Today I had a business lunch at Foxtrot Oscar (http://www.gordonramsay.com/foxtrotoscar/) 79 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3. It was extraordinary for two reasons, one was the customers and the other, the rather dreary food in this Gordon Ramsay franchise. The scary thing was that the customers were rather more interesting and certainly better sauced than the food.
I arrived early and was seated at a table as the restaurant was beginning to fill. The diners were a mixture of what I’d call normal shoppers plus about 50% who were a peculiar type of Chelsea local. They were not ladies who lunch, these were older men whose defining characteristics were the quantity of time on their hands and money. Lots of one and rather less of the other. They were like PG Woodhouse characters who livers had survived long enough to make it into the Naughties. The best thing to do at this stage is to share some dialogue with you.
Picture the scene, we have a cast of four:
Reggie Mainwaring – 68, red nose, 1968 Gieves & Hawkes blazer (without regimental button) sitting on his chair as if the hemorrhoids were in full spate
Johnny ‘Johners’ Johnson – 65, red nose, leaning against the wall for support
Gerry Trubshaw – 72, red nose, military crease in khaki trousers, regulation check shirt (M&S)
Mine Host – 68, red nose, walks diagonally
Here is the conversation
Reggie “Did you hear about Miranda? Left Bingo for an Argentinian garage door salesman, nice girl always was trying to get into my trousers”
Johnny “Yes Bingo, he was friends with Turdy Trubshaw…”
Reggie “Ah Turdy, died last year – the old liver you know”
Johnny “Did you know Tesco’s sell sardines in tins? Only 35p a pop. That means I can eat for three days a for a quid. marvelous, marvelous”
The owner arrives
Mine Host (for it is he) “Reggie, Johnie good to see you. It’s been ages”
Reggie “We were in on Monday”
Mine Host “Were you. Memories playing up old boy. Look after lunch, I’ve got Daggers Dagwood popping in. We’re nipping upstairs with a couple of bottles to watch the cricket. Care to join us”
Reggie & Johnie (in unison) “Rather….”
Door opens and Gerry Trubshaw enters
Mine Host “Gerry dear boy, good to see you, it’s been ages”
Gerry “Ah…..I was in on Tuesday”
Mine Host “Let me introduce you to Johnny, Reggie you know”
Reggie “Gerry, how are you. Still doing the MCC? How is Sarah”
Gerry “Sarah left me last year. Good old thing. Can’t think why? Any chance of a glass of the old vino?”
Johnny “Of course dear boy. How’s the love life”
Gerry “Splendid, the girlfriend is out of town at the moment” [Thai prostitute deported after a two week fling following last MCC Goodwill tour]
And on went this bizarre conversation planted firmly in the lingo of 1940’s public schools, driven by alchohol and a strange bunch of characters all destined to arrive in the next few minutes. Waiting for Godot meets the Marquis of Blandings. They stunned me so much that I immediately grabbed my BlackBerry and got on line and found this fantasic review by AA Gill in the Sunday Times. What was the most amazing thing was that his experiences of the restaurant was identical. Read his review here for a really funny look at this style of restaurant.
The food was far less entertaining that the customers as it suffered from that overzealous optimisation that can happen when celebrity chefs try and do bistros. The Roux Brothers tried it in the City in the 1980’s where you left feeling milked rather than fed. Over zealous portion control, an identikit, cookie cutter experience that left you wondering where the soul had gone. The potted duck was OK but I felt they had had a meeeting to discuss how many baby cornishon was allowable under EBITDA targets. The fishcake was too uniform, too processed to look real. The waitress asked if we were OK with shell fish being in the fish cake. Why hadn’t they just printed this on the menu but maybe it just becomes a linguistic train wrek. Shell fish fish cake, shell fish cake or fish cake with shell fish.
It had all the portion control fascism of an airline meal with almost as much charm