Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

I've booked dinner at Claridge's, in Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, for myself and two friends. Now, the prospect of dining at a Ramsay establishment is both thrilling - he is now generally regarded as Britain's greatest chef - and absolutely terrifying. A couple of years ago, in my other job - that lowly paid, undervalued one at the Independent - I interviewed Mr Ramsay and described him as looking like a cross between a bulked-out. beefed-up Patrick Swayze and, because of those spooky, vertical lines running down from the corners of his mouth, a ventriloquist's dummy. Now, I know Mr Ramsay can certainly give it - he's the one who, I think, first referred to Antony Worrall Thompson, quite magnificently, as `the squashed Bee Gee' - but I'm not sure how good he is at taking it. Didn't he once throw the restaurant critic A.A. Gill out of his eponymous Chelsea restaurant because of something Mr Gill had once said about him? More, wasn't Mr Gill dining with a certain Ms Joan Collins that night, and didn't she get thrown out too, possibly by the scruff of her shoulder pads? Gulp. What am I going to do if confronted? Stick up for myself? Unlikely, as I'm just such a snivelling, pathetic, two-faced, lily-livered coward. Probably, I shall burst into tears in front of my companions. This could be most embarrassing for all concerned.

So, off I go to Claridge's which, as I recall, used to be advertised in the Jewish Chronicle as `Claridge's for Marriages' (it did a good line in rich Jewish weddings), although our family always favoured the Dorchester. Claridge's is on Brook Street, just behind Oxford Street, and in I go through the grand entrance, with my collar well turned up, and on the look-out at all times for Mr Ramsay. I try to give myself a confidence-boosting pep talk: what do you really have to fear from this big, muscle-rippled marathon runner and former hard-man footballer? I turn my collar up a bit more. I wish I had some shoulder pads to turn up, but then remember that they didn't save Ms Collins. I remind myself that, after years of practice on my little sister, my Chinese-bum technique is second to none. All clear thus far. I edge towards the restaurant where my friends, David and Ann, are already waiting. The restaurant is rather divine: art-deco, golds and caramels, amazing chandeliers like spectacular upturned, crazy wedding cakes. It's 8 p.m. and buzzy with just the right amount of buzziness. Not too buzzy - the tables a decent distance apart, so that every time you gesticulate your elbow doesn't end up in the neighbouring table's butter dish - but buzzy enough so that you don't get that awful hotel-restaurant mausoleum feel. There are some tables with kids, which is always nice to see. The tablecloths are of a heavy, expensive, top-quality damask, which is also nice to see. If the worst comes to the worst, and I spot Mr Ramsay approaching, I can stick my head under the tablecloth. This is the advantage of expensive, heavy damask over thin, cheap, crappy stuff, or so I have always found.

From the off, the service is wonderful; French, friendly, efficient, never pompous, intimidating, oppressive. I'll say one thing for those cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they know how to be waiters. Or, as Ann later puts it, `For a posh place, they deal very well with non-posh people like us.' Non posh? Me? Ann, I should point out, is an American, and so might not be able to recognise class when it's sitting opposite her, admittedly with its collar turned up. …

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