In times of crisis there are those who stay at home, cocooned in bed with the covers pulled over their heads, and others who hit the town, fiddling with their designer handbags, waiting for Rome to burn. I’ve swinging between the two: one minute frugally recycling soap, the next thirsting for a hedonistic night out.
Now, the Sanderson Hotel could in no way be considered my natural home. The profusion of quirky objets, strewn around the foyer are like cast off novelties from an over-indulged child’s party bag, designed to amuse for a few seconds whilst showcasing the generosity of the host. Nor am I a lover of so-called witty furniture, whether it’s a wall of stretch upholstery or the Daliesque sofa pouting like a smacked in the mouth supermodel, and no amount of post-modern irony is ever going to make me like the swathes of white net curtains. However, for self-conscious, conspicuous consumption, the Sanderson is the place to be seen.
To get to Spoon+, Alain Ducasse’s in-house restaurant, first you have to navigate the bar: a sea of hairdressers with less money than scent, and no one claiming to be over thirty five. Especially not me. All that guff about forty two being the new magic age – the only trick you can do with it is to make it disappear. At the Sanderson, you can drop your age like the Emperor’s new clothes and leave it draped over the back of your chair with your coat.
On first sight the menu looks over-complicated, and unnecessarily bewildering. It’s a small-print list of mix and match ingredients in kitchen Franglais with mostly redundant English subtitles. To start you can have ‘Salades’, (helpfully translated as ‘salads’), ‘Romaine’ with ‘Vinaigrette thaē’ (Romaine lettuce with Thai vinaigrette for the linguistically challenged), or ‘Les Spoons’ (spoons – keep up now), which are canapé sized morsels served in – yes, you’ve guessed it, spoons. Main courses seem equally convoluted – you pay according to the primary ingredient – say sautéed sirloin steak or roast lamb chop, and then choose your own sauce and accompaniment, often little more than a garnish, which might be macaroni cheese (if you’re truly, truly post-modern), Swiss chard with parmesan or ‘Rattes ecrasees peril plat et huile d’olive – spuds with parsley and olive oil, lest you think you’re eating washing powder.
Portions are small elegant and very prettily presented, while prices are higher than three-day-old fish. But you must pretend not to notice either. Now imagine the horror – you’re sitting there, feeling iffy about the world, the place and the menu; hating the loud pacemaker music with the bass line thumping through your chest like a defibulator; wishing that you looked like the other customers - thin girls with neither hips nor appetites; and then the food comes…and confound it – it’s actually bloody good.
The voice of prudence takes a break from washing and drying cling film and insists that £8 is still too much to pay for a cold, soft boiled egg, but it was wonderful. The sunshine gloss of the runny yolk was softer than the bleeding heart of a left-wing liberal, and oozed into an ingratiatingly unctuous, melted tomato sauce containing slivers of mushrooms, drizzled with a hint of truffle oil, and then mopped up with toasted bread soldiers sprinkled with a layer of seaweed. Granted, the salad at £12 was a completely tasteless joke. Served in a glass bowl with a little lid (some salads arrive in something resembling a cylindrical glass, flower vase) it consisted of little more than a handful of fragile, velvety lettuce leaves, a bowl of chunky croutons and a thimbleful of Thai dressing, which was steadfastly ignored. For those who like dry lettuce and dry bread, it might well be a winner. Judging by the other customers, it’s obviously the staple diet.
I followed with halibut - crisp, buttery and moist where it needed to be - baby spinach leaves and an onion marmalade that added a savoury bite to an otherwise simple. subtle, supper. My companion’s tuna, was rare in the middle - the colour of a fresh bruise – and so fresh it would have come if she’d whistled.
We hadn’t room for puddings such as ‘pizza au chocolat’ (trans. chocolate pizza) of ‘Finger choco’ (trans. Finger choco) but the cookies with the mint tea were suitably calorific. And what’s more – I’ve been back – this time for a special lunch attended by Alain Ducasse himself when, as you would expect, they rolled out the menu like a culinary red carpet. Unaccustomed as I am to gushing, some dishes – notably the lobster salad, the soft boiled egg (again) with seafood custard, marinated scallops with oranges and grapefruit, and the roast duck with pumpkin were excellent. I also had the Toblerspoon (trans. Toblerspoon) – a posh choc ice shaped like the dreaded chocolate bar. So if you’re feeling rich, feckless and not particularly hungry it’s as good a place as anywhere else to pose whilst ripping up tenners. Meanwhile I’m back home to parsimony - baling bits of string and making vests out of tumble dryer lint.