Andy Lynes
 food journalist and writer
 
 

email:
goodtaste@ukmetro.co.uk

 

6 June 2007

D&D DAY

Whenever 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."

It's 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.

In 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.

Growing 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.

I 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).

Fifteen 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 stunning setting.

I 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.