Restau­rants James Pem­broke

HÉLÈNE DARROZE AT THE CON­NAUGHT, LONDON W1

The Oldie - - NEWS - JAMES PEM­BROKE

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

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