The fashion food victims

FASHION CAFE; 5-6 Coventry Street, London W1V 7FL. Tel: 0171 287 5888. Open daily 12noon to 12midnight. Average price per person, pounds 24. All major credit cards are accepted
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The Independent Culture
The Fashion Cafe is not the sort of restaurant I usually seek out. On the north side of Coventry Street, between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, it is in the middle of the flashing-lights, amplified- rock, vomit-spattered sub-New York tourist junkland most Londoners hurry through with a shudder on the way to somewhere else. You arrive at what looks like the entrance to a fairground ride, there is a greeter with earphones and mouthpiece strapped to his head - the music is already too loud for normal conversation - and you are waved up a silver staircase past framed leather trousers and other tat worn, according to the little printed notices, by various weird-sounding people who are no doubt household names in the fashion or popular singing business. A pair of Mick Jagger's trousers are framed over the lift.

At the top of the silver stairs you find yourself in a burger bar, though a great deal of trouble has been taken to disguise it. It is relatively small and crescent-shaped, following the curve of the street corner. You are faced with a mayhem of fake leopard-skin banquettes, fake black-leather tablecloths, violent green curtains draped with more fake leopardskin and a blue, red and green ceiling pierced by little electric stars. Meanwhile the music throbs on, and there are television screens showing non-stop videos of models mincing, waddling or teetering up and down catwalks wearing the usual grotesque and desperate last thoughts of the international designers. Through the windows, on the other side of the road, you can see the painfully bright sign of a rival establishment Planet Hollywood.

At the table next to us two 14-year-old boys with exquisitely good manners were thanking the waitress for the food and congratulating her on the service when a kind of electronic door-chime sounded above the din of the music, one of them pulled out a mobile phone and answered it. Behind them was a showcase containing some Vivienne Westwood underclothes in the style of the 1890s.

Then our waitress arrived, telling us her name was Tanya, that she would be serving us this evening, that the catch of the day was halibut, and that she particularly recommended the smoked-chicken quesadillas. What with the music and her faint Australian accent this last took some time to interpret. The Fashion Plate of the day was lamb cutlets. She left us with two menus, the outside showing the enlarged front and back of a Hasselblad camera, and decorated inside with colour photographs of mascara brushes, earrings, necklaces and bits of photographic equipment.

The leading lady I was having dinner with deserved The Ivy, but somehow remained tolerant, saying that she could always watch the video behind my head if I got too boring. She wanted the quesadillas. I considered the other starters: Fashion Crab Cakes, Bombshell Bruschetta, Sassy Spring Rolls, Elle's Shrimp on the Barbe (sic), Chicken Wings or a grilled mushroom called Pret-a-Portobello. I ordered the New England Clam Chowder.

For the main course there was pasta with vegetables, salmon or chicken, pizza - Margherita, Roma or Rio - some American sandwiches, fish and chips, steak and Guinness pie, and various chicken, lamb and fish dishes. We decided to have the specials, halibut, and lamb cutlets. The drinks list was short, ranging from Amstel beer at pounds 2.75 a bottle to Dom Perignon at pounds 95. There was a house wine at pounds 10.50 a bottle, but I thought the Macon at pounds 17 might be a safer bet, and it turned out, as the wine writers say, to be delightfully crisp and dry. I asked for a glass of tap water, which came in a tough tumbler. My actress friend had mineral water with bubbles, which came in an altogether finer glass with a slice of fresh lime stuck on the rim.

The quesadillas were four or five little packets of tortilla with chunks of tomato and very hot green pepper on, served with a sort of sweet green mush that could have been gooseberries but probably wasn't. The pastry, we decided, was more like a fine-crust pizza than a tortilla, the cheese a bit gooey, but the general sensation was quite pleasant. My chowder came "San Francisco style", in a hollowed-out cottage loaf. I thought if I picked it up it might leak, but it didn't. The soup was good, what there was of it, and I suppose if I'd been very hungry I could have eaten the loaf.

The halibut, served plain with a moulded mound of slightly lumpy mashed potato and some mushrooms in a brownish sauce, was almost wholesome, but bland. La Stupenda's lamb cutlets were rare, as she has asked, one rather rarer than the other two, but large and grilled with basil and garlic.

For pudding she had tiramisu and I had Oreo Cookie cheesecake. Both plates had been vigorously textured, as if by an action painter, with a zig-zag pattern in chocolate, and the tiramisu spattered with what could have been chocolate powder. My friend, one of the most "centred" actresses I know, found the splatters and squiggles a bit disturbing: she likes to think of a pudding as calming. As a tiramisu expert, she thought it was too English. "Too dry, too sweet, not enough alcohol." My cheesecake was pretty good, full of chocolate and very nice and dry and crumbly.

If you're on the way to a film in Leicester Square it might make a change but it certainly isn't an alternative to The Ivy. The two boys at the next table told the waitress they had only come for a starter, intending to have their main course at Planet Hollywood but had stayed: they found the food better at the Fashion Cafe and not so expensive. Personally I can only think they fancied the waitress.

Dinner for two, including coffee but without Tanya's tip, came to pounds 67.55.