me, with an extra howl mid vowel. Mr RP was less keen than I on the breast of grouse, sandwiched between almost liquid foie gras and a duxelles of wild mushrooms before being encased in a wafers of delicate pastry. ‘It’s like a fancy game pie,’ he mused, picking it over like he was going to perform open heart surgery and then leaving all the pastry on one side of his plate. (My God – does the man not have children? – that’s usually my supper.) But I was satisfied, especially with a dollop of Richard’s signature mash potatoes served in a little copper pot with butter oozing through the surface. Pudding was white peaches with champagne sorbet and soft meringue, strawberry consommé and vanilla ice cream.
My companion left, unsteadily, and disappeared into the night leaving me alone with his leftovers. ‘So,’ said Thierry, ‘Do you want a drink at the Groucho later?’