Note. This is not so much a review as a record of a particularly agreeable lunch. I wrote it during a short break in the break of the last Guardian Food Writing Course. Having commanded the cheery group who came to write their own assessment of the lunch we had shared on the Saturday, I thought it would be cowardly if I did not do the same myself, and offer it up for scrutiny. I promised that I would post it, and so here it is. The only directions was that it was to be no more than 500 words long.This is 481.
There was Claire and Tom and Alastair. And the other Tom, PB, and Bob, too. Kirsten turned up, along with Neil and – well, I lost track to be perfectly honest. But there were 17 of us in all, that I do know. For lunch at Le Café Anglais, in Bayswater, one of those parts of London that hovers a trifle uneasily between the grand and the – hmm- not-so-grand.
Le Café Anglais belongs unmistakably to the grand part. It’s a grand room, 19th century at its most stately, Art Deco and all of that, something like the dining room of of a transatlantic liner of the great days, discretely up-dated, with mullioned floor to ceiling windows, banquette seating, swags of velvet curtains, and given an extra theatrical dimension by the giant rotiiserie, on which chickens revolved slowly, like sunbathers taking on a tan.
The menu, too, is a mixture of the old and the new, cosmopolitan you might call it. The millionaires and their families who eased their way from here to America and back again would have fallen on the soft, easy, husky kipper pate as on an old friend, and would probably have disposed of the lucent hake with nutty brown shrimps and spinach, particularly as the advertised spicing of garam marsala was more than a little self-effacing. They would probably had raised and eyebrow at the salty-flavoured, cloudy-textured Parmesan custard with anchovy toasts, thinking it more suited to being a savoury than a starter, but they would have eaten it with pleasure. But I wonder about the cold aubergine salad about the tuna carpaccio with ginger, soy and garlic.
But meals are simply about food, and its virtues, or lack of them. They’re about time and place and people. For people who had been strangers only a few hours before, Claire and Tom and Alastair seemed to be rattling along pretty easily. Tom PB was holding his own. Kirsten and Bob were engaged in lively debate. Conversations flared and died and flared again, notes and anecdotes exchanged. Fergus Henderson, the legendary founder, chef and proprietor of St John, polled in, dressed in what appeared to be a three piece butchers apron of a heavier weight cloth.
More wine slipped down. Pudding arrived – Gariguettes strawberries with a buttermilk panna cotta, fresh, clean, fruity. The sweetness of the strawberries might have been better served by being a degree of two warmer, and the panna cotta was looser that Italian classicists might allow. But I’d rather that than the tennis ball texture when a heavy hand has got loose with the gelatin.
And that was lunch, not without it’s faults, perhaps, if you’re concerned with the minutiae of gastronomic nicety, but easy, pleasurable, a leisurely ritual, a civilized break halfway through the day and a courteous way to shoehorn you into the maelstrom of the afternoon.
Le Cafe Anglais,8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB
020 7221 1415