Magazine article The Spectator

MR Chow

Magazine article The Spectator

MR Chow

Article excerpt

I FIRST met Frank striding across a muddy Somerset field in his Armani suit and loafers, delivering a lecture to the cows on the false assumption that the Versailles Treaty led to the second world war. The editor of The Spectator was on a rare excursion beyond the reach of Bow Bells. My hostess explained that Britain's leading cockney intellectual survived on a diet of obscure monographs, operatic scores, flavoured fizzy water and wafer-thin models.

Frank, I later discovered, lived in a giant bookcase in Islington. Every morning he could be found at the Brasserie du Coin reading Le Monde and eating lightly buttered toast. For lunch he travelled to St John in Smithfield for the `Old Spot' pork chop or to the Upper Street Fish Shop for fish soup and baguettes. In the evening, London's political and intellectual elite visited his office at Doughty Street to reconstruct the Cabinet, before Frank departed to deliver a Covent Garden ballet tutorial to the lucky student of the moment.

Then, just as Tatler despaired of getting their Grade I-listed bachelor up the aisle, Frank amazed everyone by announcing his engagement to the most beautiful and thinnest woman in London, Virginia Fraser. Envious rivals claimed that he would remain semi-detached. But now Frank has a country house in Chelsea where he has learnt to cook his wife roast duck with all the trimmings. He takes his stepson on ballet trips to New York, and he spent his honeymoon with the in-laws.

So I was rather bemused when Frank suggested that we went to Mr Chow in Knightsbridge to do a restaurant review without his wife. Wasn't this Chinese restaurant one of his old bachelor haunts? The place he wooed unluckier women?

When it opened on St Valentine's Day in 1968, Mr Chow soon became the hangout of the rich and infamous. Lennon ate his last proper meal in Mr Chow in New York, Marlene Dietrich used to flirt with the noodlemaker in LA. Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Quant and the Rolling Stones partied all night at the London branch, as did Frank.

'I used to go to Mr Chow with all sorts of women, whether my intentions were honourable or dishonourable, which is why I'll always be fond of it,' Frank admitted. "The first time I heard about Mr Chow I was a young reporter on the Sun. There was a picture of Ted Heath on the front page going into the restaurant on the day after he won the 1970 election. I thought I've got to go there. People say that Chinatown is the best, but when I came here I knew this was Chinese food as it should be - with proper cutlery and Italian waiters.'

It was either La Famiglia, the candle-lit back room of the Garrick, or Mr Chow, Frank explained. But Mr Chow was the best. That's where creative geniuses such as Frank, Warhol, Bailey, Blake and Lichtenstein could best display their talents. The walls are still decorated with portraits of Michael Chow ranging from a frizzy-haired, yellow-skinned wrestler-manager to a violent green prawn in a bowl of noodles. But isn't it rather dated now? Nicole and Tom were in here only last week, Frank insisted.

On the day of our dinner, the editor rang. `Would you mind terribly if Virginia joined us after the main course?' Not at all. Then he rang again. `Why don't Virginia and Ed go out to supper next door and meet us afterwards. I don't like to be apart from her for too long.' This did not sound like a man who was pining after his bachelor days. …

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