“I’ve forgotten who I had lunch with earlier, and even more important, where.”
We walk through a glass door and then sliding oak doors to the restaurant, where we hand over our outerwear to the Front of House, who politely, and diligently accepts layers until so laden that it seems the waiter is performing a balancing act. At no point do they admit defeat – that there is too much in the pile – for that is not the done thing.
The decor is reminiscent of the expectations of a 90’s New York restaurant in which patrons expectedly debate the qualities of their business cards. In fact, I would not be surprised if the menu was presented in raised lettering in pale nimbus on white, but alas, there are no hard-bodies in this joint. Instead, a mixed range of old and young patrons including people ‘doing business’ sit on comfortable black chairs and tan-leather upholstery against a backdrop of wallpaper which appears hand-crafted – almost like a patchwork – with circular flashes of a metallic copper leaf. Underfoot, a patterned carpet, striped or chevron, looks soft enough that it is no surprise to find out that this is replaced every two to three years. The light oak panelling is echoed in and through the slatted oak blinds, which provides a small glimpse of life outside to the port.
Everywhere there are motifs of circles, spheres and globes, from the tables like our own, to large overhead paper light fittings and weighty globe vases with frosted centres elegantly decorated with Fibonacci flowers and perfect lollipop-shaped scabious seed heads. I find joy in the round pleasantness of the beautiful bone china side plates, whose wide rims are embossed in matt and gloss glaze in an eye-catching circular pattern.
These shapes are reinforced by the signature appetisers. We glance at each other awkwardly as we are slightly confused by which vintage teaspoons should be used to ‘amuse our bouche’.
I had to reflect – was our table round? Yes, it definitely was, we could all see each other over large wine glasses as we laughed. Was our cutlery heavy? I can’t remember – this is probably because it felt ‘right’. I don’t remember specific music or strong scents, though I am ever reminded of the looming presence of the large wood and glass cheese trolley, like a Bentley of the restaurant world.
The toilets are hidden through more sliding doors…a fact which you either have to know from a prior visit, or ask to be directed. Once again they are panelled in oak, with scented hand cream and white cloths to dry your hands on. The illusion of perfection is slightly marred when visiting prior to service and realising the toilet paper is yet to be replenished. I forget there is an invisible someone who does this every day.
We are ‘Sirs’ and ‘Madams’ and are greeted in mostly French accents with formal, attentive service provided by staff in grey tweed waistcoats. The sommelier is eager to explain his wine choices to us, yet swift as he is ever-aware of the expectation on the faces of a bunch of hungry students with full plates in front of them. He finishes, and wishes us ‘Bon Appetit’. We dine…