I have often wished there could be a marital equivalent of the airline black box some device that could be retrieved from the wreckage of an evening out and analysed for evidence of where it all went wrong. Mostly this is to do with blame allocation, of course.
I have often wished there could be a marital equivalent of the airline black box some device that could be retrieved from the wreckage of an evening out and analysed for evidence of where it all went wrong. Mostly this is to do with blame allocation, of course. As you stand there bickering over the exact nature of the downward trajectory ("I was fine until you said x." "But I only said x because you said y!") it's easy to become convinced that a dispassionate mechanical recording of the crucial minutes would settle the matter at once. Sometimes, though, you simply want to know what went wrong how a routine domestic flight could end in the emotional equivalent of several acres of twisted metal and a pall of oily smoke.
I'm not sure what the black box would have revealed about our trip to Marco Pierre White's Parisienne Chophouse, but I have a feeling that this was one of those incidents that turn out to be the result of a number of tiny faults each of them insignificant in itself, but all accumulating in a way that finally amounts to disaster. And the restaurant would have been implicated by crash investigators, I'm sure. Yes, pilot error was really at the heart of the thing, as it almost always is in a marital row. But climatic conditions matter too, and in this case they were governed by the food and the service, and they were adverse.
I can honestly say that the evening wasn't doomed from the outset this wasn't a two-seater kamikaze mission that just happened to crash-land on the latest addition to Mr White's empire. They serve a pretty decent martini at the Mandarin Bar in the Hyde Park Hotel, a short walk away down the Brompton Road, so as we went downstairs to the Chophouse's basement dining room, all indicators were still showing green.
Nothing grievously wrong at first glance, either, unless you have an allergy to cultural cross-dressing. This is a London restaurant that wants to look Parisian and broadly achieves it with posters for obscure digestifs along the walls, and intimate booths. You might want to bring a torch with you if you have difficulty reading small print (the light levels are low enough to make that tricky), but again that's hardly the kind of detail that turns moods.
The first mistake was mine; ordering the salade russe with crab not because it's a favourite (it emphatically isn't) but because I wanted to see whether Mr White could make me like it. It arrived, very sensibly, in a small bowl, which gets round the joke-shop vomit effect of all those diced vegetables. But, although the crab was excellent and the binding mayonnaise delicately flavoured, I was still left with a mild sense of anticlimax, amplified by the £8.50 price tag.
Usually I would fill such a gap between expectation and actuality by raiding my wife's plate, but her terrine of foie gras en gelée de sauternes (£10.40) didn't quite do the trick either. It may have been the lighting, I guess, but it looked and more surprisingly tasted as if it had been served up en gelée de Lucozade.
This was where things began to go wrong. We had ordered a half-bottle of Chablis to accompany the first course; this turned up briefly, but was then exiled to an ice-bucket at least 15 feet away. Since the glasses had been modishly filled less than half full, there was then a long stretch when we had food and no wine, until the waiter finally noticed our plaintive signals and we switched over to wine with no food.
We toyed with the idea of ordering something from the rôtisserie list all served for two people with pommes dauphinoise but, ominously perhaps, couldn't agree whether it should be gigot d'agneau à la dijonnaise (£28) or roast duck à la broche (£26). Instead, I opted for ribeye of Aberdeen Angus au poivre a hunk of really good beef served with marinated raisins (£13.50), while my wife ordered the grilled loup de mer (£15.50), which came with a Béarnaise sauce. Both were perfectly decent examples of brasserie standards, but not so much underseasoned as unseasoned. This was also true of the salsify my wife ordered as a side dish and my creamed spinach (£2.50 each), which came with yet more raisins. I've never encountered spinach like this before and I think I know why the little spike of sweetness doesn't do much for the ferrous tang of the vegetable, particularly when it has nothing salty to lean against. I found myself thinking wistfully of the Jane Grigson recipe for creamed spinach, in which a teaspoon of Marmite is added.
The low salt (or no salt) approach may be policy designed to match the culinary requirements of Knightsbridge Americans but it seems to have been the final straw for us. One moment we were sharing a stare at the 50-year-old at the next table, busy discussing "Mummy and Daddy's" attitude to her recent divorce, and the next we were providing her with sulphurous evidence that there might be an upside to her new status.
It was at this point that we should have made peace over dessert. Indeed, we'd already settled in our minds what we were going to have a tarte Tatin aux pommes demoiselles and the crème caramel, raisin sec two utterly dependable mood-sweeteners fondly remembered from previous visits to Mr White's restaurants. But nobody came to take our order and, as the minutes ticked by, the slender possibility of pulling out of the conversational nosedive ebbed away.
Finally, I snarled for the bill, removed the service charge with a ferocity that startled the waiter, and we stalked out. We had made it up by the time we found a cab, but I'm not sure I want to make the effort with the restaurant. If you're in the area, then Marco Pierre White's own makeover at Drones delivers a similar menu in more attractive surroundings. Further east, Incognico on Shaftesbury Avenue offers classic French dishes in a more intimate and attentive atmosphere. Perhaps the Parisienne Chophouse was merely the site of the crash and not its cause but until we get black boxes fitted, why take chances?
Parisienne Chophouse, 3 Yeomans Row, London SW3 (020-7590 9999). Mon-Sat lunch noon-2.30pm (3pm Sat), dinner 5.30-11pm, Sun noon-4pm, 6-10pm. Mon-Sat set two-course lunch £9.95. All major cards accepted. No wheelchair accessReuse content