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)
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