FOR THE non-football fan, London's social scene at present feels something like a cultural desert. But the World Cup is providing one unexpected bonus: rare tables at the most exclusive restaurants - and around the magic time of 8pm.
Normally one might wait up to six months for a table at restaurants such as the Oxo Tower, Pharmacy, or Le Gavroche. Some restaurants seem positively to revel in informing the unwary diner of their lack of vacancies.
Yesterday, however, many were unusually inviting. Those happy to take a prime-time booking during kick-off included San Lorenzo, the favourite haunt of Diana, Princess of Wales; Pharmacy, Damien Hirst's ultra-trendy eaterie, and Granita, favourite of the New Labour set.
The River Cafe was reporting double the number of cancellations, while at the Oxo Tower, where one might usually have to book five weeks in advance, tables were available at 8pm or 9pm.
Silvano Giraldin, general manager of Le Gavroche in Mayfair, said that customers tended to cancel when they realised England were playing.
"The World Cup is costing us money," Mr Giraldin lamented. "On the Monday England played Tunisia we had about 30 cancellations for lunch.
"Last Friday ... there were 30 cancellations and not one single British person in the restaurant."
Tonight, he said, a company which had booked a private room for a party had to cancel because so many people had dropped out. "Three or four tables have already been cancelled and we are expecting more last-minute cancellations because of the World Cup."
A spokesman for Pharmacy said bookings go down 10 per cent when England play, while Granita blamed the World Cup, Wimbledon and the school holidays for unusual 15 per cent drops.
A rare exception to the trend was the Michelin-starred Aubergine which is, ironically, owned by the former footballer Gordon Ramsey. Footie or no footie, you'd still have to wait a stomach-rumbling six months for your meal there.
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