Ah, dining en famille after a brisk Sunday morning walk across the heath - what could be more Hampstead? Up there between the shrinks and the high place in the gastronomic no-man's land of Belsize Park you can have lunch at the new Marco Pierre White brasserie - MPW, London (in case you think you've wandered, inadvertently into Stockport). Oh the glamour.
Outside, wedged next to a petrol station forecourt, complete with post-fuel crisis queues, there's a pleasant decked terrace with lots of bleached blonde wood (and those are just the customers), comfortably chunky chairs shaded by two white accordion pleated awnings, a yapping dog (which I presume isn't a fixture), and a swaying lavender hedge. Inside the room divides like the Red Sea into two spacious halves - red leather banquettes, brown walls, brown tables and hi-gloss, you've guessed it, brown chairs. .
Other diners were of the small nuclear family, or large group of distinguished grandparents, one or more young hi-gloss couple with single beautiful child and additional, don't-feel-sorry-for-me-I'm-single-by-choice family friend. All dressed in Gap. I regard people like this with undisguised envy. Not everyone does Chelsea kit wearing kids with quite the Catholic gusto that we do.
While in the restaurant with my loved ones, I'm discovering that, in the event of Stepford wife syndrome, my sort of replacement mother need only be programmed with four words: No, Yes and Stop it.
Can I keep my hat on? No.
Can I run around outside? No.
Do I have to have water? Yes.
He's poking me. Stop it.
Can I go to the loo? Yes.
Can I have chips? No. The current Sunday lunch menu at MPW, London (aka the Post House Hotel), doesn't do chips sweetie (aka you irritating child). You can have colcannon potatoes with smoked haddock, or a couple of sorted-by-size, soggy roast potatoes with either the roast chicken or the roast beef, and with the fish cake and sorrel sauce, nuffink.
One gets so confused by the Marco Pierre White empire - it's like a modern family - all step siblings, estranged fathers and half-sisters second husbands. Who owns what, with whom and what percentage? Who knows what to expect - the Mirabelle of the North or Marco Lite? Either way, with a few notable exceptions, there isn't a lot of competition. Hampstead is the Great Yobi Desert of dining mediocrity.
I had hoped to have brunch but was told when booking they were offering a set Sunday lunch. Only on arrival did I realise that, unlike the related-by-marriage Belvedere in Holland Park which has an extensive, special menu on Sunday. this merely means a selection of dishes taken from the a la carte: Four starters, four main courses and three puddings. £16.50 a head, and you've had your chips. Or not as the case may be.
What's Vichyssoise? Will I like it?
No and Yes, said the Husband and I simultaneously. Otherwise it was smoked salmon, a nice little Caesar salad with good anchovies, and a Marco standard - yummily calorific, almost caramelised gnocchi with, in this case, hunt the wild mushrooms and a swathe of lemony rocket.
One child (can I sit next to daddy - No) chewed his lip while glaring at the menu and refused to have anything. The others all had vichyssoise - light and creamy, if a little thin. More unexpectedly, it was hot.
Yes, it's usually chilled, said the waiter, but we serve it warm. .
Oh well then.
To follow (can I go to the loo again - No) we tried all four
of the main courses, of which the smoked haddock and the fishcake, stuffed with
pink flakes of salmon, were probably the nicest. I had two slices of rare roast
beef, a pair of grudging potatoes and a stout Yorkshire pudding, hearty enough
to provide fortification against the invading hordes from Cross, all of which
tasted a little warmed over.
As an experience it was rather like being at the wedding reception of people you don't know very well, after the bride and groom had left the building. At the back of the restaurant, just visible through the bar featuring more chrome than a cocktail shaker, lies the hotel's reception; a tart's knicker glimpse of early-Crossroad's style scarlet upholstery and car cover carpeting. Oh Miss Diane, all we needed was a bit of confetti and an Abba tribute band.
Puddings followed - sticky toffee pudding which was very dry, with a layer of cloying butterscotch sauce on the bottom of the plate and topped with a merciful dollop of ice cream. The crumble with apples and blackberries was better.
If eating the same meal from the a la carte the bill would come to about £35.00 a head. Though not available for Sunday lunch, another time choices might be escargots for £7.50, minute steak £12.50, duck confit £11.50 or perhaps the timeless elegance of 'steak hache a la McDonalds'. A snip at £9.50.
Can I have that instead of the set menu? No.
A happy meal, indeed.