Food and Drink: A public offer in private company: The Green Street club has opened its doors to anyone who enjoys a good lunch, says Emily Green
Saturday 08 January 1994
His particular agenda appears to be to cultivate some sort of creative environment. If so, I fear he is suffering from a tender delusion of the sort shared by administrators of Rudolph Steiner schools. Had Joseph Conrad gone to a Steiner school, he would have been more likely to run a wool shop than write Heart of Darkness. Had David Lynch sat around fashionable clubs instead of coffee shops, he might have directed The Camomile Lawn instead of Blue Velvet.
Still, it is a normal enough wish to want to surround yourself with a like-minded crowd. The problem with Mr Campbell's first club was that he fell out with his dream. He opened the Globe in Notting Hill, west London, three years ago and closed it within 12 months. Probably for reasons of economy and fashion, it was put together with junk - corrugated metal for a door, newsprint for wallpaper. Mr Campbell's father, Charles, was host.
The presence of the elder Mr Campbell lent to the place its whiff of the bohemian. This gent, some 20 years ago, was host at the Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden. Neal Street's then owner, Sir Terence Conran, still loves to recall how Charles Campbell drew Francis Bacon there, and how on one occasion, greeting a guest with open arms, Mr Campbell let drop the unbelted trousers he had been surreptitiously holding up.
That was then. In my brief experience, the clientele of the Globe tended to consist of creepy young clubbers: antipodeans flouting immigration laws, the smirking sons of famous fathers, lewd middle- class girls with prominent tattoos, the odd skeletal model, a pop star who appeared in the Face more often than on stage . . .
The younger Mr Campbell said he came to hate the Notting Hill scene. He closed the Globe, and nine months ago moved it into a fine old house in Mayfair, central London, renaming it Green Street. He chose Mayfair, he said, because it is 'half-way between Notting Hill and Soho', which is to say, half-way between fashion and victim. Again, the club intends to appeal to artists and writers.
The writers we encountered during a Tuesday lunch were two ladies, one of whom worked on a Sunday paper. A publicist promoting the place emphasises in a press release that 'table hopping' is encouraged. The heating was broken and the newspaper party found the dining-room so cold that they moved from their table upstairs to the bar.
No artists hopped by our table, but a few appear to have come through the place in the past nine months. In fact, it looks as though someone has taken a paintbrush to the Polish Hearth Club: the ground-floor bar is painted deep green, a basement dining-room in shocking pink. There are some nice works of art - a Calder-style mobile, and at least one canvas by the marvellous Scottish painter, Craigie Aitchison - a family friend.
The chef is a 30-year-old New Zealander called Peter Gordon. According to the press release and accounts from several of his friends, he has knocked about through Australia, South-east Asia, India and several London restaurants. The cooking, which is mongrel and modish, shows the air miles, with harissa here, lemongrass there, and a little bit of everything chucked into the risotto. Unusually for such eclectic food, however, it is good.
Very good. And the point in writing about it is that, presumably for lack of artists and writers, Green Street has opened its dining-room to us commoners for weekday lunch sessions. Quite how it will cope with a roomful of demanding punters, I cannot say. With only three tables occupied, service was amateurish and slow but friendly.
Here, in order of appearance, is what we ate and how we liked it. A chunky lentil, tomato and parsnip soup had terrific body and a pungent, clean strain that tasted like thyme, countered by a smoky-sweet aoli. It was good. Steamed mussels with Thai spices, particularly lemon grass, were also good. Risotto with chunks of chicken, sweet squash and mushrooms was good, but verged on a stew. (I recommend more rice and fewer ingredients.)
Sea bass served on couscous sounds like a bad joke, and cousins of it encountered in other restaurants have been. However, this young chef served the couscous heavily spiked with nuts and onions cooked to caramel sweetness with balsamic vinegar, and topped it with a perfectly roasted bass. Over this he lobbed a great deal of a chilli-rich, spicy harissa paste. It was excellent and my one criticism is that, as the fish was served full of sharp little bones, bread should be served to the side lest a bone be swallowed. And that bread should be better than the spongy, soft (albeit fresh) stuff served at Green Street.
Steamed lemon pudding with poached berries was a witty mixture of summer flavours and winter textures. Coffee tasted burnt. A brouilly was listed as 1991; thinking back, I am almost sure we were served a '92. In the event, it was a dancing, fresh, superbly fruity wine and a snip at pounds 13.50.
Green Street may have an artist around, after all: in the kitchen. For his sake, and ours, I hope the management's fascination with things artistic shifts from trendy crowds to the workaday beauty of running a dining-room like a tight ship.
Green Street Restaurant, 3 Green Street, London W1 (071- 409 0453). Vegetarian dishes. Three-course lunch approx pounds 25 with mineral water, house wine, coffee, service and VAT. Open 12.30-3pm, Mon-Fri. Access, Visa.
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