Restaurants; Streatham's King of the Hill
Vivienne Heller finds Elvis is alive and well and singing on a shabby stage in south London
Saturday 03 July 1999
The story begins in a litter-strewn street in Streatham, where a pink neon sign blinked promise of a kitsch Italian retro night. Preconceptions were dashed at the door, however. Inside, faux-jolly waiters patrolled the twilit room like malevolent henchmen, doling out warm beer and spritzers to subdued hen parties and other ill-assorted guests.
The menu was three courses for pounds 15.50, a rollcall of Eighties familiars that only lacked Black Forest gateau. My avocado prawns were passable, my coq au vin an ode to washed-out school dinners: a scrawny fowl in a watery sauce with sad assorted veg. Vince's veal escalope was "like something you'd peel off your foot", while Lizzie's spaghetti carbonara was pushed to one side after a few "bland" mouthfuls. On the plus side, the waiters were quick to clear our plates - even before we'd all finished, as if astounded that anyone would seriously consider touching the stuff.
As I prepared to bolt, Louise, who had been before, lassoed me with an assurance of great things to come, while Michael ordered another brace of bottles to numb my senses. We were never offered dessert, which was something of a relief: "Perhaps the waiters realised we had some modicum of taste and didn't want to insult us by bringing pudding," suggested Vince.
The substandard pouilly fume began to work some sort of magic. The sight of Kookai'd kids twitching limbs on the dancefloor beneath the waiters' leery gaze was mesmerising, as was singer Sylvia's thinly veiled contempt for her misfit audience.
Just when we thought the spectacle had reached its nadir of awfulness, a waiter detached himself from his rat pack and began flicking a light switch. Each feeble strobe revealed a little more of the next act: a shabby pull-out stage, some dire portraits...
And it was this tawdry charade that ushered in one of the greatest live performers I've ever seen.
Elvis, a vision in white, sprang on to the stage. And we were electrified - singing, waving, dancing, screaming to every quiver of his quiff and curl of his lip. Vince, from a long line of Elvis worshippers, was convinced: "It's like having God in the room." And as I looked into the King's eyes and screeched "Wooden Heart" into his microphone, I did, indeed, have a spiritual experience.
From his shaky leg to his shiny fringed suit, Kim Bridges looked like Elvis, and he sounded like him too, with a great, resonant voice. And there was something terribly innocent about such unwavering dedication to art in this den of cheap food and seedy service.
So, would we come again? Vince, dazed, nodded: "It's like the second coming at the end of the millennium is happening in Streatham."
La Pergola, 66 Streatham High Rd, London SW16 (0181-769 2646)
ELVIS SOUND BITES
Graceland's Palace Old Kent Rd, SE1 (0171-639 3961) Paul "Elvis" Chang gives a twist to your Chinese meal; great for parties
Novello's 47 Parson's Green Lane, SW6 (0171-736 2713) Old-hand Lou Jordan plays this Thai bar & restaurant
Jailhouse Rock Cafe 44 High St, Hornchurch, Essex (01708 444408) A range of Elvises to rock your Tex-Mex
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling