TV dinners are a turn-off

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19 20 19-20 Great Sutton St, London EC1 0DR, tel: 020 7253 1920

19 20 19-20 Great Sutton St, London EC1 0DR, tel: 020 7253 1920

An American friend who is thinking of moving to London was asking my advice about where to buy a flat. I ran through the possible postcodes, leaning towards the trendier spots because I knew that he is one of those people to whom such things matter. When I had finished, he mulled momentarily and then said, "Didn't Notting Hill used to be fashionable?"

How I laughed. Well, yes, I suppose it did, I told him. But that was way, way back, like in '98, man. The new, young, e-besotted media-hip tycoonling would no sooner live in Notting Hill today than Salman Rushdie would in Kabul. Hoxton's had it, Primrose Hill's popped its clogs, Kentish Town has a year or two before it matures into the Chelsea of the new century, so I suppose it has to be Clerkenwell - the upped-and-come quarter that has not quite outstayed its welcome.

The density of decent restaurants (well, how else do you measure areas?) is enough to make your head spin. We repaired to 19:20 in Great Sutton Street. He would see what Clerkenwell was all about, and I would get an insight into the sort of fool place that would dare to open in an area so heaving with high quality competition.

"Rwoarr!" he said as we walked in. "Hot diggety dog!" he screeched as we arrived at our table and sat down. "You may well squawk," I said. "For this is indeed a startling example of the style of restaurant design in which 21st Century functionalism meets 1970s high kitsch with a dash of ersatz Nineties irony. Observe the occasional port-hole, the skylight supported on curved buttresses whose lines mirror the advances of 1950s brassiere technology, and yet at the same time flatter the dark-stained wooden floorboards and hardwood chairs with their peach-toned upholstery. The central stairwell plunging to a cavernous bar is punctuated with a vast drooping lantern of orange Perspex..." "No, man," he interrupted. "I mean look at the chicks."

I pointed out that one does not, in Clerkenwell, make animal noises about the waitresses. At least not until one has admired the decor. When he had calmed down we ordered. Tuna maki rolls with pickled ginger, and a goat's cheese and red pepper galette with reduced balsamic jam are delicate examples of "fusion" cuisine, a genre often abused but admirably executed at 19:20. Best of all, crispy crab spring rolls come with a delicious little pot of coriander jelly, as green and glowing as the radioactive nugget Homer pulls out of his shirt in the credits of The Simpsons.

Confit of duck on bok choi and fermented black beans gives a welcome twist to what has become a tired brasserie standard. Salmon fillet, the jellied eel of the new millennium, is rejuvenated by being grilled so that a crisp outside and rare-ish centre escape all charges of fishiness, and slide down nicely with a sweet and sour relish.

"And just what in tarnation are those?" asked my redneck friend, indicating a table of four in one corner.

"Those," I replied, "are junior executives in a small production company that is almost certainly producing a fly-on-the-wall documentary for Carlton Food Network. Note the nylon combat trousers and the silly Michael Jordan basketball trainers on the feet of the very dweebs who produced forged verruca notes on games days. They have Joe 90 glasses because they think it is ironic that they were once glasses for spods. But they are such dorks themselves that even as they sit there trying to be ironic, they are spoddifying the specs all over again."

As we tucked into little waffly things with candied ginger, fruit sushi, and something with star anise, a bloke wearing Sue Pollard specs in his hair was shouting into his mobile phone, "yeah, yeah, it's sort of like Pacific rim meets Escoffier at a minimalist wedding catered by Ken Hom and Ainsley Harriott." The idiot was right, in a way. But isn't it amazing how people who spend their lives pitching ideas for television programmes can make almost anything sound irretrievably stupid? Catch Clerkenwell while you can. The morons are coming.

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