Eating Out: Living the high life chez Che

CHE

23 St James's Street, London SW1. Tel: 0171 747 9380 Bar and cigar lounge open 11am-11pm, Mon-Fri, and 5-11pm Sat. Restaurant open for lunch noon-3pm, Mon-Fri; for dinner, 5.30-11.30pm, Mon-Sat. Average price per head, pounds 35 without drinks. Two wine lists: Fine-Dining, and Fifty Under pounds 50. Credit cards accepted

THERE'S A certain point beyond which restaurants aren't about food. They're about money and the show of power. Hey, look what I can afford to put in my mouth! Arms dealers. Dodgy entrepreneurs. Maundering old men growing grumpy and slow-witted as they try to retain a vestige of control over their sometime mistresses.

It's a tough call, though. Sometimes you find a restaurant that looks as though it should be about money and power, but isn't.

Che is such a place. Yes indeed, when the bill comes it spins you round and splits you up the mainseam, but any restaurant where a 1961 Hermitage la Chapelle at pounds 4,895 seems like a reasonable choice has gone way beyond money. Instead, you're in a gastronomic fairyland, an oenophiliac Saturnalia where the air is jangling with dulcimers and the laws do not run.

It's therefore appropriate that Che occupies the old Barclay's Bank premises in the Economist building. The ground floor is given over to a sleek modern bar and, down a few stairs, a shady divan where bad men suck on big Havanas, slyly aware that Slick Willy's mythopoeic incontinence has relocated the cigar forever. Up the escalator is the restaurant proper: a vast, high, coolly modern room with tables far enough apart that even the harshest of seductions or the bitterest of ordnance deals cannot impinge on one's privacy. Lousy music, though. All music is lousy in restaurants. We don't want it. It's common. Can it.

Then they bring you the wine list, and it's the sort of wine list that makes you feel that ordering a bottle of Roederer non-vintage at pounds 47.50 - about the cheapest wine to be had that night - is an act of astonishing parsimony and that the next step will be growing huge boots and red knobbly hands and bad teeth and an accent. Wonders unfold, page after page: an `82 Beychevelle, a `45 Mouton-Rothschild, a `66 Petrus, a `69 La Tache, so that tears spring to the eyes and you start wishing you'd not listened to what your mother said, but become a stony-eyed cocaine dealer with a wad of untraceable notes. And then you start wondering who the hell can afford to romp in this oenophiliac paradise. Flat-eyed Japanese bankers, riding out the recession, possessing the taste-buds of the raw fish on which they were trained? Dodgy characters with trousers the wrong length? Who? Looking around doesn't help. You can't tell. Young-ish, made it themselves I'd guess, all pretty happy. As they should be.

I imagine there are plenty of chefs who would be intimidated or at least inhibited by having to cook against such an astounding wine-cellar, but Jim Scurby (late of The Square) has risen to the challenge, not by going head-to-head with the opulence of the wine list but by complementing it with a lightness of touch, more Armani than Hunstman of Savile Row, but with a real sensual depth. His antipasti make you realise that, if they were rare, potatoes would be one of the world's great delicacies, and his musky shrimp lasagna is a whole space-time dimension away from the pointless, tasteless splod of waterworms more usually on offer.

Then a partridge. The classic French trial of a chef is a simple roast chicken, but game is a better test; get it just a gnat's-breath wrong and it can mutate into plague-pit corruption or a Hush Puppy. This one, though, was done to the Platonic perfection of which all other partridges are mere imperfect copies, and dished up with butch poitrine fumee, chestnuts and the fashionable, slightly sticky reduction which I suspect is going to get tiresome a couple of years from now, like Gordon Brown or kitten-heel shoes. As for my companion, scallops, she had; a greedy woman, but reduced to positive languor, my dears, so soft and lubricious were they, clad in their Rigby & Peller pancetta and artichoke, that you really needed to keep your teeth out of the way and, once you'd finished, ask them how it was for them.

Puddings were a weak spot. You can't really foul up a sticky toffee pudding, it being a Monica food: as long as it's moist, sweet and enthusiastic, it'll do the trick. But the Gateau Opera was more Starr than Lewinsky: determinedly dry, unsympathetic, curiously parasitical, and left on the plate as it deserved.

And then the bill. It ... no, let me first say I liked Che and feel immensely well-disposed towards it. The owner, a Mr Farsi, is but 30 years old, and mentioned that he had enjoyed a bottle of the near-as-dammit pounds 5,000 Mouton-Rothschild with his Christmas lunch. Manager John Davy's staff are young, enthusiastic, and appear to thoroughly like each other; certainly the service is both affable and unobtrusively efficient. The head sommelier, Tim McLaughlin- Green, has built one of the most remarkable wine lists in London, with the benefit of access to Mr Farsi's own cellar for some of the more astounding rarities, and, what's more, had the excellent good taste to give me a free glass of Croft `45 port, seeing that it had been decanted anyway: an astounding wine of a depth which had me reaching for the perfumers' vocabulary, galbanum and myrrh and gentle, caressing coumarin ... and how oddly moving that there they were, out in Oporto, the war grinding to its end and Europe in ruins, still laying down the port in the hope that things would get back together again.

But still, and even given the New Year's Eve bonuses like the Excelsior Brass Band parading round the room on the stroke of midnight, and the squeakers and the party-poppers and the free black plastic bowler (chaps) or `20s feather headband (dames), I couldn't help wondering who would happily shell out two hundred and seventy one pounds thirteen pence (of which pounds 30.13 was service charge) for two dinners (albeit damn fine ones) and a bottle of non-vintage Champagne. Are they people who just aren't concerned about the money? People who are only concerned about the money, with the food as a sort of delivery-vehicle for a financial warhead? People who know the Receiver in Bankruptcy will be calling any day now, and are determined to go down in style? Don't know. What I do know is that lunch the next day was dim sum at the New World Restaurant. pounds 10.50 for two. Very good, and did I yearn to be back at Che? Well, actually, yes I did.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture