KETTNER’ S TOWNHOUSE, LONDON W1 DUNDAS ARMS, KINTBURY
‘The boom is over!’ Cassandran restaurateurs have been saying for months. ‘Casual dining is dead.’ So the successful revival and reopening of Kettner’s make for the happiest news to emanate from the West End since Miss Saigon closed.
Opened in 1867, Kettner’s was one of London’s first Parisian-style restaurants. Along with the Criterion (1871), it is the only survivor of that Victorian boom, which welcomed ladies to the table for the first time. Rather than having one massive dining room, Auguste Kettner introduced the cabinets particuliers of Parisian restaurants, where meetings illicit or otherwise could take place undisturbed, a practice gleefully indulged in by Edward VII, at Lapérouse in Paris, and repeated here with Lillie Langtry. In France, a man could meet his mistress in a restaurant with impunity, since adultery was only valid as grounds for divorce if the mistress was housed at home. Oscar Wilde was also only too happy to take advantage of the new restaurant’s privacy.
Kettner’s continued to enjoy a racy history into the 20th century. Its website boasts Bing Crosby and Margaret Thatcher among its habitués, though not
en cabinet. In the 1920s it was taken over by Arthur Giordano, who redesigned the main dining room, turning it over to the sort of panthers with whom Oscar would have feasted. The website omits that it was closed down in 1942 after being found guilty of buying black-market food, a crime indulged in by most West End eateries during the war. It’s hardly surprising, given only game, whale and kid were off-ration, and the local cat population had mysteriously vanished.
Its next great era was under Peter Boizot who made it the flagship of his Pizzaexpress empire in 1980. I remember many happy Saturday lunches there, allowing the 00 flour to soak up
the night before. And Kettner’s has risen again. The bar is glamorous and snug, and the dining room is as white and rococo as before. Fortunately, the Soho House group has kept prices down. There are lots of set menus, but you can also have goujons of plaice for £14, and Toulouse sausages for £15; the wine starts at £26 a bottle – not bad for a former house of sin.
Heading west to a party in Wiltshire, we thought we’d escape London’s heat by finding some water. The Dundas Arms sits hard by the Kennet and Avon Canal. There are tables galore both in its garden and on its canalside terrace. If it wasn’t for the need to rush off to the England vs Sweden match, I would have happily lost time in another pint of Good Old Boy.
Why do so many ancient pubs insist on reminding us how clinically and insensitively they have been gutted by displaying ancient photographs of their formerly glorious interiors? In terms of character inside, the Dundas can only boast its penny-top bar, painstakingly created in 1971 out of hundreds of old pennies, recently made redundant by decimalisation. The food is fine but it’s one of those menus that adds two too many ingredients to each dish – so the Dundas burger comes with ‘melted onions, mustard mayo and Gruyère cheese’. That said, I’d love to return after a walk down the canal path.
Kettner’s Townhouse 29 Romilly Street, Soho, London W1D 5HP; www.kettnerstownhouse.com; 020 7734 5650; lunch/ pre-theatre (Mon-sat) two courses £20
The Dundas Arms, 53 Station Road, Kintbury, Berkshire RG17 9UT; www.dundasarms.co.uk; 01488 658263; main courses from £13