Restaurants: Diners' club
Caroline Stacey Downstairs they're raving. Upstairs you're settling in for a quiet dinner. It's enough to make you feel like an Agen prune. Photographs by Dominic Dibbs
Saturday 22 August 1998
Sitting and eating is the last thing on most clubbers' minds, and I've always imagined the few venues with a mezzanine restaurant are liable to attract sleazy record company executives wining and dining on expenses while the CD-buying masses disport themselves in hell's kitchen below. But, with a team that has done the rounds of some of London's better bars and restaurants, and cutting-edge interior design, aka sounded as if it was taking seriously the challenge of sustaining its less restless and thirsty customers.
We thought we could treat the restaurant as a civilised way into the club: dine late and dance later, pre-empting the quest for kebab and chips on the way home. We booked a table for 11pm, which seemed respectably late, and plunged down the backstreet to find it. Immediately, a gang of youths pounced on us with an offer of E or speed. Not an offer I've ever had on my way to supper - kind of them to think of it, but we'd rather not spoil our appetites.
On the opposite side of the road, a queue of bedraggled 20-year-olds waited to get into the club. We swept past them up to the guys on the door, announcing that we were booked into the restaurant and would they be good enough to let us through. No they wouldn't, we'd have to go next door.
The restaurant is upstairs, a sharply upholstered eyrie of smartly laid tables overhanging the deliberately distressed warehouse-like bar. It was here that it finally dawned on us: a glimpse of the chill-out room through the guarded door next to the lavatories, was as close as we would get to clubbing.
On our side of the divide, safely removed from the fray, we didn't have to shout over the funk and R&B thumping in the bar below, but, as the restaurant itself is small, the background noise could make you relieved or disappointed that the real action's going on out of sight.
But to the food: fennel and broad bean risotto was as risotto should be, almost ambrosial; a more ambitious terrine of skate and oysters, impacted beyond recognition, was a little dry as terrines tend to be if there isn't some fat to bind them, and it was not as luxurious as the addition of the bivalves would suggest. But my consort is still recovering from a bad oyster trip a couple of years ago, so this was a positive step towards rehabilitation. His seafood linguine actually comprised grilled fish beside a tangle of pasta, though a fine, clear tomato juice it ensured it was the most refreshing sounding main course My pork with Agen prunes (easy to misread as "aged" if you're short-sighted and feeling sensitive) on mashed potato was thirstier work. The meat was interleaved with smoky pancetta, which overpowered the already potent balance of meat, prunes and wild mushrooms.
"Good for the munchies," declared the consort nostalgically, polishing off his chocolate mousse with a fudgy base. This is what you should expect of class club food, modern and unflashy, though I doubt many clubbers are on anything that gives them a Mars Bar head. The mineral water is the salty Badoit, the wine list is well annotated.
Since we never did get privileged entry to The End, I can't say how the restaurant compares to a state-of-the-art dance venue, but there aren't many places you can eat well after midnight (last orders for food are 1am, for drinks 3am), and at a price (pounds 20 for three courses) that's not unreasonable for this level of dining - well above bar food. Aka keeps its end up as the third angle of the management's dancing and drinking equation, proof that eating now has a status equal to the other stimulants that keep us going after hours
Aka, 18 West Central Street, London WC1 (0171-836 0110). Lunch Mon-Fri, Sun noon-4pm, dinner, Mon-Sat 6pm-1am. Average lunch pounds 15-pounds 20, dinner pounds 20-pounds 30.
More late-night eateries overleaf.
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