Your usual table? Who eats where: Sir Peter Hall Theatre Director

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The Independent Culture
I have a greedy side, as we all do, but I'm rather ashamed of it. As a result I'm very much for delicate food and generally prefer restraint to excess. I remember a wonderful Autumn Banquet in Tokyo eight years ago, cooked by a famous chef. The meal comprised of 30 courses of tiny, tiny portions and it was quite painful to eat because they were so beautiful. Seasonal raw fish, mushrooms and other vegetables were laid out in a banquet that was as pleasurable to look at, with its wonderful, warm autumn tones, as it was to taste.

It's a marked contrast to my worst meals, and in particular every meal I ever ate at RAF West Kirby, the basic training camp for National Service in the 1940s. It was just one big, overcooked sludge, or rather a succession of overcooked sludges served over eight weeks. A good meal is in the ingredients, but a great chef is like a great artist. Both take the same raw materials as everyone else and create something totally different. That element of surprise is a must when eating out.

Gordon Ramsay is a genius in that respect. His food is very delicate and always surprising. We went to his new restaurant, Gordon Ramsay (68 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3, 0171 352 4441) recently, and ate scallops with vegetables and a delicate souffle with a wisp of ice-cream for dessert. It was a meal of real artistry.

Another place I love is Gravetye Manor (near East Grinstead, West Sussex, 01342 810567), a lovely Jacobean house in beautiful gardens. It's somewhere to go when you want to be peaceful. It has one Michelin star, and serves excellent fish dishes. The service is unobtrusive, which I like. Fussy service makes me nervous. Having said that, I hate rudeness, so it's a fine line.

Space is also important for me when dining out. The Criterion (224 Piccadilly, London W1, 0171 930 0488) is wonderful, but the tables are so crowded together you can hear what everyone else is saying. I think there's a very basic need for space and peace to enjoy a meal out. That all sounds very Zen, doesn't it?

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