and Cellar Gascon
I was expecting to have lunch with Paul Morley but I ended up with Graham
I have grown quite used to people pitching up late without apology, but
at least the stragglers do actually bother to turn up - unlike Mr Morley.
Despite having just published a new novel, apparently he has yet to master
the complexities of e-mail or the mobile phone.
His week 'got away from him', I later heard, second-hand.
However, thanks to my trusty paperback. Graham and I whiled away a couple
of hours wandering through Liberia, by way of Villandry in Great Portland
Street - and though I don't know if Graham enjoyed it, I had a fine time.
Villandry is so hip it makes your teeth ache, your wallet groan and your
ego swell with notions that you too are a trendy media babe who lives
on fizz, filtered air and take-away designer salads.
There's style and sustenance in the gourmet food store, an elegant flower
shop and a fine, albeit pricey, restaurant, all full of Paul Smith lookalikes
wearing mauve shirts - men who have cut their ponytails off but still
bear the scars. The newest addition to the emporium is a smart, metropolitan
bar serving lighter food from breakfast through supper, where you can
sit down, suck in your cheekbones, and smoke.
It's very cool and clever. The kind of place you take your girlfriend
after you've been there with your wife - like Aveda with groceries. She'll
love it. I did.
Breakfast - featuring things like home-made baked beans, kippers and pancakes
with maple syrup - is served from 8am until noon. The lunch menu changes
weekly, ranging from, on my visit, a bowl of chilled beetroot soup, to
a beefburger with chips. with more exotic dishes priced in between.
I had the rigatoni with forest mushrooms, a tomato and aubergine salad
and some smoked salmon potato and herb pancakes. A friend walked past
my table and said: 'Are you really going to eat all that?', but what can
I tell you - I was. I did. I had been stood up. I had to over-compensate.
However I asked for smaller than usual portions.
This is my story - and I'm sticking to it.
The pasta was a little disappointing. It was satisfyingly creamy but fairly
anodyne in flavour. Certainly, no little red riding hood walk through
the forest. I rang later to ask the name of the mushrooms: Shitake, button
and...? Oh that would be Laura, said the girl on the phone.
Well that explains it.
Otherwise, the couscous served with the enjoyable chunky aubergine salad
was undressed and uninteresting - a fate I fear befalling me imminently.
The pancakes - a cross between herby home-made blinis and good old tattie
scones - were lovely. I couldn't face pudding - though it was a perfectly
comfortable place to eat alone, Graham does get boring after a while and
even Liberia has its limits.. But since the desserts come from the main
restaurant's menu I can vouch for the moist chocolate cake and the lemon
tart - both of which I've enjoyed on previous occasions.
For my next bar, I made sure I had a companion stuffed into my handbag,
as well as a book to read. Delphine and I dropped into Cellar Gascon next
door to Club Gascon. This place is to the restaurant what Robin is to
Batman - an invaluable younger sidekick, though definitely not camp and
not overly fond of tights.
It's very sexy, male and moody - a row of banquettes against the window,
tall comfortable stools and lapis coloured walls. 'What is this dark wood
on the bar?' I asked Delphine.
'Em...I think it's dark wood,' she replied.
Sophisticated - or what? Luckily we were better informed about the tapas
- a succession of dainty gnat-sized dishes which you eat with a cocktail
stick, feeling elegant. In this fashion we romped through the degustations,
eating tiny bowlfuls of chorizo and saucisse seche, a foie gras terrine
and another with slivers of foie gras sandwiched between wafer thin slices
of toast. Then we had a fantastic piperade and a briny ceviche of oyster
and scallop and an extremely salty bowl of fish soup. The morue - salted
cod and some asparagus spears with shaved parmesan followed, together
with a fair number of glasses of wine.
Everything was wonderful, like a doll's tea party for blokes. Rich, garlicky
and appetising. You hardly feel you are eating anything at all - and suddenly
you've had dinner. We had some cheese afterwards, a plate of the most
delicious chocolate dipped walnuts and a tiny pistachio dusted wafer filled
with a praline mousse.
The bar staff were tireless, gorgeous and French - one dispensing drinks
and the other busily preparing food. Meanwhile, a man perched on a nearby
stool told me he liked the colour of my hair which, after several glasses
of wine, I took as a compliment.
'It's strawberry-blonde' he crooned across the bar, his voice somewhat
muffled by the ashtray which seemed to be concealing most of his face.
What a nice man. Maybe I should have invited him out to lunch.