It's raining. Good god, it's a bloody monsoon - sheets of the stuff falling from the heavens and only the absence of Noah to reassure one that it isn't Flood2 - the sequel. I arrive at Zander, the newest Bank Group restaurant in Buckingham Gate after an hour watching the meter tick in a taxi, to be told that the Actor is waiting at the bar. Easy peasy, you might say. But then you don't know that Zander has a 48 metre long bar, lined with the young, all knocking back cocktails like it's last orders on the Titanic.
I had a little promenade and then returned, sheepishly, to reception. Em, where exactly IS he? I asked.
Ah, Monsieur Le Actor, said the waitress with a star-struck twinkle in her eye, let me take you to him. 30 metres up, on the right.
It's a fab bar, if you like long skinny things, which many men do. It's the sort of bar you might want to tap dance on, or send a bottle whizzing, saloon style, along it's gleaming length. You could imagine Queenie, nipping out for a quick gin after a hard day on the throne. She'd be sitting at one end and our Phil at the other, with the corgis belly flopping on the floor with exhaustion. After all, it's practically the only place to drink in that dead area of Westminster behind Buck House.
This probably accounts for Zander's apparent success. Certainly, it's not the food.
We had a good table on the curve of the plate glass wall overlooking the courtyard of the adjoining mansion block hotel - complete with scenic fountain and trickling water, (should the heavens not be providing enough naturally). It has glorious purple padded chairs, a globe bedecked ceiling, a design budget of 4 million and clever architect stamped all over it like letters in a stick of rock..
However, though the restaurant was barely half full it was
still noisy. They also had an ice bucket wedged between our table and the empty
one next door containing two bottles of wine - neither of them ours. These they
fetched, wiped, carried to adjacent tables, poured and returned with
monotonous, ice-clunking, glass-chinking, water-dripping, intrusive regularity
until we begged them to move the darn things.
The menu is varied and vaguely Mediterranean in that many dishes sound like they've been concocted from leftovers found at the back of a Spanish fridge. There's a fair selection of fish dishes and some straightforward shellfish; but things like black-pudding and sweetbread salad, hot foie gras with Savoy cabbage and ginger, and lasagne with salt cod and rocket didn't grab me anywhere, except the throat.
I had one of the specials - linguini, avocado cream, smoked peppers and cherry tomatoes.
I believe ..the waiter began solemnly, and I half expected him to burst into a soulful rendition of '...for every drop of rain that falls.
Sadly, he only said that he believed the linguine was now tagliatelle.
But he was wrong. The pasta was still resolutely linguine, and overcooked to boot. The avocado cream was merely chunks of avocado in a bland cream sauce with heat punctured cherry tomatoes and so few peppers that it was impossible to know whether anyone had actually inhaled when they were smoked. It was like hot salad with spaghetti.
The Actor wisely had Spanish charcuterie - serrano ham and chorizo, unnecessary cocktail cubes of quince jelly, olives and enough garlic to clear the bar with one cough.
The prix fixe menu rather bravely featured a braised stuffed lamb heart with pearl barley risotto - but I don't feel a particular vocation for offal eating. Furthermore, as my own heart was feeling somewhat braised and stuffed, I decided on seared scallops and tempura vegetables. Predictably, they arrived with one of those sauce bottle swirls all over the plate, spaced out like well-planned children. The scallops were fine but the vegetable tempura was fairly tasteless - enlivened only in part by the accompanying gutsy salsa verde.
My companion had John Dory which had been perfectly cooked some while earlier, served with a warm truffle and lentil salad, and fat chips on the side. The chips were fat in the way most of my girlfriends claim to be when they turn their concave stomachs to the mirror and wail - definitely size 8 with a self-image problem. The lentils were lukewarm - and though there may have been truffles present in the kitchen, neither of us could smell them.
He followed with a rhubarb pavlova, which he enjoyed, and I with what turned out to be a cold Lemongrass rice pudding, with lime chutney that wouldn't have been out of place with two poppadums and a cucumber raita.
Bad enough - but then we left the restaurant: It's raining, the Actor exits after garlic kiss (thankfully with his well-used toothpick) it's midnight, there's not a taxi in sight - and then some lowlife tries to snatch my bag.
The cherry on the top of my perfect day sundae. Get two spoons - we can share.