The Belvedere, Holland House , Holland Park, Kensington, London W11, tel: 020 7602 1238
Lone diners are about as popular as horse meat in a British restaurant. This is because reservations occur naturally in multiples of two and we dine not just to break bread in the rudimentary sense but to talk, too. Besides, who can relish a meal next to someone who is alone? You either worry that they are recently released into the community or are a restaurant inspector who is going to close the place down before you get to the notorious pain franÃ§ais.
Now I am not saying that the solitary human being should be damned to a life of Bachelors' Cupasoup and sandwiches, but supermarkets, McDonald's and internet chat rooms are open around the clock these days.
Imagine my dismay then when I received a phone call. My lunch date informed me that they were unavoidably held up and I would have to dine alone. My first compunction was to run away and my second to call the Samaritans but I rebuked these cowardly instincts - after all, my ancestors were made of sterner stuff. I hauled in my tummy, puffed out my chest and pulled up at the Belvedere.
Set within the park's grounds, the Belvedere is a beautiful spot for lunch. Tables are surrounded by rose gardens and camellia bushes. The air is fragrant and the vista (after all, "belvedere" means beautiful view) discerning. Inside, the old favourite of Kensington Eurotrash has had (like many of its previous customers) a facelift. It is now all buffed leather banquets, wild orchids, high ceilings and glass.
Once inside, to my abject terror, I found I was the only patron. Three staff wrestled for the chance to take my coat, a fourth eliminated my hat. You could almost hear him say: "She's not famous and where is this supposed date?" I made my way to the bar in the vain expectation that someone familiar would arrive and invite me on to their table. Alas, no.
Two gins later and I was imbibing the menu. The kitchen is now in the hands of an old flame-griller of Marco Pierre White, Jeremy Hollingsworth, who has put together an accomplished menu. Despite popular doctrine, he is not the owner - that is Jimmy LeHoud of Quo Vadis and L'Escargot fame.
To start with, I could have had gnocchi of wild mushrooms Ã la ProvenÃ§al (whatever) or a high veloute of poached egg and chicken oysters. However, the mosaic of chicken, foie gras and sweetbreads, at £9.50, demanded me.
There was not an orphan ingredient on the plate. This was a prosaic terrine of poached chicken, force-fed goose and wholesome sweetbreads bound with an unctuous gelÃ©e, ham and cornichons, and as any appetiser should, it left me baying for the next course. A glass of smooth, stylish Syrah (Cuvee Troigos R Serol from France at £3.75 a glass) was favoured to usher in my follow-up appointment, which was the calves liver with fresh lime.
This was altogether a more monastic affair. It was two inches thick and the size of a shoe and, although not as pink as it should be, it was pale, plump and heady. The unfamiliar unification of liver and lime proved an inspired pairing, with the pungent lime piercing through the cream of the liver and nicely offsetting that wet dog scent it proffers. If a criticism was to be noted it would be that the pomme purÃ©e was encumbered by density, but this was a professional dish with precise seasoning. In fact, on returning home I realised I had not used the salt and pepper or indeed noticed them once.
About me, the hall filled. Couples romanced and French fancies laughed with all the camaraderie of the common dining experience, but I did not begrudge them. This was food with which you could happily suffer isolation.
I was enjoying myself so much that I decided to try pudding. Now I am not sweet-toothed but this was a blow-out and I was aiming for obesity. A decree was therefore issued, to my Gallic assistant, for the most sickening sounding thing on the dessert menu to be brought to me. Caramel soufflÃ© with Cafe de Paris ice cream.
Half an hour later I was in shock. The soufflÃ© was tall, stately and potently saccharine. For me, it was a nightmare. I cannot recollect what it tasted like or whether I drank the comely Baronne Mathilde Sauternes that had been arranged to accompany it. All I know is that it was gone, and so was I. It took a double espresso, two cigarettes and a bottle of water to get me to the position where the bill could be requested.
For £70 I learnt two things: to stand by the savoury; and that - as the She-Delia says - one is indeed, fun.
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