Food for fashion victims
Saturday 15 June 1996
To join that company may take persistence. By some fluke I managed to get a table for lunch the same day, but the woman juggling phones at the reception desk was telling a caller that an evening booking was out of the question.
The uninitiated won't even realise the restaurant is there. No windows on to the street give the glitzy game away, and there's only a runic symbol over the doorway. A long, glass walkway bordered with silver pebbles leads to an impressively long bar. Here there is space to circulate and tables to sit at under the overhang of the mezzanine restaurant.
If you thought black was still the sartorial standby, the colour scheme here suggests otherwise. Walls are bare brick or pewter-tiled, suedey seats are buff, iron girders are painted mole brown, floors and pillars are dark wood, senior staff wear taupe trouser suits, others white linen judo outfits. So many shades of tasteful neutral make the occasional Bloody Mary or glass of rose positively glow. Other customers seemed to know the colour code. Uniformly blonde women from the same school of well-heeled international grooming all wearing beige and barely-there lipstick. Was this some sort of conspiracy?
Then it dawned on us that this wasn't so much the world of Eurobond as James Bond. Had we penetrated the villain's lair? Were those cigar-smoking men hatching some fiendish plot? Would the glass walkway open up and drop interlopers like us into a barracuda tank, and would the staff start high- kicking and karate-chopping if we paid with a Co-op card?
A black belt brought us the menu, which had obviously been drawn up on an atoll hideaway in the Pacific. We had come to the focus of fashionable food in London, where Pacific Rim meets Mediterranean in tongue-twisters such as seared tuna sashimi with soy, mooli and shiitake.
The mushrooms, a shibboleth of modish cuisine, were chopped up into a crunchy, soy-soaked salad of mooli accompanying the tuna. Three exquisite slices of fish, darkening in colour towards the star-anise-dusted edge, looked like a cross-section of a precious stone. A thumbnail-size speck of wasabi, the green Japanese mustard, a skewer of pickled ginger slices, discs of crisp won ton and a lime segment, a pinch of unidentified dried red herb and a tiny tip of purplish leaf completed a picture of oriental miniaturism which, incidentally, tasted rather good.
Crab sandwiched between waffle-like squares of won ton, surrounded by sprouted beans, chick peas, azuki and coral-coloured lentils, was another pretty and pleasing confection.
Perhaps we should have carried on skimming the Pacific and ordered sesame- encrusted tuna steak with Chinese greens; crispy duck, noodles and plum sauce; buckwheat noodle soup with sea bass, lemon grass and lime leaves; or bream with coriander, chilli and cumin and couscous salad. Some dishes of this persuasion consisted of heaps of shaved ingredients, like secret documents destroyed by a shredder.
Shortcomings were more apparent in our comparatively familiar main-course choices than in the experimental starters. Chicken breast with "slow roasted" vegetables - fennel, peppers, carrots and courgettes - was handicapped by tough veg (having to pick strands of fennel from the teeth does not improve poise) and not enhanced by a tabouleh accessory that tasted of nothing much. Roast cod with Swiss chard and a rosti of sweet potato and balsamic vinegar suffered only from under-seasoning.
A separate menu of desserts abandoned the oriental theme, and wasn't especially enticing. "Just in case," said the tai chi instructor as she handed us the list, on which drinks featured more heavily than food. Panna cotta, with a rather jammy coulis and florentine biscuits, did, however, satisfy my gauche craving for a pudding.
In spite of its up-to-the-minute ingredients, the cooking didn't stop me in my tracks. The pounds 25 a head our booze-free lunch cost me wouldn't buy a pair of shoes round here - but in any case I'm not sure I'm ready to renounce black for beige
The Collection, 264 Brompton Road, SW3 (0171-225 1212). Wheelchair access. Open daily, lunch and dinner. pounds 25-pounds 30. Access, AmEx, Diners, Switch, Visa
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview is finally released after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food