Eating Out: Of princesses and pees
Sunday 06 December 1998
15 Beauchamp Place, London SW3. Tel: 0171 838 1500 Open Monday to Saturday, 12.30-3pm for lunch and 7-11pm for dinner; Set lunch menus: pounds 24 for two courses, pounds 28.50 for three. Average a la carte price for lunch, pounds 50 per person. Credit cards accepted
A FRIEND of mine has a theory that there's a strong correlation between the state of a restaurant's loos and the state of its kitchen: if they're sparkling clean and attractive, you're OK; if they're not, get out fast or you'll almost certainly die of salmonella, botulism or necrotising fasciitis.
If my friend is right, then the kitchens at Floriana are not just among the cleanest but also the most exciting in the whole of London. I can say this with some confidence, because when I visited its urinals the other day I enjoyed quite the most thrilling, exotic, spectacular pee of my life.
No, it wasn't because I bumped into George Michael (though come to think of it, Floriana is very much his sort of place). It was because of the cunning design of the urinal bowls. They're made from very thin, very shiny stainless steel, and directly above them is a spotlight which - get this - actually gets brighter when you're having a pee. The result beats Villa d'Este any day. Not only does your wee-wee make a particularly attractive tinkly noise as it hits the thin metal, but it sparkles and splashes and shimmers like some bijou Philippe Starck fountain.
I'm not sure that the people who run Floriana will thank me for mentioning this, since I get the impression that they take themselves very, very seriously. As seriously as you only can when your restaurant is co-owned by someone as classy as Ivana Trump's ex-fiance Riccardo Mazzucchelli; when your decor is an elegant symphony of beige, beige and beige; when your customers (ideally) all have surnames like Von Hapsburg, Bourbon and Agnelli; when your premises boasts an unrivalled location on London's super-fashionable Beauchamp Place.
Yes, yes, I'm taking the mickey. Of course I am. I'm pretty sure that was the main reason I was sent there. Because, let's face it, the sort of people who can afford to spend pounds 105 on a light lunch for two on a Saturday (presumably before blowing ten grand or so in the ridiculous rich-people-only boutiques that you find in that part of Knightsbridge) are probably not the sort of people who tend to read the Independent on Sunday. They read Hello! and the Almanach de Gotha and White Trash International instead.
That said, Floriana wouldn't be at all a bad place to go if you happened to be feeling particularly rich and fancied hanging out with the sort of people you never normally see in real life: men who think that cuff links and breast-pocket handkerchiefs constitute casual weekend dress; expensive women of a certain age in antique jewellery; pampered Euro 20- somethings wearing those brown tweed jackets and fawn trousers which they imagine make them look very English, but which actually make them look very foreign.
Another reason for coming is the food which, as Fay Maschler has observed, is a good deal better than the salad-munching X-rays who frequent Floriana deserve. It's all done by Fabio Trabocchi, a renowned Italian chef (obviously) who specialises in whatever the opposite of Rustic Tuscan is. Urban Milanese, maybe. His menu is absolutely stuffed with the sort of dishes you fancy eating when you really want to treat yourself: heavy on black and white truffles, wild mushrooms, lobster, crayfish and caviare. Such a pity that X and I chose to nuke our pal-ates beforehand with a couple of spicy Virgin Marys.
The best dishes - and is there any restaurant in Christendom where this isn't the case? - were the star-ters. X had a fabulously frothy, mushroomy funghi cappuccino. And so, it appeared, did everyone else in the restaurant. Except being super-rich, they had theirs as an extra in-between course instead of as a starter. I had the fairly boring-sounding scallops with cauliflower heads because I had decided to go for the cheapo pounds 28.50 daily specials menu instead of the a la carte. Which shows what a tightwad I can be, even when I'm eating on expenses.
Anyway, boring as they sounded, the scallops were a tour de force. The cauliflower is a stupid, smelly vegetable, but Trabocchi had cleverly turned this one into crisp, sweet roundels which complemented the scallops quite brilliantly. More impressive still were the pools of green oil served with it. Apparently, the primary ingredient was green peppers, though the taste that came through most prominently was a fabulously pungent essence of basil.
For the main course, X bagged the lobster dish that I'd wanted. She rated the lobster very tender and full of flavour, though she found the sauce a bit too rich for comfort (but then, what lobster reduction isn't?). She also liked the pureed celeriac in the ravioli that came with it. Unfortunately, it was so powerful it rather drowned the subtleties of the pasta.
If I have any reservations about my own pot-steamed free-range chicken with wild mushrooms, green sauce and crystallised mustard, it's because I prefer my food a bit more aggressively flavourful and in-your-face. But the breast of chicken was as succulent and crispy as any I have eaten, and the soup that it came in - bobbing with mini-vegetables and mushrooms - felt like the sort of thing one's Italian grandmother might have made, if one had an Italian grandmother. I wasn't convinced by the green sauce, though. Apparently, it was made of minced parsley and basil, but to me it tasted of lawn trimmings.
We finished by sharing a lethally rich, soft-centred, warm chocolate cake, which X thought was perfect because it had just the right amount of coffee in it and which I thought wasn't quite perfect because I hate food with coffee in it, specially when it's advertised as a chocolate cake. I do like coffee when it's served in espresso form, though, and the stuff they do at Floriana is buzzier than coke and considerably better value.
I felt a bit sorry not to have used the services of the sweet-looking wine waiter, but it was lunch-time so all we we wanted was a glass of Champagne.
You might be wondering - actually you probably won't, but what the hell - why my descriptions of some of the dishes were so vague. This is because at the end of lunch, I asked for a copy of the menu and the maitre d' wouldn't give me one because he didn't have enough to spare. He promised to fax me one on Monday morning, but didn't. So I thought, if he can't be arsed to perform a small service for someone who's blown pounds 105 (including pounds 15 tip) in his restaurant, then I can't be arsed to get the names of his chef's dishes right.
It could, of course, be that the moment I asked for the menu he sussed me for a critic and said to himself, "evil journalist scum". Or it could be that X and I just didn't look worth the effort. Certainly, while we were given a very warm welcome and impressively solicitous service (one waiter even took the trouble to put my side plate on my right-hand side so that it didn't fall on baby Ivo's head) for the first part of lunch, the staff seemed to lose interest later on, when two tables-worth of friends- of-the-proprietor rolled up. Pudding and coffee took ages to arrive, imperilling X's planned expedition to Joseph and Betsey Johnson. Which, as the sort of people who dine at Floriana might tell you, was a terrible crime indeed.
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