Back in the mid-1990s, as a mere fledgling of a restaurant writer flitting about Paris, I turned up for dinner at the magnificent Hôtel de Crillon. The maître d’ discreetly ushered me to one side and I was politely told that monsieur had neglected to wear a tie.
He opened a briefcase full of Yves Saint Laurent designer neckwear and picked one out; correctly attired, I was free to enter the rococo splendour of Les Ambassadeurs, where Dominique Bouchet (who, by the way, now has his own, excellent restaurant in the 8ème) cooked me one of the best meals I had ever eaten. I took a bit of a shine to the tie too – so much so that I forgot to give it back.
This is highly unusual: in my experience, ties loaned to gentlemen in clubs and restaurants are invariably horrid. There must be a secret factory somewhere, instructed by the world’s most traditional establishments to produce neckwear so impossibly garish and unflattering that it will inflict maximum embarrassment on anyone oafish enough to arrive semi-dressed for dinner.
Fortunately for those who, like The Gannet, hover around three or four on the dressed-up-to-the-nines scale, very few restaurants still require a tie. Le Gavroche, for example, relaxed its rules ages ago, and even Harry’s Bar, the smart dining club on South Audley Street – where, incidentally, I was once forced to wear a hideous striped yellow number – now only requires a tie at dinner. Many gentlemen’s clubs still insist on them – a sartorial price worth paying to get one’s hands on the wine lists at White’s or The Garrick – but elsewhere one’s collar can be unbuttoned with impunity.
There is one great exception to this slackened formality, though: The Ritz (pictured), a place where I will happily sport a half-Windsor, a Pratt or a four-in-hand (there are instructive videos on the Brooks Brothers YouTube page) as long as chef John Williams is cooking my lunch.
It is a dining room where the cuisine is as exalted as the towering, majestic ceiling. Williams cooks classic French food as well as anyone in London: a rib of veal for two, perhaps, with truffled purée de pommes de terre and a rich, glistening Madeira sauce, or Bresse chicken with winter vegetables and truffle, followed by crêpes Suzette, skilfully and theatrically prepared at the table. In such a setting, it would be churlish to complain about having to sling a length of fabric around one’s neck.
Le Crillon, which has been closed for refurbishment, reopens its doors later this year: I have no idea whether the nouveau régime will require it, but I will dig out that natty YSL tie and wear it anyway. I just hope they don’t ask for it back.