the subject of food and eating out crops up in conversation
- and with me that's pretty much every time I open my
mouth to speak - I'm inevitably asked "What's you're
favourite restaurant." It's a question that I find
fiendishly difficult to answer. As a food writer, the
nature of my job means I'm always visiting new restaurants
and as a consequence never get the opportunity to become
a genuine regular anywhere. So after years of stammering
"Well, um, I don't know, I uh really couldn't say"
I now simply reply "The next one."
a pat answer and a rather weak joke that usually elicits
a groan of mild amusement from would-be interrogators.
The real truth is that I have many favourites and many
different reasons for liking them. Fantastic food is
a given and I appreciate great service more as I get
older, perhaps because it's increasingly difficult to
find. But I readily admit I'm a sucker for a bit of
knock out interior design.
fact, I can trace the beginnings of my obsession with
restaurants (and it is an obsession - my house is overflowing
with recipe books, menus and receipts kept as momentos
of memorable meals. I'm also the only person I know
with a loft full of folders crammed with a decades worth
of cuttings from trade bible Caterer and Hotelkeeper)
to an early 90's magazine feature about the opening
of Sir Terence Conran's Le Pont de la Tour on the banks
of the River Thames.
up as a working class boy in the dreary gastronomic
desert that was Portsmouth, I never imagined such beautiful
places existed. Acres of fine white linen, an amazing
sculptural chandelier, the intricate seafood themed-mosaic
adorning the "crustacea alter"; not exactly
common sights in the Pompey trattorias I frequented
at the time. It was the glamour and romance of Conran's
creation that enticed me, perhaps even more than the
chance to sample "roast cod", whatever that
might turn out to be.
celebrated my 27th birthday with a set lunch and a bottle
of chardonnay at Le Pont and never looked back. And
I'm not the only one turned onto the pleasures of the
table by Conran. Big, glamorous restaurants like Quaglino's
and Mezzo democratised and popularised dining out for
a whole generation, even if the food wasn't always as
good as it should have been. The London restaurant scene
as it exists today in all its dynamic glory would probably
not exist if it wasn't for the great Sir Tel, as I'm
sure no one ever calls him. I know, I'm going over the
top, but it's my blog and I'll gush if I want to (you
would gush too if it happened to you).
years later and Conran restaurants are no more. A recent
management buy out means that we'll have to learn to
call the ever expanding global group "D&D".
Doesn't have the same ring does it? A rather impersonal
moniker, it could just as easily refer to a firm of
estate agents or solicitors. Happily, the group's first
opening is anything but faceless. Skylon at the Royal
Festival Hall is quite simply breathtaking. Designed
by Conran & Partners, the six metre high ceilings,
a wall of glass over looking the river and five huge
space ship-like bronze metal chandeliers make for a
couldn't have been happier sitting in my elegant olive
chair, tucking into pan fried foie gras with smoked
eel and granny smith salad decorated with a lacy potato
cake, followed by caramelized shoulder of lamb, pan
fried fillet and kidneys served with a rich , creamy
gratin of Swiss chard and a slick of griotte cherry
marmalade. So what's in a name? Not a lot as it turns
out. A Conran restaurant by any other name still looks
as good and tastes as sweet as it ever did.