It was absolutely gripping in the ladies' loos at the newly opened Collection in Knightsbridge, but very much not what we were expecting. The Collection is run by the owner of Daphne's, the smart haunt of Ladies Who Lunch, a ciabatta bun's throw across the road and seconds away from Gaultier and Joseph. But I for one felt a complete bloody fool dressed as if I'd just come from Ascot, when the thing to have on was a fag, a tight black frock, black thigh boots, huge blonde hair, and an older man with shaved head and a portable phone. Granted, it was Saturday night not Monday lunchtime, but blimey.
It was not as if Sharon, Tracey and I had not put in the effort. What with the Carmen rollers and the excess of mascara (it's lips or eyes this season) we were half an hour late, but still felt like Brown Owls or gospel singers - though when the charming young whippersnapper of a barman offered his phone number along with our Campari-and-sodas, we reflected that members of the Girl Guide movement might have a sort of novelty charm in such a place.
The Collection is housed in what was once the Katherine Hamnett warehouse. We entered past a melee of wannacomins and bouncers, along an illuminated walkway with silver-coated pebbles on either side, and emerged into a very large, loud room: still warehouse-esque, with designer metal beams, flagstone floors,exposed brickwork and the noisiest, boomiest kind of warehouse music, making everyone shout. There is a long bar at one side, and a gallery above the throng of drinkers, housing the restaurant.
As we entered, a girl who was clearly there to greet, did the annoying thing of ignoring us while she dealt with someone else on the phone. Call me old-fashioned, but a simple smile or acknowledgement is not very difficult and would have made all the difference.
I had rung to say we would be late; thus we expected to have to wait for a table, and sat for about 20 minutes observing. There were many, many "Tim-Nice-But-Dim"-style Fulham boys, sporting blazers. "If a bullet ricocheted round the room, they would all be saved by their gold buttons," said Sharon, brightly.
Eventually I decided to alert the non-smiling greeter lady to our continued presence; she expressed relief, owing to the fear that she had "lost us", and showed us upstairs, where the clientele were the same sort as below, but older and richer-looking.
The taste experience got off to a very good start, with excellent bread and a promising menu in the up-to-the-minute-style known as "Pacific Fusion", with so many nods in the direction of Thailand, China, Tuscany, Japan and Mexico as to constitute an alarming nervous tic. The wine list fitted on one page, but offered a good range, with plenty under the pounds 15 mark. We plumped for a quite delicious pounds l6 Macon Azo Dom de Rochebin 1994.
Our food arrived almost too quickly - something inclined to give one a paranoid fear of those large copper warming-lamps you get over the lasagna in motorway service stations. My crispy prawns with roasted peanut sauce were not great - in breadcrumbs, too hot, with a sauce that was not special. Tracey said of her crab with won-tons and ginger, "it doesn't taste of anything - it's like licking a stamp."
"I'm well pleased with mine," said Sharon, who had seared tuna sashimi. "It's fantastic, very oriental, with an incredible dressing." It was, indeed, very good and it was agreed that tuna ( the absolute lynch-fish, apparently, of Pacific Fusion) is the Collection's forte.
Tracey's main course of sesame-crusted tuna steak with chinese greens was "meltingly delicious." I had made a great show of ordering soup for the main course, a chicken noodle one, with lemon grass, ginger and lime leaves. "It'll be like soup in Thailand," I boasted airily, "like a very big transparent chicken curry which one pours onto one's rice." In fact there was no rice and - for quite a long time - no spoon. The stock was not tasty, and it was festooned unappetisingly with great big leaves, like a bowl of Pimms. Sharon's crispy duck breast with coconut fried rice and plum sauce was gigantic - "the Pamela Anderson of ducks." But size isn't everything, and she found the ensemble too sickly, with the coconut rice "all stuck together."
By now the relentless music and shouting was starting to get us down. "It's like itching powder down your back," muttered Sharon, at which Tracey suddenly burst out passionately, "I hate it here. It's really ghastly."
"I think it's quite nice," said Sharon, looking at me worriedly. "I mean, it's really got an atmosphere, for a night out, if you like that sort of ..." She tailed off.
The truth was, we didn't like it at all. In fact, after our main courses we asked for the bill, which came in at pounds 35 a head (including the Camparis and one bottle of wine) without even a pudding or coffee. We thought the food wasn't up to its aspirations. It sounded and looked fashionable, but there was a patchiness of taste and sometimes texture and temperature which there ought not to be at these prices. The Collection hasn't been open long, and the trendily designed space was already bursting at the seams, with people who - at least the ones whose boyfriends hadn't been with people they said they knew from Bromley - seemed to be having a whale of a time. But in spite of all the effort which had gone into our make- up, and even without anyone giving us the evil eye, we couldn't get home quickly enough to our cocoa and pyjamas. !