I get a lot of mail. Glossy press releases heralding new restaurants land daily on my doormat, their welcome thump reassuring me of my own existence, albeit if only on a computerised mailing list. So when the stiff cardboard folder containing eight closely typed pages of PR fluff arrived from West Street, the newest venture from Chris Bodker and Rowley Lee (who also run the ever-popular restaurants The Avenue, Circus and Kensington place, amongst others), I read enthusiastically. I love Kensington Place, despite the howling decibel problems, and also have a great fondness for Rowley Lee. He always remembers my name - even without the help of a computer print out. However, Rowley featured little in the press release. Instead it was full of the kind of words architect whisper to each other when they’re having phone sex like ‘ebony’, ‘granite’ and ‘patinated steel’, including a full paragraph describing the stairs, and two pages on the interior design of guestrooms (which I’m as likely to sleep in as Prince Philips bed). The only information about the chef was his name- Lawrence Keough - and beyond ‘the concept’ of ‘English with an Italian accent’ (remember Joe Dolce and shudder) there was nothing about the food either.
When we told the cabbie ‘West Street’ he naturally assumed we were going to The Ivy, situated, as it is, in the same location on the A-Z. But Delphine and I, in common with 95% of the other customers would not have got past the door at the Ivy unless we were wearing motorcycle helmets and had a parcel to deliver. Not that this worries me particularly. I’ve been, I’ve seen, I’ve sat in Siberia. The Ivy deserves its reputation for good, affordable, no frills food with famous faces thrown in for good measure, but I can live without being one of the fashionable few who can always get a good table. Now you can walk up the road to West Street.
So there we were, seated upstairs at Not the Ivy, overlooking the entrance to the café below, and the bar below that, watching the kinetic sculpture spin like a demented corkscrew. Delphine points out Chris Bodker at a nearby table just as a man whisks past like Aramis on legs, and greets him. A man, I suddenly realise, who looks terribly familiar. He’s my husband’s partner (in the business, not biblical, sense) and supposedly having dinner with him that evening. Oi, I said, in my Not The Ivy fashion: Where’s the husband? I ask airily, wondering if his alibi has just been blown. But relaxed smiles and Aramis air kisses all round. Husband was in the bar and came up to say hello - the first time we’ve seen each other in days. We’ve taken to e-mailing from the top of the house (my study) to the bottom of the house (his) just to keep in touch.
Now you’ll sense that I’m doing the same as the Press Release here and missing out the food. This is because it was stupendously, terrifically, unbelievably average. Not awful, not spit it into your hankie and hide it in a pot plant bad (which I have been known to do), just sort of okay. Ish. I had spaghettini with crab, garlic and chilli to start. For a close approximation, take spaghetti, a splash of tomato and chilli sauce available in a bottle from any supermarket, add microscopic amounts of crab from either a tin, or the scrappy shreds left over in the shell once you’ve got all the chunks out, and then allow to cool. Otherwise, save time and money and microwave an M&S ready meal. Delphine had squid with more chilli and a fistful of rocket – simple but will sufficient wit to know its own shortcomings. Both were duller than a fortnight in Skegness. She followed with greasy parmesan fried chicken (see M&S above) with creamed tomatoes, which weren’t, while I had the delicate sounding red mullet with leeks and orange baked in a parcel of greaseproof paper but it was so bland and expressionless it might have been botoxed [no need to explain this – everyone knows what Botox is these days – though it isn’t a muscle relaxant, it’s a paralyser]. It was tempting to eat the paper and the accompanying fried potatoes had a whiff of oven ready rigor mortis. Pudding, however, was surprisingly nice in that it sounded boring and wasn’t – a glistening poached Barolo pear, the colour of a vamps pout, with scoops of mascarpone and three little macaroon biscuits.
Nevertheless, the menu is interesting and definitely worth another try when the restaurant has had a chance to settle down. Other dishes on offer are green lentil salad with eggs olives and smoked anchovies; game consommé with ravioli and ceps; grilled partridge; porcini tart with fonduta; monkfish with ossobucco and lots of fish plainly steamed with tomatoes, or grilled with marjoram and lemon.
In the wine list there are seven wines especially selected for ‘ladies who lunch’ and who, presumably, don’t mind being patronised whilst doing so. While in the Red Wines, ‘pleasure’ is, apparently, ‘a zin’. Oh pizz off with the puns, poleeze. Some people need to get out more.