Oh my GOD the wallpaper! I'm sitting in the dining room of The House, a restaurant just around the corner from my son's prep school in Chelsea having coffee morning flash backs. It's the kind of small Georgian town 'hice' usually inhabited by blonde-rinsed women who have handbags with little chains and whose two-tone court shoes look like they've been dipped in chocolate. The walls are covered with red and pink cherries, or berries, or something so cheesily chintzy that it should have been chucked out years ago. Worse, and you might like to sit down for this, it's fabric. Now to me DIY means Don't Involve Yourself, but for this, just as Janis Joplin did for Leonard Cohen in the Chelsea Hotel, honey, I would make an exception. Close that door and strip it off.
I'm told the Americans love it. But then, Americans love all sorts of things - like legalised handguns and Dr Quinn Medicine Woman. Let them keep both safely locked up, at home and give us back the right to bear monochrome walls.
My instinct is to run. But I can't. I've raffled myself off for a school fund-raiser and my dining partner is due to arrive at any moment. He said he had a beard which immediately conjured up pictures of Robin Cook. I told him I had red hair and red lipstick - so he's probably expecting Lucille Ball (When do I get a picture by-line?). It's hard to imagine who feels more dread.
However, Instead of Robin Cook in walks the young, grinning Indiana Jones - and suddenly - who gives a damn about the suburban wallpaper?.
Mercifully, the new chef - Graham Garrett - prepares food which bears no relationship to the decor. It's gutsy and shamelessly rustic, with French and Spanish influences. It's hale and hearty and the sort of stuff your mother would approve of - like the culinary equivalent of thermal underwear or a fleecy liberty bodice. Just reading about dishes like chicken, ham and black pudding terrine or poached ham hock with yellow split peas and parsley broth makes you feel like a country squire. You're leaning back in your chair wearing a loud check suit, slapping your thighs and calling for the serving wenches. It's also exceptionally good value three courses for £14.50 at lunch and £21 for dinner.
I wonder if the young Mr Jones will balk at such earthy fare - but he is suitably impressed and chooses salt cod fritters with red pepper hummus to start. I have an old favourite - confit of duck - though here served with prune and foie gras butter and a dandelion salad which was different enough to be interesting but not showing off just for the sake of it. It's a satisfying dish but somehow the grass is always greener, and I love the cod. The fritters are perfection and work well with the slightly sweet, creamy red pepper sauce, Portions are lighter than they sounded, thankfully - else they'd need to reinforce the tables.
To follow Mr Jones has some fine, fat, roast scallops with a melt-in-your-mouth gorgeous confit of pork belly: a sort of native surf and turf, I suppose. Served with garlic puree and fennel, it looks a lot more elegant than it sounds.
My waistline is crying out for fish - either the salmon with provencal vegetables or skate with shrimp beurre noisette but I give it a sharp talking to and tell it to pull itself together - an increasingly hopeless task. We're talking safety pins, I'm afraid. Instead I have a special - braised leg of hare with a tomato, wine and chestnut sauce with pappardelle - a huge fist-sized joint of the kind you'd hold in one hand like a club and yell 'aargh'. Though I find the pasta a bit poncey against the gaminess of the hare.
Mr Jones and I are trying hard not to look like we're on a blind date, but it's not easy. The place is very cramped; the tables wedged together almost in rows and they do that irritating thing of seating all their customers in one corner while the other end of the room is empty. It is so intimate that at one point when I ask him a question, the woman at the next table leans over and answers.
For pudding there's a range of traditional Nanny comfort and stodge to choose from. I decide on banana and toffee crumble with chocolate sorbet which is so nursery and over-indulgent that it should come with a slap. However, I don't think chocolate goes with crumble and this didn't convince me otherwise. Mr Jones had a prune and Armagnac creme brulee which didn't taste of Armagnac and had only one prune - but he was a brave lad and didn't sulk.
Then we left, shook hands and went our separate ways. I was rather pleased to leave. The House has a strange Agatha Christie feel about it - you know where people assemble somewhere for the weekend and disappear mysteriously one by one. But I'm assuming Mr Jones (italics) did (end italics) actually get home.