The average spend in a restaurant on wine is approximately 50% of the bill, which is why they hate you when you only drink water, and really hate you when you only drink tap. Even in the most expensive restaurant, its usually the alcohol which costs, not the food; - a glass of champagne, a good bottle each of white Burgundy and a claret, maybe a dessert wine or aged brandy - it all adds up to a huge hangover with a bill to match. No surprise then that when our bill at the White House in Clapham arrived, I got palpitations and other sundry Scottish ailments associated with getting my wee purse out. How a bottle of Laurent Perrier at £110.50 can cause a medical emergency. Thankfully, I was only paying for the food.
The White House is a bar serving mostly snacks of the sort favoured by the young who havent yet learned to chew their food, poncing around as tapas - and not the store in Bond Street where the queen buys her knickers [does that still exist?]. Yes, it is white, complete with doormen holding clipboards, but its strutting around self importantly on the other side of the river. And what do you know - you can cross the Thames without turning into stone. Initially.
Inside theres a lorra, lorra leather - similar to every other modern restaurant/bar everywhere but attractive in a S&M sort of way. As Mr Ed, my resident bar guru (oh yes - hes not a talking horse at all) remarked; you feel like someone is going to come in and crack a whip. My kind of place then, though I was wearing my black leather coat and felt as if I was going to disappear into the background. The new diet - camouflage.
It was wheezing with affluent young people. Pretty people. Guys in shades with more stubble on their shaven heads than theyre ever going to get on their chins doing things with their dosh that at the same age I wouldnt have dreamt off. How nice it must be to be twenty three and not have to drink the urine of pregnant nuns or whatever they call lager these days. I had a French martini - almost as bad - a frothy affair like fruity instant whip. I cant understand what all the fuss about alcopops is when currently the whole country is shifting vast amounts of strong liquor down its throat disguised as a milk shake. I couldnt taste the vodka - not because it wasnt there, but because it was so well masked. Can they do the same for hips?
Though not really a restaurant, a few more substantial main course are offered, plus a brunch and roast menu at weekends for those able to tolerate solids. However, upstairs, past what will be the roof terrace there are two private dining rooms at the top of the building. The first seats about 20, the second about 8, and for these you chose your menu from a selection of 3 seasonal options which the chef, Annabelle Job, will cook outside in the small kitchen, especially for you.
We took the small room; myself, the Norwich fanatic, Mr Ed and some richer, thinner, more glamorous people who arent really close friends but who we hang around with because they make us look good. Except when they make us hang up the coats and clean the ashtrays. The room is like a 70s suburban sitting room, a tad Abigails Party (Gin and Tonic, Tone?) with teardrop chandelier, and boxy geometric wallpaper. So it was fitting that we had a very retro meal. We passed on menus 1 and 2: Potted Trout with Tarragon, leg of lamb baked in hay, with spring vegetables and pesto, followed by Tart Tatin of Granny Smith; and Brioche of goats cheese, Roast Halibut with shitake mushrooms followed by treacle tart. Instead we started with some gravadlax, marinated for 2 days in blueberry and dill served with chunky walnut and olive bread. Next out was a magnificent Beef Wellington, and when I say magnificent, I do mean it - its not just a spare adjective from my something nice to say about food thesaurus. Encased in glossy pastry, swathed in an earthy mushroom duxelles, the fillet was the bloody, deep carnal red of a black and white screen goddess lips, (you know what I mean - despite being monochrome you know the colour), so rare that not for a minute can you forget youre one of the flesh eaters, especially with the veggie Fanatic mincing his way through a herb risotto.
With accompanying roasties, red cabbage and green beans - it was a meal recalled by the gorgeous Simon Hopkinsons book The Prawn cocktail years. But would you throw a dinner party outside your home at £27 a head plus booze, corkage and service? Well you might. You do have the chef virtually cooking for you alone, which instills a lovely warm, magnanimous, kiss my aspic, am I not the man? feeling in shallow folks such as myself.
Okay, Im not the man, but theres always the worry people might reasonably make that mistake.