Magazine article The Spectator

Food Russian Dolls

Magazine article The Spectator

Food Russian Dolls

Article excerpt

Mari Vanna is in Knightsbridge, near those pale loitering houses that would be ripped up if only their owners could pay off the council, to be replaced with giant Barratt Homes, with Homes, or maybe Barratt, wrought in gold. The grotesque Candy & Candy development by Hyde Park, all man-of-steel strut, gazes at Harvey Nichols the way a troll stares at a baby. This is the land of basement swimming pools and female sorrow, Lamborghinis, fat teenagers, domestic slavery, tyrants going shopping, and Louis Vuitton bags for dogs.

Saddam Hussein would love it.

I n the midst of this nightmare, Mari Vanna sits like a dollhouse on the road to Kensington. Most new London restaurants are dark, glittering puddles, full of refugees from yacht adverts, pure Weimar Republic chic, but depoliticised, which leaves - what? Ashtrays. Mari Vanna is altogether more joyful and bright.

It is an exploded gay Russian, an homage to painted furniture, porcelain ducks, chandeliers, nameless things in bottles, and doilies.

If Barbie Dolls were invented by Tolstoy, they would live, shag and die in Mari Vanna, all the time playing with their accessories.

It must be a nightmare to dust, the run-for-profit tearoom of an insane witch addicted to Swan Lake and cucumbers.

It is an oligarch haunt. To prove it, they have giant fat-people chairs wrought in reinforced chintz. They have stuck an enormous television in the equally confused basement, where they are playing a football match because take away the stolen money, and oligarchs are just lads from the E ast - their pleasures are simple.

I wonder if the TV was ordered with some madman's entree: 'Courgette pancake and high-definition TV to play football match.' We sit upstairs, where I spot the significant tell of the very smart restaurant, doilies or no - stools for handbags. The only other place I have seen it is in Alain Ducasse in Monaco, where they do 14 types of bread roll and the waiters bow like left-wing actors meeting royalty. …

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