Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi were a strangely matched pair. But their public meltdown is in every way unpalatable

  • @Simon_Kelner

We were having dinner in London's most unprepossessing, least fashionable restaurant, on the ground floor of a block of flats in suburban St John's Wood. Oslo Court's clientele was largely made up of old Jewish couples arguing loudly with each other, and the menu suggested that the dining-out revolution of the past two decades had never happened.

This was a place where you could order prawn cocktail, steak and chips followed by Black Forest gateau.

Oslo Court achieved notoriety of sorts 18 months ago when the Prime Minister and his wife, keeping it real, visited the restaurant on one of their scheduled “date nights”.

It was also where I had dinner with Nigella L­awson and Charles Saatchi, and where I ­happened upon the title of my never-to-be-written autobiography.

On my plate was a latke, a highly calorific fried potato pancake that is a staple of kosher cuisine. Before I had a chance to decide whether I was going to foreshorten my life by a few minutes and eat it, Nigella leaned across me, stabbed the latke and devoured it herself. That’s it, I thought. “Nigella Stole My Latke!” – the title of my life story. A combination of celebrity, ethnic food and errant behaviour that’s bound to be a winner.

I know this trivial little story adds very little to the Charles and Nigella drama that is being played out in courtrooms and on newspaper front pages, but, as far as the allegations of ­Nigella’s cocaine habit are concerned, I have been advised to tread a careful line, so to speak.

At Oslo Court, and at a couple of subsequent dinners, I found them to be an odd couple, he distracted and she intense, he always on some faddish diet – eating only eggs, or peas or artichoke hearts, or whatever – and she betraying the healthy appetite of the omnivore.

They may each have their own food issues, and it is bleakly fitting that the final scenes of their marriage took place against the backdrop of a famous London restaurant: Charles appearing to throttle Nigella, and soon afterwards Charles, at what seemed to be the very same table, having a nice time with his new girlfriend.

This must have piled insult upon injury for Nigella, and whatever else, it was not gentlemanly behaviour. Couldn’t he have gone somewhere else for his Dover sole? Not least, this betrayed a surprising lack of imagination for a man as inventive as Saatchi.

There is something hugely dismaying - not to mention distasteful - about a couple as clever and interesting as Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson being involved in such a public spat, even if the dirt-chucking has been almost exclusively going in one direction.

Is he treating it like a piece of performance art, installed on a tabloid canvas? Is she starring in a weird, silent production in which she maintains a sphinx-like countenance, on instruction from her PR guru?

Either way, it is a sorry old tale of our times, involving armies of lawyers, advisers, paparazzi and tabloid journalists, compromising friends and family, and feeding the base, prurient instincts of a public happy to revel in a gilded couple’s agony because it takes their minds off their own troubles. It all leaves a shocking taste in my mouth.