If only everywhere could be like Belgo. If only Belgo could be everywhere. If only it wasn't in Camden I'd probably be there every night. But if you want to eat there at peak hours, book a table a few days in advance. The place has only been open 18 months, so it's still highly fashionable.
So. The celebs. He was called Doyle, I think. He was the detective with curly hair and high cheekbones in The Professionals. Doyle was the second most long-standing sex god of my late childhood. And there he was. Doyle. On the same side of the restaurant as I was, eating and laughing and joking and smoking just like me. Two human beings, both equal in the eyes of God, both in the same restaurant at the same time. And one of them was me and one of them was Doyle from The Professionals, bless him. I went to the toilet three times so I could get a better look. But he's changed (I'm sure it was him). He needs to put on a bit of weight, spend a few days in the sun, grow his hair. One of his companions wore a cravat and occasionally stood in the middle of the restaurant to show off. Actors. They should stay on the telly.
The other celebrity was sitting at the table next to me. 'I'm fascinated,' said her male companion in an upper-class voice, 'by the handshake game. Do you know it?' She didn't. It turned out that his great aunt, who had died in 1973 aged more than 100, had had a doctor who, when he was a boy, had watched Napoleon or Nelson or someone getting on to a boat. 'Gosh,' she said, 'just three generations.'
I don't know for sure that it was her, but she looked like the woman who reads the news on ITN when Trevor McDonald doesn't - someone I'd interviewed just a couple of months before. I hadn't been ferocious to her in the article, but neither had I been particularly kind. So I was a little embarrassed. We exchanged glances at one point and then both looked quickly away. But perhaps that was because she was polite or not interested.
Perhaps it was because I'd been staring. Whatever. If she wasn't Julia Somerville then she was definitely someone else, if you get my drift. One of that ilk. And she was definitely a celebrity.
Which brings us back to the restaurant and the second point. The full belly. Belgo serves Belgian food and fresh, warm Polish bread. At my table we both opted for set menus because they looked so cheap. Mine offered two courses and one beer for just pounds 10. The salade liegeoise was fairy-tale delicious; my mouth is watering as I remember it now. The new potatoes were totally fresh, perfectly sweet. The french beans melted, I do not exaggerate, in the mouth.
I was offered the choice of moules mariniere or moules provencale for the main course. They were fresh and plentiful. The soup (mariniere) was perfect. They were the best moules I've had in years and I eat them at least once a fortnight. For pounds 8.95 my friend ate tender and elegant steak with various vegetables and crispy chips. (The moules also came with chips. I don't know why, but I don't think they were necessary). He got no first course and he had to buy his beer separately, but he did get an excellent Belgian waffle with a hot chocolate sauce for pud. Everything we ate was simple, unpretentious, fresh and delicious. Even the beer was a treat. Belgo offers a choice of 32 imported Belgian ales, none of which, at around pounds 2.50 a glass, comes cheap. However, I recommend the dark brown, smooth, rich, sweet and strong Leffe beer. We drank several of them - and still our bill, including service and eight espressos, came to just pounds 33. When you consider the class of food and the cost of similarly fashionable restaurants, this is quite a bargain, I think.
Waiters dressed in monks' habits offered unintrusive and smiling service. They were a refreshingly ordinary-looking bunch. Talking to the staff at happening people's restaurants can sometimes be a bit of an ordeal. But there were no conceited would-be male models here; nobody looking bored and sickened as they scribbled down our order. Belgo is staffed by a handful of rotund and slightly distracted middle-aged men who mind their own business very efficiently and let you mind yours in turn.
The restaurant is in a basement. We had to drive past it several times before noticing that in place of the normal front window stands a large and uninviting slab of concrete engraved with the name 'Belgo'. Find the entrance then, eventually. Walk to the end of a purposefully sparse, wooden-floored, concrete- walled corridor and look down over the banister to get a bird's eye view of the space age kitchen. In front of the kitchen lies the restaurant; concrete stripes along the walls are decorated with neatly imprinted and nonsensical messages: 'SLAPJAW LAZEYBONES BASTARDSOUL TOMTURDY SOURCHOP GAG.'
Belgo is a little too brightly lit for my liking, and the room is noisy (for dinner time). So be patient; it takes a minute or two to adjust to the delightful spirit of the place.-
72 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AN. Tel: 071-267 0718. Open every day.
Lunch and dinner from pounds 10, depending on alcohol consumption. Set lunch menus at pounds 5 and pounds 10 Monday-Saturday. Partial menu change every week or so. Credit cards acceptedReuse content