Wells, John, The Independent (London, England)
AT SLOAN'S in Edgbaston, I had a premonition that things were not going to go well when I tried to open the double doors. They were made of plain window-glass with identical handles, framed in rather insubstantial primrose-painted wood, and the d oor I pulled or pushed refused to budge. I then tried the other one and it burst inwards, coming adrift from some stop or fixing at floor level. When the two halves banged together rather alarmingly behind me, a waiter scurried past to inspect the damage .
I was amused by my own comic entrance, but nobody else was. Indeed, nobody except the waiter paid the slightest attention. I was able to slide unnoticed behind a corner table without breaking anything else and make a few notes about the decor and clientele before my guests arrived.
Sloan's was originally a very good fish restaurant. When I ate there last, two or three years ago, it still had an excellent reputation at the snootier end of Birmingham. Now, it appears to have been taken over by someone who has spent a good deal of money on it.
The floor is paved with pale orange tiles ornamented with diamonds of turquoise; the same colour, slightly more strident, has been chosen for the waiters' shirts and the cushions on the bamboo-style, round-backed chairs. The pale yellow ceiling is starred with bright lights, the walls hung with furniture-store Impressionists done in some kind of electric blue stucco.
There is a massive central pillar clad in mirrors, surrounded by tall, thin bottles in various other vivid colours containing what could be anatomical specimens. They are, I think, gherkins and olives. There are also very tall, thin bottles of wine and boxes of Italian cake.
The Ladies and Gents have the words "Sloan Rangers" and "Hooray Henrys" painted outside in pink.
Apart from one long table, which seemed to be the setting for a demure office party featuring a couple of prosperous Sikh businessmen in turbans, the restaurant was not very busy. I was just musing on the Birmingham fashion for plain blue and plain red jackets for men's evening wear when my guests arrived.
I had not seen my father's god-daughter for the best part of 25 years, and I was keen to present myself to her and her husband as a bon viveur of taste and sophistication. I should not have chosen Sloan's. I had forgotten how much she laughed, and I rap i dly became the object of ridicule.
They accepted the idea of a bottle of white and a bottle of red - prices range from pounds 8.50 to pounds 17.50 a bottle. I confidently chose a Muscadet and an Australian Chardonnay from somewhere in the middle, but the moment the menu arrived my god-sister started poking fun. Why, she wanted to know, was the duck called "French Duck"?
The Italian head waiter explained that this was to give the menu "a European flavour." This led me to ask whether Sloan's was not an odd name for what appeared to be an Italian restaurant. He became conspiratorial. …