February 20 2012
Off to the Viet Grill on Kingsland Road, where Hackney meets the City. These borderline areas of social collision are among London’s several great treasures. Victoria Coach Station with sad, poor East Europeans and Belgrave Square with sad, rich East Europeans? Spitting distance! Here in Hackney, within 500 yards you go from titanium desk sets to jailhouse tatts, and no-one sees the join.
The great military historian Correlli Barnett used to have a theory, so far as I know still not disproved, that all Greek restaurants are served by a secret facility called Central Moussaka that ceaselessly pumps baked aubergines through underground tunnels. Surely it is the same with Vietnamese ones? I cannot really determine much difference between any of them. Still, we had a lovely time. Sticky tables and lots of cheerful waiters with floppy fringes, glasses and mutilated English. We will go back. This, I find, is the only reliable test of any restaurant.
I have more or less reversed normal procedures. We go out most nights of the week, but tend to stay in and be torpid at weekends. Except when you get an invitation from two earls (March and Mornington), it seems churlish to stay at home. The venue: Mark’s Club in Mayfair. The occasion: the launch (or relaunch, I forget) of Belstaff.
There are several layers of curious ambivalence here. Mark’s Club is a meticulous, possibly overcooked, exercise in voyeuristic genteel fakery. No real gentleman’s club has ever had anything near this level of comfort, refinement, self-consciousness or service. Then there is Belstaff itself, a firm co-founded many years ago in Stoke-on-Trent by a man named Belovich to provide waterproofs to the motorcycling proletariat, now owned by a Swiss group in the luxury goods business.
“Is there anything here that is what it appears to be?”, I asked Nicky Haslam as I chewed on a mini hamburger and we moved to settle into a corner. “No, darling, absolutely not!” he said. I believe everything Nicky Haslam tells me. Last night he informed me that champagne flutes are “common”. We drank from tumblers.
Two big tasks today. One is to watch my daughter manhandle a giant paella dish, slightly taller than she is, from her car into the garden. This dish has been retrieved from her pop-up restaurant, The Peckham Hotel, which the authorities, in what I consider an excess of forensic pedantry and fretful caution, closed down just before Christmas, when trade was roaring. So much for youthful enterprise.
The other task is to make jambon persille. It’s curiously difficult to find a recipe. Oddly, Larousse Gastronomique does not have one. My interest in cooking this sort of thing, which I insist to myself through clenched teeth is “authentic”, is based in an oneiric vision of France as a country dedicated to lunch in the sunshine and no health authorities nagging you about wine. I doubt that the abstemious Sarkozy knows the recipe. But, then again, he would not be my ideal lunch guest.