Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

IT was a freezing night, but Tara didn't care. She flitted up the hotel stairs in bare legs, doing up her skimpy pink neon dress as she went. `Smile, Tara,' shouted the photographers and Miss Palmer-Tomkinson obediently beamed.

In the VIP room her dress split but she was rescued by the All Saints star, Natalie Appleton, who got down on her knees to safety-pin her together. They finished just in time to greet the Oasis singer, Liam Gallagher, and the rock chick, Patsy Kensit, who arrived holding hands and cooing. The busty bra model, Sophie Anderton, and pouting prune spokesman, Lili Maltese, nearly fell over the huddle.

All the guests at the Carlton London Restaurant awards were sipping bottles of champagne through straws. The men were wearing combat trousers or velvet; the women were draped in pashminas or Prada. But the coolest outfits at the Grosvenor House Hotel were the blue and white checked trousers worn by the celebrity chefs.

Food has become incredibly hip. No matter that most of the models here would rather suck gravel than slurp foie gras, or that these rock stars' arms are half the size of stuffed cannelloni, they all want an invitation to the foodie 'Oscars'.

Where wannabees once hung out around recording studios, now they queue outside the doors of 'it' restaurants - Zafferano, the Pharmacy or Assaggi.

Where did Scary Spice meet Baby Spice last week? At the Titanic restaurant over cappuccino of shiitake. Where did the actor Johnny Depp spend 17,000 in one evening? On a Michelin-starred dinner at the Mirabelle. Truffle-sniffing is the new high.

None of these glittering gourmets has ever worn a washing-up glove and most don't have the appetite to consume more than a single potted shrimp between cigarettes. But that doesn't stop them pontificating. `The most important thing about restaurants is good service,' Tara said. `Bad food is like bad hair days; unavoidable once in a while.'

Everyone wanted to hand out the 'Oscars', kiss the chefs and ruffle their hair. Only Gordon Ramsay was booed every time his name was mentioned. `Swears at his chefs,' said one horrified rock chick, `and uses spit to tidy the plates' - as though her boyfriend had never gobbed on stage. Bad boy Liam even politely thanked the host, Carlton's Michael Green, before he left.

Pascal Aussignac, from Club Gascon, should have won best young chef. His cooking is truly exceptional. Instead the award went to Fabio Trabocchi, at Floriana, but otherwise there wasn't a single restaurant out of more than 100 nominated that didn't deserve some praise. The chefs looked shattered but elated. Their emaciated frames show they rarely have time to tuck into their brochettes of monkfish with samphire, and they deserved the recognition.

The poor relations were the themed restaurants. They were up for the equivalent of best airport-music award. Restaurants that need gimmicks to entice one to eat are rightly regarded with suspicion by anyone over eight years old. They go with Marmite soldiers, Mr Men toffee yoghurts and parasols in cocktails. Strange, then, that Marco Pierre White's latest creation, Titanic, is a themed establishment.

This uberchef was so busy greeting diners at the Titanic restaurant that he failed to turn up to receive his own award for best new restaurant for Mirabelle. Either he had stayed to man a sinking ship, or the party on board was too good. I telephoned to book a table the next day. Easier said than done. The Titanic is evidently more upmarket than your average TGI Friday or Harvester theme restaurant.

The receptionist was brutally frank. …

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