Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: A Marathon Meal

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: A Marathon Meal

Article excerpt

I HAVE discovered the most effective diet in the world - so simple anyone can follow it. All you have to do is run a marathon and follow that up with a trapped nerve in your tooth. I can guarantee that after a week you will lose half a stone. Returning from a holiday in the Caribbean where I spent my time smothering butter on lobster tails and drinking rum cocktails, I went straight to the starting blocks for the London marathon. As I slipped on the wet cobbles around the Tower of London, I consoled myself with the thought of ending my misery with eggs Benedict at Le Caprice. Every few minutes I mentally broke the yolk of my two poached eggs and dunked a few chips. But by the time I got to the finishing line it wasn't the mud on my legs that prevented me from posing on the bar stool; my muscles ached so much all I wanted to do was stagger to bed.

The next morning the toothache began. The pain was more excruciating than any 26-mile run. The dentist was baffled, as was the doctor. I was convinced that all that jolting about had done it. For the next few days I lived on mouthwashes, Disprin and soup, celebrating my birthday with liquidised chocolate cake.

In my rare lucid moments, I plotted the return of my curves. I wanted to break my fast with a feast - at least six courses. The problem was finding anyone to share it. Everyone accepted with a caveat. `Of course, fantastic, but I might not get to the pudding.' Alternatively, `I'll share your chips' or, worst of all, `It would be fun watching you eat.' No one ever binges in public any more.

`We'll have you on solids by Friday night,' the doctor said. The word 'solid' ranks with 'moist' as one of the most offputting in the English dictionary, but I wasn't going to be distracted. I'd found the perfect answer, Anthony Worrall-Thompson's new restaurant Woz, down the hill from us in Notting Hill Gate. Since it opened last year, I'd been deterred by its name scrawled in Jamaican green, yellow and red and by the municipal shower curtain in the front window. Now I remembered that the funky, check-trousered television cook's latest gimmick was a set five-- course meal. I could have my banquet cooked by a three-star kitchen for 22.95 and my guests would have no choice but to join in.

The restaurant is meant to imitate a dinner party. In the mid-1980s AW-T was one of the first to work out that the soirees and at-homes with their hideous placements and sweaty hostesses were as dead as cummerbunds. Instead, the likes of Wozza and Conran taught the British to eat at restaurants. Now, just as we have become fluent at deciphering menus and trained to vacate our tables in two hours, AW-T has decreed that the suburban dinner party is back.

We parted the shower curtain on a Friday night and were led from the cheery Jamaican uplands to a small French boudoir downstairs with aubergine walls and velvet-upholstered chairs. There were no brown bean-bags sagging in the corner, but the taped music was the kind you used to get in the 1970s when dinner parties were supposed to end with After Eights and key-swapping.

My husband hadn't been able to face warning our two guests not to have lunch that day (after all, the whole point of dinner parties is that you never know what quantity of guests or food will be thrown at you). After fiddling with their hands for a few minutes, they summoned the waitress for a menu. …

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