Restau­rants James Pem­broke

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -


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;; 020 3826 7940. £55 for three cour­ses incl wine.

Duke of Cum­ber­land Arms, Henley, Mid­hurst GU27 3HQ; www. duke­ofcum­ber­; 01428 652280. Main cour­ses £14–£19.

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