Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: Floriana

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: Floriana

Article excerpt

RESTAURANTS at Christmas can be gruesome affairs. In one corner the office groper is fondling his turkey leg and the secretary's thigh while trying to pull a cracker with the boss, in another, lovers are sharing a last cigarette before returning to their families for the festive season, and in a third a stepmother is handing over presents to her squabbling stepchildren knowing that even a Furby isn't going to be enough.

To make matters worse, we are subjected to melon balls, fatty goose, chipolatas and mince pies by chefs who usually produce such delicacies as baby squid, yakisoba noodles, local fallow deer, or triglia alla griglia - grilled red mullet. Business lunches are a disaster. Order the spaghetti vongole and you're likely to get a mouthful of party popper just as you're discussing the economy. And then there's the music - a concoction of jinglebells, the Spice Girls and hacking coughs.

This is not some anti-Yuletide rant. I love Christmas, I just prefer spending it at home. But in the interests of this column I dragged two of my most glamorous friends out to dinner at Floriana, a restaurant that is meant to be so suave and sophisticated it wouldn't dream of fiddling with fake snow or tripping us up with tinsel. Floriana is more than just another Italian trattoria, it's a Eurotrashoria, the baby of Riccardo Mazzucchelli, the ex-fiance of Ivana Trump, Queen of Hello! magazine. So it's dripping with classy baubles, not to mention babes in Gucci, Pucci and baguette bags from Fendi who pay 150 to toy with an endive salad. The men all have perfectly manicured chest hair, handbags to match their aftershave and no job. Even the street is plush Beauchamp Place is home to Janet Reger underwear, the ultimate stocking-filler.

So I wasn't feeling too depressed when I opened the door, in fact I was rather buoyant. Our few rich continental friends had raved about the raviolo of veal sweetbread with roasted langoustines. The chef, Fabio Trabocchi, they said, not only looked divine, he cooked superbly and didn't stint on the truffles, foie gras and caviar.

I felt slightly queasy when I saw the piano, it was the self-playing variety favoured by Mohamed Al Fayed in Harrods. The black and white keys were manically pumping up and down to the strains of `We Three Men'. Surely they could afford a pianist? But the very rich are allowed a little cheap kitsch in their lives. At least the Christmas tree looked real and the acres of soothing cream walls, marble and topiary were the perfect accompaniment to the highlighted, wind-proof hair and emerald tiaras.

No one came to take my coat, maybe it's because it wasn't fur or pashima but a muddy brown leather jacket. So left to my own devices, I checked out the lavatories (extremely clean), peered into the kitchen (also pristine) and scanned Hello! at the bar trying to match my neighbours - who were either dressed in pink tweed and ironed jeans, or tinsy pieces of sequinned cloth with their photos of their lovely homes.

The maitre d' finally arrived and ushered my husband, Ed, and our friends, Hugh and Catherine, to our table, squeezed between raucous groups of Habsburgs, Bourbons, Archers and Palmer-Tompkinson types.

Ten minutes later a smartly dressed waiter lumbered up and flicked the menus at us, then stood picking his nails menacingly. `Could we have a bottle of the house champagne? …

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