Editor-At-Large: Dinner with the beautiful, blonde and loaded

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The Independent Online

If you're very blonde and have expensive tastes in dining, better not read on. Stuart Rose, the boss of Marks & Spencer, has recruited a very well-known blonde, Twiggy, to head up his advertising campaign. In its latest magazine, she's modelling the latest stuff that M&S hopes will continue to turn around its fortunes - tasteful stuff in cream and natural shades in suitably understated surroundings.

But Mr Rose has caused a storm in a champagne bucket with his off-the-cuff remarks about one of the most fashionable restaurants in London, Cipriani, which opened last year just around the corner from Claridge's in Mayfair. He said that he avoids Cipriani because "it's full of very strange people after 9pm - large contingents of very blonde ladies, if you know what I mean".

Now Arrigo Cipriani, one of the restaurant's owners, is threatening to sue, claiming that his establishment has been unfairly smeared. After all, this is where everyone from Prince Andrew to Simon Cowell and Robbie Williams pops in for a plate of pasta or a veal chop that usually sets them back over £100 a head.

My visit (thank goodness I wasn't paying) last week involved negotiating a passage to the door past paparazzi busily photographing the people inside from the street over the top of the curtains in the front windows. Then I had to fight my way through a throng of fat men with bulging bellies waving huge cigars at the bar. My octopus starter was delicious, and my veal chop enough to feed a family of four. My dining companion received a text from Milan telling him he'd been spotted by an Arab princess! The family at the next table were into their third bottle of Cristal. It's that kind of place.

At 9.30 I noticed a steady stream of unbelievably beautiful women with gorgeous shapely figures and unbelievably form-fitting jeans and tops, carefully threading their way through the tables to the toilets and back. Is this what Mr Rose means? Meanwhile, any of these women would certainly have livened up the rather dull underwear section of his M&S magazine.

The next night I visited a restaurant so achingly fashionable that it has no sign outside. You head through last year's trendy neighbourhood, Hoxton, and keep going east, up Hackney Road past about a dozen handbag wholesalers. Forget Mayfair, Haggerston has been picked by Lonely Planet guidebooks as one of the new hip places in London, and there is nowhere more chic than Bistrotheque, a converted sweatshop that's been turned into a bar and restaurant.

I kept a good lookout for busty blondes, but the clientele was decidedly downbeat. Hoodies, sweats and trainers were worn by middle-aged men with shaved heads or David Baddiel lookalikes with specs and goatee beards. In a bare room with marble-topped tables and sauce bottles, I ate duck shepherd's pie. It was about £30 cheaper than my main course at Cipriani, but after you've added the cost of a cab each way to northern Bethnal Green, it probably works out the same.

Celebs - no problem, the East End certainly has its fans: actress Samantha Morton, designer Giles Deacon and editor of Pop magazine Katie Grand are all regulars, and I spotted photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

At least at Bistrotheque they have a real cabaret downstairs, so you don't have to rely on watching blondes visit the toilet. A camp couple of chaps called Spanky and Xavior trilled their way through a hilarious hour of irreverent pop send-ups. Spanky, real name Rhys Morgan, was an unemployed actor from New Zealand last year when he entered and won £500 in Bistrotheque's transvestite lip-synching competition.

Now, as their reputation grows outside the areas of London with E numbers in their postcodes, I expect to see Xavior and Spanky dining with Mr Cowell at Cipriani before next month is out.

On yer bike, Charles, and stop the 'interventions'

The Prince of Wales has made another "intervention", this time on obesity. Citing research that shows if we walk or cycle for half an hour a day we'll be fit and not fat, HRH wonders why more of us don't do it.

He thinks that, as usual, it's the fault of architects and planners who don't make towns and cities more appealing places to walk around.

If I were Richard Rogers or Norman Foster I would have difficulty in not chucking my set square in the direction of Clarence House. Architects worth their salt know about accessibility and public spaces - it's the kind of basic stuff you're taught at college, for goodness' sake.

Prince Charles has several chefs who prepare him one organic meal a day, and has miles of his family's land to walk over undisturbed at Balmoral and Sandringham. He's got shooting parties for exercise and chauffeurs to take the strain out of driving. I don't imagine he gets his exercise walking up and down the aisles of supermarkets shopping for bargains either.

Foresight, the government-funded science and technology programme, predicted last week that travel will have to change radically. We'll be cycling or jumping into one-person rentable public pods to get to work, and car use will decline. Teleconferencing will replace travel and more people will live off the land.

Somehow I don't think Prince Charles will be trading the Bentley for a pod.

Who Hay? The BBC doesn't need to listen to this voice

How many members does the broadcasting pressure group Voice of the Listener & Viewer actually have? When I was a BBC executive back in the early Nineties, Jocelyn Hay, the organisation's founder and chair, was a regular protester at public meetings. The other day she was still at it, moaning away about the demise of the UK theme music on Radio 4. I've never met anyone who actually belongs to her club, so why does the BBC still allow her air time when there are plenty of other, more representative pundits around?

Not for sale: Busybodies make a walk in the woods a crime

A new crime: picking ceps and chanterelles. A woman banned from picking mushrooms in the New Forest last week took the Government to court to fight for her right to continue to gather and then sell funghi. The Forestry Commission has decided that Brigitte Tee-Hillman, who has gathered mushrooms in this national park since 1973, can no longer do so because she sells them to restaurants and shops. Has the Forestry Commission nothing better to do, such as providing litter bins, better footpath signs or more public toilets?

She started it: Let's hear it for 'the woman who hates women'

Channel 4 last night showed my documentary 'Desperate Women', about the tendency of many women in the media to attack the sisterhood. I suggested that this dated back to the biggest harpie of the lot, the late 'Daily Mail' columnist Lynda Lee-Potter. She once said that Mo Mowlam looked like a Geordie trucker when Mo, who died last year, was seriously ill. So why was I not surprised when the 'Mail' took a whole page last week to denounce me as "the woman who hates other women"?

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