Magazine article The Spectator

The Beautiful Places

Magazine article The Spectator

The Beautiful Places

Article excerpt

I simply do not understand the problem at the Cafe Royal Grill. It is very probably, as Cecil Beaton said, `the most beautiful room in London', and young Spencer Patrick is a spectacularly fine chef. There is a 24.50 three-course lunch, a pre-theatre dinner between 6 o'clock and 6.30 for 27, and an a la carte which, though costly (first courses 9.50 to 18, main courses 22.50 to 26, desserts 7.50), is no more than one would expect from top-class cooking of luxury ingredients. It is well recommended by all three new 1999 restaurant guides: the Good Food Guide gives it eight out of 10 (one of only three London restaurants to achieve that mark), Harden's London Restaurants writes of `approachable haute cuisine that deserves a wider following', and the 1999 Zagat London Survey, although finding the `reception is mixed', states that some informants report `spectacular classic French food'. With such commendations I cannot understand why the former chairman of Eurostar, Sir Derek Hornby, and I should have been the only diners there one Wednesday evening last month. The room looked exquisite, the service was impeccable, the cooking superb, yet not until 10 p.m. were we joined by anybody else. It is true that the rest of the Cafe Royal has a depressingly functional, lowering atmosphere, and that I was horribly abused by a member of the Green Room staff upstairs when I asked for some help with the lift, but of itself that should not keep customers away. I can only think that the dinner prices are daunting if only by repute - and that if the owner, Marco Pierre White and Granada, were to add a tempting prix fixe dinner menu under 30 things might look up. It must surely trouble Marco that his glamorous Mirabelle draws consistently full houses, while the equally enticing Cafe Royal stands so empty.

Sir Derek and I refused to be daunted by the absence of fellow diners, particularly when the charming Spencer Patrick came over to welcome us and discuss what we should eat. Helped by his advice, Sir Derek decided to start with terrine of foie gras with gelee de sauternes, and I with the potage of shellfish with chives and cucumber, and to follow, in Derek's case, with turbot poached with aubergine caviar and sauce antiboise, and in mine with a pigeon dish which Spencer was planning for his new menu (en cocotte instead of en vessie) with morilles, girolles and truffles. So we sat back enjoying our wine, our magnificent rococo surroundings, and an amuse-gueule of scallops with petites legumes. Derek's foie gras was greatly to his liking, perfect consistency, well flavoured and with a gorgeous jelly of sauternes around it. My shellfish potage was equally impressive: more a ragout than a soup consisting of such fish as mussels, scallops and langoustines, the ample gravy miraculously perfumed with shellfish - a dream of a dish. Standards were maintained. Derek's turbot was impeccably fresh, perfectly poached and of generous size, with aubergine caviar on top and a fine sauce of vegetables and herbs. My plump Bresse pigeon came cooked perfectly a point, accompanied by an assembly of wild mushrooms, spinach, shallots and baby broad beans, the whole infused with the scent of truffles: magnificent. We could not manage cheese, but when the maitre d'hotel suggested that as they were not overtaxed with guests it might be nice to make us crepes Suzette, we enthusiastically agreed. …

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