Another trip to London, another landmark of my youth gone. Bertorelli La Toscana in Notting Hill Gate has closed and a nondescript Mexican restaurant has risen effortlessly on the ashes. I loved this restaurant more than any other. It was one of the last surviving Italian trattorias. You know the type – big in the Seventies, with bad paintings on the wall, all by a "local artist" and available to buy. There were also wicker-basket Chianti bottles and signed photos of grateful celebrity patrons. They had China Crisis, Simple Minds, Chris de Burgh and an unsigned photo of Sophia Loren that took centre stage.
I used to go there a lot. As a youth I had many an awkward parental meal in there. Later, I met my wife for the first time in there. I took my four-day-old daughter there for supper. I used to go for ideas meetings for Trigger Happy TV in there, and we eventually filmed a sketch (the mafia don being shot into his spaghetti) in there. Once, I even met Jason Alexander (who played George Costanza) from Seinfeld in there... the thing was I hadn't seen Seinfeld at the time and had no idea who he was.
Signor Bertorelli, who ran the place, would always answer the phone and, before taking your reservation, warn you: "You know we're not the famous Bertorelli... the one in Covent Garden?" After you'd assured him that you knew this and that you wanted to come anyway, he was all joy and light. Once inside, you'd sit down and peruse the giant menu knowing this was just for show. I would always have the same thing – a small spaghetti bolognese followed by veal piccata al limone. It was heaven on a plate. Fabulous comfort food, washed down with lashings of red wine and laughter.
One day we were very drunk and Trigger Happy TV had just come on the telly. We were accorded the greatest honour Mr Bertorelli could give us – he asked for a signed photograph for the wall. Sam Cadman and I went off to a novelty photo booth and had our photo taken as a policeman and a Victorian lady. We handed over this gold-framed sepia photo to a confused-looking Mr Bertorelli who took it in good humour. For a while we were right next to Sophia Loren, but then we were moved as I think, deep down, he felt we were disrespectful to this great artiste.
After the veal, the sweet trolley would be wheeled out. When do you ever see a sweet trolley anymore? I knew it off by heart, but would let "Mamma"' reel off the delights. I would always choose profiteroles, the food of the gods. We'd stay late into the night drinking coffee and getting more and more drunk. Often, people at remaining tables would join together in a very un-English way and we'd all end up chatting and even sometimes, God help us, singing.
Now it's gone – one of the last survivors of an older, calmer, gentler Notting Hill. A time before the bankers and the wankers came, with their sushi bars and cocktail joints. It held out for a very long time – I used to drive past and always be pleased to see that it was still there, a link to my London youth. Then, two days ago, I drove past and it was gone. Somehow, the new restaurant was already open and half-full of bored-looking tourists having a break and a crap margarita before descending the Portobello Road.
I wondered where the photos had gone. China Crisis and Simple Minds went in the bin, I'm sure, as Mr Bertorelli didn't seem to know who they were. Chris de Burgh and us – maybe someone kept these, maybe not? Sophia Loren? I'm sure she's still hanging somewhere special – the last survivor of a fabulous time.Reuse content