The White Tower sits - incontrovertibly white if not very towering - like a comfortable shrine at the end of Charlotte Street, in the heart of Fitzrovia, that area north of Oxford Street where, during the war, non-combative writers would streel from pub to pub in search of inspiration; and where after the war, the Greek eaterie trade established a virtual exclusion zone of restaurants with al fresco patios and indoor plate-smashing facilities.
The Tower combines both traditions. Its food is Greek, but several marathons ahead of the oily calamares and nightmarish souvlaki of some of its neighbours; and the people who go there tend to be from the posher end of Grub Street. This is the place where every prime minister since Atlee has been taken to lunch, as guests of Sir John Junor - everyone except John Major, that is. . .
It's for eccentricity as much as gastronomy, however, that the place is famous. The first thing you see on entering is a bulky chest of chilled water bottles backed onto a carving table, commanding the middle of the room so you can't see the clientele. . The second thing you see is Mary Dunne, the statuesque and thrilling maitresse d', from County Mayo, who resembles a strict-but-fair Irish schoolmistress. On reaching your table, you remark the stunningly naff decor - the green walls and droopy red lampshades, the scores of pictures of moustachioed Greek military types circa 1820, the sword over the mantlepiece, the hunting scenes on the enormous milk-jugs. . .
And then you get the menu. In any anthology of the gustatory bizarre, the White Tower menu would have a section to itself. Some dishes are dismissed with a one-line, don't-bother explanation; others feature lovingly expansive descriptions that go on and on ('In my young days, during the Macedonian campaign of the First World War, I had the good fortune to share a dish of veal with some Serbian friends. . .'). You learn it was written about fifty years ago by the original owner, John Stais, a Greek Cypriot and Byron fan ); as a grudging sop to modern tastes, four or five more recent additions are gracelessly stuck in with paper clips. The effect is of a foodie museum, wholly impervious to culinary trends.
Newcomers are briskly directed towards two house specialities - the Mixed Pates and the Aylesbury Duckling farci a la Cypriote - so I had them both. Neither of the Mixed Pates is, in fact, pate: they're two hefty tubs of taramasolata and chicken-and-duck-liver mousse, and a small mountain of toast The former confounds expectations by being light-range in colour and distinctly fishy and you tend to eat tons of it - unlike the Pate Diana which is curiously bland and frictionless.
My guest tried the Saganaki a la Perea, a scampi dish in which artichoke hearts and mushrooms are deep-fried along with scampi into a plateful of battered anonymity, seething in olive oil and sherry. It was not a success.
The roast duckling was brought to the table and shown off. It looked fine, though there was no question of actually eating it since it was the size of a small boar. Unmoved, they served up both of its legs and a hunk of breast, on a bed of Cypriot cous-cous called bourgourie, and I tore into it with as much gusto. . It was gorgeous, the thin skin crisped to ecstacy, though I was glad of the apple sauce to offset a certain dryness in its constitution.
My luckless companion tried the Macedonian-campaign dish, Scoblianka Serbienne, which involved escalopes of veal cooked in paprika with mushrooms, cream and wine. Everything in it was fine, she pronounced, except the sauce which smothered all the ingredients with a thick and floury sludge. 'I can see why you'd fall on it with delight after a hard day's campaigning' she said, 'But it's too thick and too rich for me.' (Ah, the cry of every Harrovian's girlfriend. . .). The pudding menu promised few excitements, but my fruit salad bulged with fresh melon and strawberries, while across the table the yoghurt with Hymettus honey, though insultingly dished up in a hotel-room toothmug, went down like nectar.
Saturday night at the Tower is not a strikingly boisterous occasion - weekday lunchtime sees it at its best - but the three other tables of chortling wrinklies and their Gloucestershire consorts were joined by a quartet of cool young Australians, and a party atmosphere briefly disturbed the hushed and sacerdotal ambience. The White Tower is a haven of pre-war gentilesse, determinedly old-fashioned and comforting. A slight suspicion that it's been trading for too long on a tiny choice of elderly dishes, uninspiringly prepared, does not detract from the feeling, when you leave, that you'll be back soon with your mother or (God willing) your publisher in tow. we drank a bottle of Moulin a Vent from the Louis Latour stable. I paid pounds 85, and I couldn't look at food of any description for 24 hours afterwards.
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