Restau­rants

KETTNER’ S TOWN­HOUSE, LON­DON W1 DUN­DAS ARMS, KINTBURY

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - James Pem­broke

‘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

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