Total eclipse of the stars

ECLIPSE; 8800 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA90069, USA. Tel: 00 1 310 724 5959. Open Sunday to Friday from 6pm to 11pm and Saturday from 5.30pm to 11pm. Average price per person $45 (pounds 30). Credit cards accepted
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It Was hard to work out which was the happening restaurant to review in Los Angeles because no matter what place you suggested, everyone said it was finished and you should go somewhere else: which then turned out be finished as well. Spago? "As if." The Polo Lounge? "Not even." Citrus? "That's like a really young, nobody kind of crowd". Morton's? "Morton's is really, like, over." We plumped for the Eclipse in Beverly Hills, favoured haunt, apparently, of Tom and Nicole, Elle and Cindy, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert de Niro, being recently opened on the former site of Morton's by the former maitre d' of Spago.

As we drew up outside the restaurant, it couldn't have seemed more as if Richard Gere would be inside telling Julia Roberts how to hold her fork, with white lights twinkling expensively on cacti, palm trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, and dream gods in uniforms waiting to valet park the cars.

Although America seems as though it is English-speaking and our cousin, it is, in fact, an alien land with a foreign tongue where people will shout "halffatdecafcap?" at you if you ask for a simple cup of coffee. A few days earlier, we had been for lunch at a restaurant called the Ivy on the Shore where they brought us a plate of currant scones on arrival, then when we asked for bread with our soup looked as if we were quite mad and said it would take at least 20 minutes for someone to go and fetch some. At the Eclipse, however, things seemed much more international.

The style of the Eclipse, like much in LA, is Mexican Hacienda meets Ancient Rome meets Hello! magazine meets the Age of Aquarius - here a stone head of David, there a rough-hewn, wood-beamed ceiling, there a terracotta floor, there a plush pink banquette, there a swirly hippy painting which looks like an Athena poster from the early Seventies. As we scanned the room eagerly for celebrities, we felt as though we were on safari, had been led to a watering hole and promised leopards and ended up finding just Thomson's gazelles. There was an exciting false alarm when we thought we had spotted Harry Secombe dining with Bruce Forsyth, then realised they were just kindly old gentlemen. This was followed by a sighting of Bruce Willis through glass in the conservatory who turned out to be one of the waiters. Afterwards, we were told that Mick or was it Rick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac had actually been dining there that night, but we both agreed that we wouldn't have recognised him even if we'd seen him. There were lots of men who looked as though they might be top studio executives murmuring things like "I think we could get Colin Powell but I'm not sure he would work," - but no discernible starlets unless, as Bette Midler would put it, they had been left outside in the glove compartments. All the women were thirtysomething upwards, dressed richly rather than sexily and immaculately made up. It was all unspeakably comfortable and discreet but the word which sprang to mind above all was "hair-do". The combination of bouffes and flicks in the room must have considerably enriched the coffers of the Beverly Hills hair salons that afternoon by more than the annual GNP of Burkina Faso.

On sitting down, we were presented with an amuse-gueule which consisted of a breadcrumbed prawn on a bed of tinily diced vegetables. Minutes later, we were presented with another identical amuse- gueule which was clearly a mistake but out waiter, who seemed to be Al Pacino, insisted we eat it anyway. By this time, we were gagging for a drink, but although there was a bar in the corner there seemed to be no mention of any alcohol. Eventually, we asked for the wine list bold as brass, almost expecting it to arrive with a self-help book from the Betty Ford Clinic. God knows what would have happened if we'd lit up a cigarette - we would probably have been removed by the police. Naturally, the list was especially strong on California and we were recommended a superb bottle of 1994 Chalk Hill Sonoma at $36, the first wine I've had which really made me understand what wine buffs mean by the word "oakey".

Eclipse's food is described as "California-Provencal-inspired, cuisine of the sun": though the word which sprang to mind above all was "light". It offered a modestly sized menu, of predominantly salads and seafoods with a few meaty grills and roasts. My date thought his corn chowder was very good but found the mushroom risotto "very subtle - in fact, bland". I went Californian with goats- cheese salad followed by lobster, and though the ingredients were great, the accompaniments made me realise how spoilt we are on flavour in restaurants of similar calibre at home.

Suddenly, however, a member of the management was upon us. "Joel Schmartin would like to say hello to you, he works for Lifetime," he said reverentially to my date leaving us both flattered yet baffled, my date neither having any idea who Joel Schmartin was or any connection with anything called Lifetime. Coffee then arrived before the puddings.

By 10 o'clock the restaurant was beginning to empty. It was as if our fellow diners feared that with all the fish, vegetables, water and herbal teas, if they didn't leave soon they might all spontaneously vaporise into a puff of hot steam. Despairing of a Tom, Nicole or Whoopi sighting, we decided to follow their lead. On the way home, still feeling peckish, we toyed with stopping off for McDonald's fries and shake and a bottle of bourbon. We wondered if the Eclipse had been eclipsed already by some other haunt so impossibly stylish that only movie stars knew of its existence, or whether they had all been too hungry to go out and had stayed at home eating pizza. !