Stranded on a cool coast

COAST; 26b Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1A 4SW. Tel: 0171 495 5999 Open Mon to Sat: lunch 12-3, dinner 6-12. Average price for three courses pounds 35- pounds 40 All credit cards except Diners

THERE is a sort of cool a Pulp Fictiony, androgynous, American, Calvin Klein adverty type of cool which is marvellously hip just now, but which you could only really get to grips with if you were, like, 20, and spent a lot of time hanging out with Quentin Tarantino and sulking against a white wall in a grey vest and pants next to Kate Moss. The Atlantic Bar and Grill, in Piccadilly Circus, has quite a lot of this "with it" feel, as does owner Oliver Peyton's newest restaurant, Coast, which opened in Mayfair this summer.

You have to undergo stringent coolness testing, though, before you get in. Set in a former car showroom in Mayfair's opulent Albe-marle Street, Coast's frontage is made entirely of glass and it is not immediately obvious which bit of glass is supposed to be the door. It is easy, therefore, to end up lunging hopefully against different panes, under the gaze of the cool diners within, like a big confused pigeon.

After a while I managed to catch a waiter's eye, and mouth "Where is the door?", which pointed me in the right direction, but still it was not a very stylish way to begin. Once inside, a woman behind a lectern gestured me to the bar where my friend, she said, was waiting. At the bar, though, there was neither friend to greet nor stools to sit on, just some bare walls to sulk against. When my friend Richard appeared we sulked together for a bit, then wandered, feeling foolish, back to the lady and asked if we could sit down now.

When you think of all the possibilities for fine dining surroundings romantic candlelit nooks, chandeliered opulence, Finnish or Bavarian themes it may one day seem odd that so many of the poshest London restaurants in the Nineties were white spaces with bare floors and spot lighting. Accounts of Australian Marc Newson's design for Coast suggested much more excitement. "Both organic and futuristic, translating boyish en-thusiasms for surf culture, aeroplanes, Aston Martins, space exploration and the work of Buckminster Fuller" was how one design critic enthused over it. Picture our puzzlement, then, to look round at a big, bare-walled space with spot lighting and a wooden floor. Of course, it's all in the detail, love, as any designer will tell you. The spotlights were bulging out of bulbous lumps in the ceiling which could easily have been saying "surf", "the eyes of space aliens" or "the eyes of Buckminster Fuller". And in the basement a great white funnel containing a green rubber staircase rises in an unbroken curve from the floor, like the stalk of a giant mushroom. The floors there curve up into the walls in the same seamless way, which is disconcerting when you go down to the loos, particularly since Coast's enthusiasm for understated signing is continued, making it easy to end up in the kitchen instead of the toilets.

East Coast, West Coast, Australian Coast. Coasting through outer space you could have spotted all of them if you'd had enough to drink. There were none of the celebrities, or elderly men with hookers, you'd expect in a more traditional Mayfair restaurant, but neither were there lots of grumpy young people on drugs in grunge outfits and crew cuts. Instead, the words which sprang to mind with the clientele were "preppy" and "rich". The food, from chef Stephen Terry, formerly with Marco Pierre White, is stylish and tasty. With all manner of seared fish and grilled vegetables, it has a Californian mood with eclectic influences: here a bit of Chinese, there a touch of Italian peasant. The service was attentive and perfectly timed on a busy evening.

I started with Bavarois of goat's cheese, served with roasted tomatoes, which was a good, creamy mix. Richard declared his starter, a mille feuille of marinated tuna fish with crisp taro root, soya and sesame, a taste explosion which was saying something for someone with an impaired sense of taste and a bad cold. He thought it "very neatly arranged, with all its spices delicate and idiosyncratic to the point that someone with hay fever might find alarming". He did point out, though, that it only had three poppadom-like crispy layers between the fish, so it was actually only a trois feuille, which made us worry about the bill.

A lot of posh restaurants these days seem to be getting away with sticking a pasta dish alongside the confited rabbits and sea basses, charging an astronomical sum for it, and turning out something you'd be disappointed with in Cafe Pasta. For my main course, then, as a test in revenge for the invisible door, I esch-ewed Roasted Rump of Lamb with Aubergine Tart and Couscous and ordered a plate of Linguine at pounds 12. Ha! Sure enough, the Linguine, albeit truffled, with roquette pesto and marinated field mushrooms, was soggy and overcooked. pounds 12 indeed. Bloody outrageous if you ask me. My friend, however, scor-ed again with Soup Noodle of Honey Roasted Duck with Thai Spices and Choi Sum , which showed off the cooking at its best: expert yet full of startling, delicious flavours. For desert I was drawn to an enigmatic "Something Choc-olate" (a Fun-Sized Mars Bar, perhaps?).

This type of menu Impressionism might be sloppy but could well catch on, for how else in the end do you choose except by fancying something fishy or meaty or whatever? Rich-ard, for example, ordered Champagne Jelly with Citrus Fruits and Bitter Chocolate Sor-bet, thinking he was going to get Something Champagne and Chocolatey, but was disappointed when it turned out to be Something Grapefruity. Something Chocolate, on the other hand, was the most fantastic dark chocolate pie, served with a scoop of exquisite white chocolate cream. They could have just put Something Great and it would have been fine.

Our meal, with wine and drinks, came to pounds 87 plus service. Though Coast is neither cheap, romantic nor cosy, it's a pretty smart "with it" place to go, as long as you remember the door is the pane of glass nearest to Piccadilly.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


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