Published 17 October 1993 Style Magazine 17th article
Pretty good service: The Tholstrups (Koo Stark)
I never go anywhere with an open mind. We all build up a view of everything, from people to places, on scant information before later and fuller knowledge. My advance opinion of Daphne's in Draycott Avenue was that it was awful.
My invitation to its opening last April showed two revoltingly lovely young people (its owners, Mogens and Paola Tholstrup), photographed by Koo Stark, and standing, him embracing her, holding strands of pasta. It was like the sickliest picture in Hello! magazine, saying "Aren't we lovely?", and seemed to have nothing to do with providing good food and service.
It was in marked contrast to the Daphne's I knew in the 1960s, when it was opened by a robust theatrical agent called Daphne Rye. It was then a hang-out for showbiz types, and did a startlingly good chocolate souffle. I had heard it was now full of Sloane-type lethargics (the staff) and rowdy diners who threw things over the adjoining wall at the customers of Ma Cuisine, an old-fashioned restaurant I greatly like.
Nor was I endeared to it when I rang up and said, "Is that Daphne's?" and a lady said, "Mmmm". I persevered, and asked if the chef was on that day. "I can see him now, he's eating a risotto," was the reply. When I turned up for lunch, two over-officious men were administering the entrance as if customers were privileged to be there. I walked past them into a pleasant, spacious room. One followed, and I asked, "Where's my table?" "What name did you book in?" was the reply. "My own," I snapped. If Miss Seagrove had not been held up in the hall, I would have walked out. But then a charming lady came over and showed us to a corner table in the back, almost-garden patio. It was very Los Angeles, with plants creeping up white walls.
Everything then became extremely efficient. There were four different types of bread, all good, and although they didn't serve any ice or lemon with my mineral water, an abundant supply came like lightning when asked for. I started with fried calamari and Miss Seagrove with zucchini fritters, both excellent and well-presented. I had ordered the "special" of risotto with chilli, tomato and prawns with a lobster sauce; I reckoned that if the chef could eat it, so could I. But I found it uninteresting. To be fair, I have never found risotto interesting except once when it was served to me by Rocco and Alya Forte then it was unbelievably good.
Miss Seagrove generously swapped, giving me her most tasty and perfectly cooked spaghetti with fresh plum tomatoes and basil. She enjoyed the risotto greatly, commenting with an acidity the public seldom sees, "I can understand it's not your cup of tea, it's a little subtle for you." This made me guffaw so loudly I spat out a mouthful of spaghetti just as the owner, Mogens Tholstrup, annoyingly even more handsome than his invite-photo, came over to greet us. Although they don't do chocolate souffle at lunch, he kindly offered to lay it on specially. But I had already ordered crostata with apples, which turned out to be a superb apple tart with vanilla ice-cream dusted with chocolate in the rounded centre.
There was a tiny dip when it took far too long to give me back my credit card especially as we'd told them Miss Seagrove had to go by 2.15 to perform her matinee. I usually walk out of restaurants without even asking for the bill, saying "Send it to me" as I sail by. I must remember always to leave my credit card at home, it's far simpler.
Michael Winner's comment on rice pudding brings to mind the time I discovered ambrosia; and I do not mean that particular brand of pudding. An old ex-Indian army friend taught me to pour a large gin into the centre of a hot rice pudding. The heat from the rice releases the aroma of the juniper berries, and lifts the humble dish to gourmet status.
T D Overfield, Solihull, Warwickshire
Having noticed a recent spate of complaints concerning Quaglino's in your Restaurant Watch column, I feel compelled to add my name to the list. Our evening at this "gastronomic experience" was altogether spoilt by a series of debacles. A few days later I had a disastrous meal at Planet Hollywood. I wrote letters of complaint to both restaurants, and the differences in response times and level of customer care were astounding. Planet Hollywood replied within two days, offering a return visit at their expense, but Quaglino's took two weeks to reply, and only then by sending a condescending, two-paragraph note, with no hint of an apology. Mr Conran definitely needs to brush up on his customer care techniques before I, and hopefully other customers, will make a return visit.
Name and address withheld
I note that your food gurus, Craig Brown and Michael Winner, have both recently referred with palpable good taste to "plenty of mash" and "long and soggy chips" (Brown) and "miraculous rice pudding" (Winner) - thus betraying a commendably plebeian strain in their dietary preferences. At home the other evening, my wife and I had a splendid toad-in-the-hole, tomatoes and onions (fried) with jacket potatoes. Only a really distinguished cauliflower cheese or a satanically crusty bubble and squeak could rival such protean grub. Gastronomic plebs of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your pretensions.
Anthony Hopkins, Twickenham, Middlesex