The final is happening in Red, suitable as a venue in that it is a Russian vodka-bar-cum-diner (with competing brands
studiously removed from the shelves), and slightly surreal because, in the normal course of things, it is a popular watering hole for the Soho advertising-
PR-media types; the staff look askance at the alien barpeople who have invaded the premises for the evening.
Red certainly lives up to its name, being decorated in various shades of the stuff and strangely erotic (in a sturdy sort of way)
line drawings, and the staff have been picked as much for their White Russian cheekbones as their way with an optic. Most
of the competitors come from
the Midlands and further north, and are impressed neither by London nor by the casual style
of the south.
They are, however, deeply impressed by the divine Ainsley Harriott, he of the Barbecue Bible, our compere for the evening and a man who could find a double-entendre in a brussels sprout. Ainsley joshes the contestants while they produce concoctions containing banana liqueur, grated chocolate, Kahlua, Malibu, creme de menthe and lots of lemonade. Most of the drinks are of the "I'll have a pint and one of those pink things with the sparklers for the missus" variety.
I can feel a flush creeping up my neck and thank God for inventing antihistamines.
We pick a winner - the Moscow Snow, a combination of vanilla, milk, vodka and a sprig of lavender, the only one whose primary ingredient isn't sugar - and David Blackie of Bishop's House Restaurant, Darlington, lights a stogie and calls his chef. Then we proceed to dinner.
It's a well-known fact that all restaurateurs believe that theirs
is the only establishment that serves good food. The Borscht (very good) receives a unanimous "what's this?", mushroom caviar blinis (okay: nice soured cream, anyway) much prodding. My main course is a sort of pastie full of root vegetables which causes an outburst of "we do something like this, but we don't economise on the ingredients" scorn from landlady to my right. Everybody is busily hating the winner and saying things like "They've got nothing in London that we haven't got in Yorkshire". I polish off my peculiar vodka-based brulee and head for the steppes. As I slide past a table, a voice proclaims
"Well. I could murder a meat
pie and a pint".
Red, 4 Greek Street, London
W1 (0171-287 4448)