Villandry and Cellar Gascon
I was expecting to have lunch with Paul Morley but I ended up with Graham Green instead.
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.
Lucky week.
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.

Villandry, 170 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QB
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7631 3131
Fax: +44 (0)20 7631 3030
www.villandry.com