Restaurants James Pembroke
BERNARDI’S, MARBLE ARCH, LONDON W1 DUKE OF CUMBERLAND ARMS, MIDHURST, WEST SUSSEX
This year, I extended dry January to 19th February. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with teetotal friends who are committed to a lifetime of pretending that heavy European dishes such as ossobuco go down just as well with a glass of San Pellegrino. I had wanted to drink mango lassi at Moti Mahal in Covent Garden, but my temperate friend Simon has never forgiven the sub-continent for the gastric somersault it inflicted on him during our disastrous 1985 tour of Rajasthan. Even now, he comes up in a rash at the mention of poppadom. He had read about Bernardi’s, which is off his City patch in Hedge Fund Land. Simon manages a respectable fund, one of whose clients is the Falkland Islands. Twice a year, he boards an RAF plane packed with bewildered squaddies to reassure His Excellency the Governor that the islanders’ money is not part of a Ponzi scheme. He was flying out the next day. ‘There are five types of penguin,’ he jauntily assured me, as he necked his third cranberry juice with Angostura bitters. Bernardi’s feels large and black; downlights haunt each table. The menu is for mixed budgets: cheap, filling cicheti and pizzette and no main course over £18, apart from the Chateaubriand at £59 for two hedge funders. So conscious were the staff of not breaking our banks that, while reeling off the specials, they volunteered their prices, something most restaurants leave as a surprise for bill time. Our sea bream and sea trout were properly succulent. In need of sugar, we wolfed down a passion fruit and orange cheesecake, as we gazed longingly through the huge windows at the outside tables, which would make for a perfect long afternoon.
Two days later, we went down to Midhurst to take my mother-in-law out for lunch. Apart from one wasp-infested visit to the atmosphere bypass that is the Lickfold Inn, we have always headed to the Duke of Cumberland, where it is never the wrong time of year. Set in the
hillside hamlet of Henley, it easily wins the prize for ‘surprisingly rural yet within an hour of London’. Ten years ago, the chef/owner, Simon Goodman, added a dining room and terrace from which you can see Leith Hill, ‘the highest point in Surrey’, one of those totally unspectacular landmarks which our island race likes to catalogue and celebrate. The tiny low-beamed heart of the pub is all bare tables and yellow ochre, and barely a whisper goes unheard, so not the best location to discuss staying in Europe.
The garden stretches up the hill with tables spread like outposts. By the front door, there’s a particularly happy open-sided hut, dominated by a permanently lit fireplace in which walkers and smokers delight all year round. It wouldn’t matter in the least if they only sold crisps, but on a cold day their venison pappardelle is a fireplace of its own. We could have started with half a dozen oysters for a tenner, but their portions are ploughboy sized. The wine list offers eight wines of each colour by the glass, including a Berry Brothers Côtes du Rhone for just £6.60.
As I waited in the car park, Simon texted me a picture of himself in full double-breasted uniform by the street sign for Thatcher Drive, Port Stanley. Bernardi’s, 62 Seymour Street, London W1; www.bernardis.co.uk; 020 3826 7940. £55 for three courses incl wine.
Duke of Cumberland Arms, Henley, Midhurst GU27 3HQ; www. dukeofcumberland.com; 01428 652280. Main courses £14–£19.