The fame game

Limp lettuce and soggy lasagne - the restaurant of a hot new celebrity chef leaves Kate Stronach wishing she'd stuck to watching on TV
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

It used to be that celebrity was based upon three things: good teeth, a commendable derriÿre and - if all else failed - talent. Well no more. In a generation where you are only remarkable if you haven't appeared on television, the regulations have deteriorated. Eminence is now allotted, like council flats, on a points basis. A troublesome childhood should be worth about five points, drug and alcohol dependency earn a further 10, sexual orientation quandaries add 20 and so on.

It used to be that celebrity was based upon three things: good teeth, a commendable derriÿre and - if all else failed - talent. Well no more. In a generation where you are only remarkable if you haven't appeared on television, the regulations have deteriorated. Eminence is now allotted, like council flats, on a points basis. A troublesome childhood should be worth about five points, drug and alcohol dependency earn a further 10, sexual orientation quandaries add 20 and so on.

Allegra McEvedy is a victorious contestant in the new fame game. A difficult and self-destructive adolescence, a loose mouth and a fondness for food have, apparently, made her "the hottest celebrity chef" on the culinary circles merry-go-round. She "gives it large", claims to abhor being labelled the "new Jamie Oliver" and says that she would hurl herself off a cliff if she ever won a Michelin star.

Three years ago The Good Cook opened in Notting Hill's Tabernacle - the local community centre - and, for a populace girdled by overrated and overpriced establishments, it was a discovery of sorts. McEvady cooked palatable food and sold it at virtuous prices - you could get a two-course meal for a fiver. Then, perhaps inevitably, Allegra got noticed. She penned the mandatory book, landed herself a television pilot and a publicity machine and made the predestined "swift exit" from the confines of a community café to Kensington High Street.

Housed in an old bank at the moneyed end of Kensington, The Good Cook proffers an erratic design style that includes harsh modern lighting, original wood panelling and an abundance of purple. The dining room was a third full and those seated clearly had no idea where they were. Tourists, business lunches and old Kensington toffs, who seemed to have missed the doorway of Wheelers next door, abounded.

My accomplice agreeably offered to try the "Good Deal" - a set lunch affair that started with gazpacho. I favoured the squid salad with fattoush tomatoes.

The gazpacho was pretty dire. It had slabs of celery drowning on top and arrived still fizzing from the blender. It was submitted chilled, not room temperature, and was lacking a heavy olive oil base. The squid was better, and although impeded with a trifling batter, it was no threat to the teeth. It sat among a qualified salad of watercress, mixed leaves and baked tomatoes and was, though by no means an octopusset that had ever been loved, at £6, adequate.

We chose an agreeable and buttery Semillion Chardonnay 1998 at £3 a glass chosen from a list that was divided into novice-friendly selections. Headings came under the guise of "light, elegant whites" and "full, rounded reds", not to mention the heartbreaking selection marked for the attention of those "who want to have a good time". Not us, obviously.

To follow was Caesar salad (as part of the deal) and a butternut squash lasagne at £9.50. The Caesar salad was not. Lettuce, avocado, chicken, chargrilled courgettes and capers all pranced around the plate ignorant of the crime they were committing. There was no parmesan, no Cos and no egg in sight. To heap dull elements carelessly on a plate and with no discernible dressing ought to signify a jail term for any chef that dares to call it Caesar.

The lasagne tasted like a soggy paperback. It was a mean, bean counting dish with too much pasta and too little filling. The squash, ricotta and pine nuts that slouched near the base were actually very tasty. The combination would have been great as a ravioli but had little chance to glow against the oily burnt cheese and flour that swaddled them.

Not remarkably we preferred to omit pudding altogether. We could have had brownies (Dodie, my American companion, declared they are inedible outside the States) or the wonderfully titled "fruit of the moment". Instead, we appealed for clemency and paid our £45 reckoning.

I did not witness Allegra McEvady "giving it large" or being young, hip and shouty via the swing doors into the kitchen. Possibly she was not there and, consequently, is not wholly culpable for the food. Nevertheless, as head chef, she is still censurable for it. I really don't think she has to worry about that Michelin star business for the foreseeable future at least. As with so much - don't believe the hype.

Comments