Restaurants James Pembroke
HÉLÈNE DARROZE AT THE CONNAUGHT, LONDON W1
Where would you take the editor of The Oldie for lunch?
London’s hotels have long been taken over by superstar chefs but, at lunch, bargains are to be had. These prices seem mighty but are worth every extra pound for a completely different tier of food.
Your ears won’t blanch at Claridge’s, now that sweary Gordon Ramsay has left; so, you can have three courses for £42 at Simon Rogan’s Fera. Or three courses for £35 at Galvin at Windows in the Hilton. All very well, but the editor deserved better. A quick glance at him reminded me of Alec Guinness – a Smiley with an actual smile – who used to hold court at the Connaught. So, off we cycled to Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, which offers a three-course lunch, including two glasses of wine and coffee, for £52.
It was simply miraculous. We had foie gras with a passion fruit jelly on top, followed by grouse with chickpeas and dates. The best lunch I’ve had this year.
The panelling is still there, but it’s a lot cheerier than when Obi-wan Kenobi was in situ.
The Boat Race is to sport what Little Chef is to gastronomy. Each experience consists of twenty minutes of morbid, anti-climactic inevitability. So, why don’t our two great universities burn their boats and launch the Varsity Gourmandise? Each would put forward its best cuisine for a televised, Bake Off- style event. Colleges could join in.
Sadly, Channel 4 turned down my proposal. I know why: Cambridge would win hands down. In the 1980s, eating out in Cambridge was pretty much in the grip of one dynasty. Then, ten years ago, Oliver Thain and Richard Bradley invaded the city from their stronghold, The Cock at Hemingford Grey.
Their first colony was the Chop House, opposite King’s College.
Clearly, slabs of meat are the big thing, but they also offer a bargain three-course lunch and pre-theatre menu for £19, including haggis fritters and pork belly. For a £2 supplement, you can have steak and chips. Their wine list draws mainly from the Languedoc. They now have seven eateries in and around Cambridge.
Their pride and joy must be the Tickell Arms, in nearby Whittlesford. Until 1990, it was the kingdom of the quite seriously mad Kim Tickell, who wore breeches and silver-buckled shoes. This 18th-century popinjay loved nothing more than bullying his customers whom he knew would masochistically return, hoping to be abused. There was a long list of ‘insufferables’ by the door, which included ‘left-wingers, long-hairs, Cnd-ers and jeans-wearers’.
Snobbery was second nature to him: ‘I’m not having south London garage proprietors and their tarts in here!’ he would bellow at harmless couples, bedecked in blazers. ‘Out! Out! Out!’
He hated smokers: ‘Get that filthy weed out of here!’ An actor manqué, he would extend the length of those eight syllables until he was gasping for breath.
Next time I drop in, I will hire a Ford Cortina, don flares, his and hers medallions and buy a platinum wig for the missus.
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Carlos Place, London W1K 2AL; www. the-connaught.co.uk; tel: 020 7499 7070.
The Cambridge Chop House, 1 King’s Parade, Cambridge, CB2 1SJ. Tel 01223 359506; www.cambscuisine.com