Firstly, may I get Susan Boyle out of the way? She is not a particularly good singer. There, I have said it. I was once at a party in Beaconsfield where Elaine Paige was a fellow guest. After (not very much) encouragement, she clambered onto a table and gave us Mack the Knife. A priceless Strass chandelier was rendered to powder after she hit the money note, showing what a true professional can do with Kurt Weill and a makeshift megaphone. Susan Boyle, on the other hand, is applauded because she looks like Denis Healey in slingbacks. If only she had stuck to this shtik, possibly with a well-placed impersonation of Healey arguing with George Brown, then she would have won the hearts of the nation for all the right reasons. After all, whoever claims not to miss Mike Yarwood is either a liar or a fool. Possibly both. However, I now see that Susan is receiving proposals, some of them for marriage, by every post! When I read that, I thought SHE looks like the Bunyip, for God's sake, and I'M not getting laid. The whole thing is beyond reason.
Anyhoo, on with my glamorous news. You will be relieved to hear that I went to Gordon Ramsay at Claridges last week, after being in a prolonged sulk over the closure of my beloved Causerie, and the hidden entrance on Davies Street. It matters little how you feel about the old blasphemer when you sink your teeth into his provender, because I can cheerfully report that the standard is thrillingly high, and reassuringly expensive. I had smoked halibut with Oscietra caviar, then veal and artichoke with sauce Robert and a saffron creme brulee with roast mango. I drank two Tanquerays and a bottle of Soave Classico and had an animated conversation with Tory funster Alan Duncan who was at the next table. He tries too hard, but I let him prattle away. Noblesse oblige, as I never tire of saying.
My dear old deceased papa loved Claridges. It was he who first took me there, to the Causerie, as a silent and surly seventeen-year-old. I had pale green hair and a pair of perspex stilettos, but no-one baulked. On the contrary, they kindly brought me a plate of whitebait, which is all I would eat at the time, and some chocolate cake. Over the years, my father and I would meet up at the Davies Street door, and once inside I would tell him my news, which was always dismal and sometimes dangerous, and he would give me a good lunch and an envelope full of money. My mother never came because she never knew. My father was worried about me, but I was beyond the pale; during my Lost Years I often found myself in Davies Street.
My father was careful around food. A generational thing, but also because he had what would now be called A Cholesterol Problem. A very thin man, he just manufactured the stuff, and there wasn't much he could do except not add to it. However, he adored London restaurants and in the 1960s when he maintained a provincial NHS surgery and a private practice in W1, he began to keep a little notebook about memorable meals. My mother, the glamorous old harridan, and I are currently engaged in the drearsome process of clearing my father's belongings, and I came across his restaurant journal yesterday under a pile of old Lancets. His first entry is for what remained his favourite restaurant of all time, Prunier's of St James's Street, and it concerns a date in 1964 when he was taken there to celebrate victory in a court case. More than once my father had to give evidence at grisly proceedings concerning the Felonious Use of an Instrument to Procure a Miscarriage Contrary to Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act. He truly hated being summoned to appear on these occasions, as the story was often sordid or sorrowful, and he was always on the side of the unfortunate woman and frequently, ironically, also spoke for the abortionist which made him unpopular. The instrument of choice was usually a Higginson's syringe ("kindly pass it to the jury") and if you haven't seen one, then you should. The 1967 Act will make absolute sense to you then, if it hasn't already. Anyway, Prunier's. Sweetly, he records the menu, the other guests, and what they drank. Pate Traktir, Tournedos Boston, pommes allumettes, haricots verts, fromages assortis, souffle Cote d'Azur. 1960 Muscadet, 1955 Ch. Nenin, 1959 Ch. Suduiraut. Almost nothing on that menu makes any sense anymore. Who would call for such a board?
The next entry concerns Quaglino's - Quag's - of Bury Street, which he regarded as a treat, or somewhere to take Americans. He was with a party of GPs from Chicago one night in October '64 when they ate brochette de fruits de mer, cailles perigourdine, courgettes, pommes Berny, salade, Crepes Quaglino (1962 Chablis Grand Cru; 1959 Ch. Leoville Barton; 1961 Bollinger; 1928 Croizet Gr. Reserve). In big red letters, in the big red letters that he used to scribe over patients' notes ("time waster", "NLFTW", "Catholic" etc. etc.) he has written 'THEY PAID!" I bet they did, poor fuckers.
I wish I could report that Gordon at Claridges carries the same shimmer as Quag's and Prunier's, but I don't think it does. One senses an invitation to be impressed; celebrity carries all before it. The customer is almost incidental. Still, it was nice to be asked, and the company was agreeable. They paid.