Soho House

By Thomson, Alice | The Spectator, March 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Soho House


Thomson, Alice, The Spectator


WE are sitting in the back of a limousine discussing fiddleheads. This is the first restaurant review I have been driven to by a chauffeur. It is also the first with a business tycoon and the first with a Canadian.

Any North American probably knows all about fiddleheads. I haven't a clue. Are they a striped candy or a fish from the Great Lakes? I want to impress Dan Colson, the Canadian chief executive of the Telegraph Group, which also owns The Spectator, and so pays for everything I eat. But in the end I have to give up. `They're a green vegetable found in Canadian woodlands,' Dan explains.

Realising that I risk embarrassing myself further, I ask whether the Canadians have any other national dishes. What about whale-blubber stew or stuffed seal flipper? `You're being politically incorrect. Only the Inuit are allowed such delicacies,' Dan laughs. Surely maple syrup is Canadian? `The maple trees are dying from acid rain.'

Well, you must have something other than fiddleheads? He pauses. `Quebec has a thick, yellow-pea soup, and tourtieres, a kind of minced pork pie. Then we have Solomon Grundy, a marinated herring.'

`And there's Nova Scotia lobster and Newfoundland cod,' I add. `Don't the Canadians make the best fries in the world, then ruin them by adding gravy and cheese curds?'

`We also have wild prairie rice,' says Dan. `And Fat Archies - a kind of molasses cookie, but it's all very stodgy.'

So what does he eat when he's in Canada? `French cuisine. We cook the most delicious French food outside France.' The chief executive should know. Dan is an international gourmet. He breakfasts in New York, lunches in London, takes tea in Toronto and dines in Sydney, collecting stars in the way others pick up Air Miles.

Choosing a restaurant is a challenge. At first I thought we should try a Canadian establishment. I scoured the guidebooks, which had everything from Afghan to Zambian food. But there was nowhere which did fiddleheads with hollandaise sauce. The chef at Bali Sugar is from Toronto, but Colson has already tried his signature scallops with creme fraiche.

Colson's personal assistant, Jane, was charming. `Book anywhere,' she said. The problem is that Dan goes to ten restaurants a week. He's been to Chavot on the Fulham Road. Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane? `Done that.' The Avenue? `The food's gone off.' Zafferano? `That's my local.'

What about hotels? Most tycoons love doing deals over steak and kidney pie at the Connaught and steak tartare at the Savoy Grill Room. `No thank you, I like to sleep, not eat in my hotels.' We move on to clubs. He has been to Brooks's club and wrinkles up his nose at the thought of custard.

I decide to take him to a club called Soho House. Gwyneth Paltrow and Zoe Ball drink Sea Breezes in its bar, and Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise like its Sunday brunch. It's hip, bohemian and very New Labour. It has also swapped the spotted dick for lemon and thyme risotto with braised monkfish.

The chauffeur deposited us outside the discreet front door of the club. `So that's the Coach and Horses where Jeffrey Bernard used to drink,' says Colson, peering into the grungy pub opposite. As we walk up the stairs he spies the Guardian newspaper. `We'll have to change that,' he says. I explain that the Telegraph has probably been snaffled already. …

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