The clamour for glamour

CAFE DE PARIS; 3-4 Coventry Street, London W1V 7FL. Tel: 0171 734 7700. Open weekdays for drinks from 5pm and for dinner from 7pm, Saturdays from 7.30pm. Closes 4am. Tea dancing Sundays 3-6.30pm. Average price, pounds 40. Credit cards accep ted
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Suddenly there is more glamour everywhere! Recent years have seen a marvellous trend for revamping glamorous old central London haunts and relaunching them as glamorous new ones - Quaglino's, The Criterion, and Mezzo (formerly the Marquee Club) have all sashayed back onto the West End scene with their faces lifted, joined this autumn by the Cafe de Paris. In the Twenties and Thirties the Cafe was the very height of chic: it was where the Queen held her 23rd birthday party, where Marlene Dietrich made her London debut, where Princess Margaret smoked her first cigarette, and where the Prince of Wales used to dance the Charleston in the afternoons. It has, of course, been revamped many times since then: most notably in the Second World War when the management swore it was bombproof, having four solid stories built above. Shortly afterwards, two bombs crashed through the roof onto the dance floor, killing 80 people and demolishing the lot.

"It feels like you're about to go to sea" said Sharon, with an almost spooky sixth sense, since the original design was based on the Palm Court of the ocean liner Lusitania (also demolished by Germans). Entering offers a dramatic mood-swing from the garish tat of Leicester Square into a dark, almost sombre, space reminding you of a grand old station hotel or the Orient Express. You glide down to a vantage point with curling staircases on either side sweeping down to the dancefloor, on which is projected, the red logo of the Cafe de Paris. If you were being picky about the design you could say there was too much of chain hotel, or the repro-world of the Orient Express about it - with the fitted carpet as heavy on the repeat pattern as a BhS sock, and the balustrade reminiscent of those interior hotel fences which divide the carvery from the "baker's basket area", but it's a pretty impressive space none the less.

We arrived at 8.30 for dinner. The Cafe is actually a private members club, which costs pounds 125 a year (plus pounds 75 joining fee), though non-members can pay between pounds 5 and pounds 10 to come in, drink and dance (Wednesday nights are best, apparently). Diners get in free - at pounds 9.75 for sausage and mash and pounds 19.50 for steak and chips they bloody well ought to. The restaurant is situated on a palm-dotted, first-floor balcony curving round the dance floor and we leaned over the balustrade enjoying the air of something about to happen. Easy listening hits oozed out from the sound system: "Walk On By", "Bewitched", the Fry's Turkish Delight theme. Strangely dressed people were hanging about busily - here a man in cerise crushed velvet and an Afro wig, there one in spats, there a Dr Who-style one with long, grey hair who looked as though he was on a blind date with Wincey Willis, and very many serving staff who, though extremely good-looking, proved rather hard to pin down. Securing the attention of one, we asked if we might have a drink to start, at which she explained that she didn't speak English but was "keen to learn". The menu, when it eventually arrived, was straightforward modern British - in the sense of being France meets Italy meets Greece meets Spain meets the US meets Thailand. The food was okay, but patchy and expensive; pounds 10 to pounds 16.50 for a main course with vegetables on top. Spiced plum tomato and chilli soup was fine but, as Tracey said, had that unsubtle quality which made you feel the entire contents of a Mexican meal had been put in a blender. Thai-style barbecue sea bass with coconut bean sprouts, for example, had got it right on the taste, but was tired rather than glistening and piping hot. Sharon's fishcakes were "adequate". Tarte tatin, was a big, pointless, floppy affair. The chocolates which came with our coffee were actually horrid.

By now, the activity below was building to a climax, with the Pearl and Dean theme frenziedly blasting out, though nothing seemed to be actually happening as such, then suddenly a live band was upon us, fronted by girls in feathered headdresses writhing sinuously to saxophones. This was swiftly followed by a girl singing in Spanish who didn't impress Tracey "I think her guitar's been tuned by the chef", then by Earl Okin, brilliant mouth-only trumpeter who's been on the cabaret circuit since the year dot. He was followed by a gangling black guy with a bleached blonde crew cut and bowler who introduced himself with the inspiring words "I was in New York and now I'm here and you're here. It's about being here and now, right on, yur," then proceeded to mime really quite oddly to a selection of records breaking his silence periodically with, "Yur, yur, oh motherfuck yur."

"He looks like the sort of man who's stood for a long time in the Covent Garden piazza without moving," muttered Sharon. "He'll be doing robotics in a moment, you watch." Earl Okin had the look of a man who's seen every cabaret act there is and knew exactly where this one fitted, while the man at the next table was pretending to put a pistol in his mouth. Eventually, the band reappeared and the dance floor started filling up, Doctor Who started actually snogging the weather girl, and City-style couples in Armani suits were dancing next to men in monocles and aquamarine Bri-Nylon suits and women in - to all intents and purposes - swimsuits. "It's like one of those vodka ads where things look normal then go all weird," said Sharon. "A vodka ad full of people from a Hofmeister ad in stupid clothes," muttered Tracey. It was time to go. For a glam night out with dancing, feathered head-dresses and Seventies pastiche it's well worth a visit - though personally I'd eat at Marco Pierre White's Criterion just down the road (infinitely better food and cheaper) and turn up at 11 for dancing, booze and breakfast at 2. We left to the strains of "Big Spender" remarking that if our present Prince of Wales should have chosen to dance the Charleston next to Dr Who, Wincie Willis and the man in the aquamarine Bri-Nylon he wouldn't have looked in the least bit out of place. !

Comments