Ta­ble talk

Michael Dea­con at The Lam­pery

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENTS - Michael Dea­con

SA­MUEL PEPYS WAS a man of gar­gan­tuan ap­petites. First, for sex. He made love to count­less women, and in count­less places: pubs, the the­atre, even church. His wife once walked in on him while he was, in his word, ‘im­brac­ing’ one of her friends. When boast­ing in his di­ary of his con­quests he would slip into a leer­ing mish­mash of lan­guages: ‘There did what je voudrais avec her, both de­vante and back­ward, which is also muy bon plazer.’

Even more colos­sal, how­ever, was his ap­petite for food. With belch­ing rel­ish his di­ary de­tails the mon­strous feasts he would de­vour in pubs and lay on at home (at one din­ner party, he and his guests con­sumed ‘a fric­as­see of rab­bits and chick­ens, a leg of mut­ton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roaste d pi­geons, a dish of four lob­sters, three tarts, a lam­prey pie […], a dish of an­chovies, [and] good wine of sev­eral sorts’). In 1666, while the Great Fire raged around him, he hastily dug a hole in the gar­den and buried his most cher­ished pos­ses­sions: sev­eral bot­tles of fine wine and a large Parme­san cheese.

What a man. I was ex­cited, there­fore, to hear that a restau­rant had opened in Lon­don as a trib­ute to Pepys. The Lam­pery is on Seething Lane, the street where its in­spi­ra­tion lived. Its web­site is ef­fu­sive: it pro­claims Pepys as no less than ‘ the world’s first food blog­ger’. I sup­pose he was, sort of. In the same way that the walls of An­cient Egyp­tian tombs are adorned with the world’s first emo­jis.

The web­site also prom­ises that The Lam­pery’s ‘whole of­fer­ing’ is ‘in­spired’ by Pepys, and that this is ‘one his­tor­i­cal din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence not to be missed’. On ar­rival, then, I was a lit­tle puz­zled to find that the venue was not a jostling 17th-cen­tury tav­ern loud with mead­sod­den mer­ry­mak­ing, but the restau­rant of a glass-fronte d 21st- cen­tury ho­tel, im­mac­u­lately soul­less, largely empty and with pop mu­sic mur­mur­ing from speak­ers over­head. I glanced about at the scat­tered ta­bles of busi­ness­men ( jack­ets re­moved, but ties still neatly knot­ted). This didn’t quite look like the night of wench-mad Restora­tion carous­ing I’d hoped for.

The menu didn’ t feel en­tirely au­then­tic, ei­ther. Since we’d been promised that the ‘whole of­fer­ing’ was ‘in­spired’ by Pepys, I was in­trigued to note the in­clu­sion of the cur­rently fash­ion­able Latin Amer­i­can dish ce­viche, and, in­deed, mac and cheese (the first recipe for which was pub­lished 66 years af­ter Pepys die d) and bake d Alaska (in­vented in the 1860s). Bear in mind that Pepys lived so long ago, his idea of a rad­i­cal gourmet trend was tea: he first tasted it at the age of 27, record­ing it in his di­ary as ‘a Cupp of Tee (a China drink )’. The dishes Pepys wrote about in­clude neat ’s tongue (from a cow), or­tolan bunting (a small bird), um­bles (a deer ’s liver and kid­neys) and syl­labub (dessert made with cream and wine). None of those at The Lam­pery. In­stead, it looked more or less like an av­er­age, semi-up­mar­ket hotelre stau­rant line -up: steaks, salmon, cau­li­flower-cheese gratin.

So where was all the stuff in­spired by Pepys? Where was the one his­tor­i­cal din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence not to be missed? The wait­ress sug­gested a starter called ‘Lon­don Par­tic­u­lar ’: pea and ham soup, in al­lu­sion to the ‘pea-souper ’ fogs that smoth­ered Lon­don in Pepys’s day (and, in­deed, the fol­low­ing three cen­turies). I or­dered it. It wasn’t bad: su­per creamy, and float­ing with thick shreds of livid ham.

For main, the choice was clear: the sig­na­ture dish, ‘Lam­pery Pye’. As the web­site proudly trum­peted, Pepys loved lam­prey pie, so I couldn’t wait to try it. Hang on, though. Lam­preys are fish. So why did the menu list the con­tents as beef and prunes?

I asked the wait­ress. She smiled bash­fully. In re­al­ity, she said, lam­preys were ‘a bit hor­ri­ble’, so the restau­rant – de­spite nam­ing it­self af­ter the pie – had de­cided to serve a ver­sion of it with­out them.

I or­dered it any­way. It was very small. Still, I couldn’t re­ally taste the prunes, which was some­thing. I didn’t dis­like it, but I’d come here to be whisked away in a culi­nary time ma­chine, and in­stead I was stuck glumly in 2017. I also had a side of beef-drip­ping chips, which, per­haps to com­pen­sate for the minute­ness of the pie, were as thick as bricks.

For pud­ding, I tried both the ap­ple crum­ble (perfe ctly fine, rea­son­able crunch) and, his­tory be damned, the baked Alaska. It was so scream­ingly sweet I gave up on the third mouth­ful.

Since my visit, the Lam­pery’s PR has protested that I came dur­ing the ‘soft launch’ pe­riod: the restau­rant equiv­a­lent of the­atre pre­views, when the ‘kinks’ have yet to be ‘ironed out’. This was not made clear when I booked. But, in any case, the menu they ’re go­ing with is word-for-word the same as when I vis­ited.

It’s a pity. I hon­estly think you could make a go of a proper, au­then­tic, Pepys-y restau­rant, in a Pepys-y venue, with a Pepys-y at­mos­phere and a Pepys-y menu. Tourists would love it. Even if the food was foul, and gave you a bout of au­then­tic 17th-cen­tury dysen­tery, it would still feel like an ex­pe­ri­ence worth hav­ing. An ed­u­ca­tion. Fun. Not a whole lot of that here.

The dishes Pepys wrote about in­clude neat’s tongue, um­bles and syl­labub. None of those here

Above The restau­rant’s sig­na­ture dish, Lam­pery Pye. Be­low Ap­ple crum­ble

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