A Booming Good Night Out
Fielding, Helen, The Independent (London, England)
"ANDREW Waugh Thompson? No idea who he is. Anyway, the last time I was here, I was sitting all on my own - my wife'll tell you I'm right because she was ill - four bowls of caviar and some nice wine and the chap on the next table leaned across and said, 'You on your own?' I said, 'Yah.' 'My wife's ill,' I said. He said, 'Yer want come sit with arse?' I said. . ."
As the barman grinned glassy-eyed at the large be-suited bellowing man with spotted tie, matching kerchief and squirming wife, it began to seem clear why the newest addition to Antony Worrall-Thompson's restaurant empire (190 Queen's Gate, dell'Ugo, Zoe, the Atrium, Millbank) had been christened "Drones". In fact, "Drone" would have been better that Saturday night, for apart from myself, struggling to retain some dignity on a bench seat that looked normal but made it impossible for your feet to reach the ground or your arms to reach your drink, there was no one else in the bar.
But Drones has been called Drones for many years. It was first opened in the Seventies by Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and was relaunched by Worral-Thompson at the end of November. The smartest new restaurants seem to feel positively undressed these days without a coulis of other food- dispensing outlets around them: in Drones' case, a basement "Blues bar", a cafe, tapas bar and "grocer" (as they coyly call it), where my requests for a pint of milk, half a dozen eggs and some orange juice were met with raised palms and embarrassed glances at the array of caviar, charcuterie and exotic sea creatures which are what is understood by "groceries" if you live in Knightsbridge.
The bar has a stone floor, terracotta walls and ceiling crisscrossed by pottery string, with a tree rising through a hole in the middle. The theme was quite hard to define: Spanish Timeshare meets Tuscany meets Swiss Chalet meets - as the barman opened one half of a neatly stacked Swiss-style log store to reveal a cupboard full of soft drinks - Salvador Dali, perhaps? When my dining companion arrived he saw it exactly. "Yes, it's like being on the set of Eldorado," he murmured smoothly, "a vodka martini, please."
In place of Polly Perkins, however, the serving staff were smart, young, professional and friendly in a particularly pleasant way. The restaurant, though much fuller and more convivial than the bar, still seemed unnatural, with the top and more attractive half of the tree providing the centrepiece to a conservatory effect. Wrought-iron gates and Iberian-style arches separated one section from another, diners sat at glass tables with terracotta bowls of lavender underneath and pin-prick ceiling lights softly illuminated orange walls and bright blue shutters.
Dress was casual/incredibly expensive: here a cashmere sweater over cords, there a quilted gold-chained handbag insouciant over silk. But as a familiar voice boomed - "I said, to him, I said, 'Where the hell d'yer get that bloody thing from'" - and we spotted our friends from downstairs at the very next table, we began to feel quite part of the scene. …