The chosen few

Simon Hopkinson's favourite restaurant? An impossible question, but a series of endlessly delicious answers
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Ultimately futile as answers to "What is your favourite ... ?" usually turn out to be, the request itself remains difficult to ignore, whatever you might think of whoever asks it. One swiftly thinks, "But why do they need to know?" and "What will they think of me when I give them my answer [or not]?" And it finally culminates in, "Will I get paid some money for my expert opinion?" Yes, well, some people do charge for their opinions about anything at all, these days.

Ultimately futile as answers to "What is your favourite ... ?" usually turn out to be, the request itself remains difficult to ignore, whatever you might think of whoever asks it. One swiftly thinks, "But why do they need to know?" and "What will they think of me when I give them my answer [or not]?" And it finally culminates in, "Will I get paid some money for my expert opinion?" Yes, well, some people do charge for their opinions about anything at all, these days.

I reckon you will find that even the very hardest, the most truculent or terminally insular will, eventually, freely offer up his or her opinion when asked the "favourite" question. It is interesting, though, isn't it, that before so much as even the vaguest category has been mooted, someone always shouts, "Oh, yeah, well its got to be Citizen Kane, hasn't it?"

As you might imagine, I am regularly asked which is my favourite food, either to cook or eat (I remain forever amazed that the questioner is surprised when I tell them this is one and the same thing) and, naturally, which restaurant do I like more than any other. I suppose I could say, "Well, now, have you by any chance heard of the Citizen Kane Bar & Grill in Shepperton? You know, the one near the film studios?" I don't, of course, because I think of myself as a very nice person. But, then, who knows, there may well be a Citizen Kane Bar & Grill in Shepperton which is very good indeed and of which I know absolutely nothing about. "Oh, yes, Gerald and I adore it! We eat there every Friday lunch, don't we darling? Do you know Serge and Monique well?" You have to be on your guard at all times.

In the past I have answered that it could be The Four Seasons, in New York City, where the food is just fine and sometimes memorable (particularly so when white truffles arrive in mid-October and they generously shave them over a superb tangle of creamed tagliatelle). But, truly, it is the sheer scale of each of the two magnificently proportioned dining rooms, "The Pool Room" and "The Bar Room", that lift my heart and cause my tummy to flutter. Each of these soaring spaces were designed by Philip Johnson at the end of the Fifties and so smoothly do they slot into the ground floor of Mies van der Rohe's darkly dazzling, shiny-black Seagram building, that the very idea of one existing without the other now seems as inconceivable as might Françoise Espinasse's exuberant 1910 London Michelin Building (he designed one for Paris, too) without its first-floor Bibendum restaurant, proudly prow forward.

And then there is La Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence, and Tetou in Golfe Juan-les-Pins, both on the French Riviera, or La Tupina, in Bordeaux, nearer to the cooler Atlantic coast. Then there is the extraordinary El Bulli, near Rosas, on the Catalonian coast of northern Spain, and Dal Pescatore in the minuscule village of Canneto sull'Oglio, Mantua, Italy - both of which have three Michelin stars and rightly so. Or what about Chez l'Ami Louis, La Tour d'Argent and Brasserie Lipp, all three of which are in Paris, each one as different to the other as it is possible to be and yet equal favourites ...

Closer to home there is also the Italian restaurant Riva, in Barnes - after each and every time I eat there it automatically reinstates itself at the top of the list - Le Gavroche, in Mayfair - where everything, at all times, seems to be just perfect - and, of course, Bibendum [that's twice, now, Hoppy! Ed] in Chelsea where, spookily, they seem to know me quite well now, where the cooking is so good it always reminds me of home.

So, it is clearly obvious that there is never going to be just the one movie - the one sitcom, even - the one hotel, the one airline, the one shoe shop, the singularly fine greengrocers, cheese emporium or vintners. But, I am thinking, what about those unusually special establishments which, for all sorts of reasons, do not immediately pop into my head when "that question" is asked, but yet surreptitiously tick over in the ever topped-up, simmering stockpot of my lunchtime subconscious, and then suddenly bob up to the surface as might a clove-studded onion having previously been entrapped by a particularly tight mingle of awkward chicken wings (this purposeful frivolity has already been faxed to Lord Gnome, so don't even think about it).

And so, with this inkling tantalisingly marinating in the porcelain bowl that is your loyal readership, next week all will be revealed as I look forward to celebrating the admirable qualities of two unusually rare restaurants and a unique pub. And, in fact, it is exactly that description "admirable" which immediately comes to mind when I think of this trio. Favourites? Well, of course they are, silly! But not just at the moment.

Sorry? What was that? No, no, surely not! You really want to know? Oh, all right then, that'll be £142.50 plus VAT, please. Since you ask, it's actually the double-bill of The Godfather, Part One and Two, neatly sandwiched together as it now is in a chronologically re-mixed trio of video tapes and suitably enclosed within a black and gold compendium boxed set. OK.

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