Magazine article The Spectator

Food: Tanya Gold

Magazine article The Spectator

Food: Tanya Gold

Article excerpt

L'Escargot, or the Snail, is a famous restaurant on Greek Street, Soho, opposite the old Establishment club; the oldest French restaurant in London, they say (1927), and who am I to argue? It is the type of restaurant that non-Londoners have heard of and used to visit. They passed photographs of Larry Olivier and Mick Jagger staring glumly at them as they took off their overcoats in the hallway for a pre- or post-theatre supper; despite this, or maybe because of it, the Snail fell into a long and sad decline. Its green and gold rooms embraced silence. The waiters snarled; the snails wilted. They had been there too long. They were big in the 1980s, and who recovers from that?

Now the Snail is rebooted, as Hollywood likes to say, moronically, with new decor, a new chef called Oliver Lesnik, and a strange private members' club above. This is joy sitting on dirt, for Soho can never transcend its filth and its essential sadness; as we arrive at 5 p.m., a lunch party is swaying out into the street, with careful eyes. Drunks are so very careful. I suppose they do not want to fall.

First, the house. This is a fine old Soho mansion, once the house of a Duke of Portland, with a marvellously opulent doorway, so opulent it needs a feather, breasts and regrets; here, the doorway is destination enough. (It bears a proud and tiny snail.) I demand a tour, and learn that the upper rooms, previously secretive, have been opened up. They are large and sequential and brightly coloured -- blue, red, yellow. It is all slightly Masque of the Red Death , which is probably my favourite film about interior decoration in time of plague.

This does not mean I do not like the Snail. It is Soho as Soho sees itself; Soho choking on its own myth in every shade of CBeebies. How it will compete with hateful, subtle, profitable Soho House, I do not know. …

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