Published 6 March 1994 Style Magazine 36th article
Taste of fashion: The Fifth Floor Restaurant, Harvey Nichols (George Jaworskyj)
I made a reservation some time ago at The Fifth Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols, went up there and was so appalled by the snotty, aren't-we wonderful approach of the two girls on the desk that I fled without eating. I went back some weeks later to the first-night party for The Importance Of Being Earnest, the only play out of 12 I backed in 1993 to make money, and the food was horrible. But the restaurant later announced it wasn't them, it was catered by an outside firm.
So, bravely, I returned last week with an American couple, he being terribly important at Sony Music. A tall, dark girl at the desk gave us a look as if a smile to her was like sunlight to a vampire. But another lady rushed us to the table before I could run for the lift. The menu is large and can't make up its mind whether it's in English or French. Words of both languages mix uneasily, "Pan fried bavette" is on the set menu. I asked for ice and lemon for my water and got only ice, but other than that the service was okay. Not so the food. I should have cottoned on when the bread basket was offered and suddenly snatched away. "I'm going to get some fresh," said the waitress.
I chose for my first course Henry's black bean soup. It is called that, I was told, after the chef's first name, Henry. Since it's the only dish he put his name to I had some hopes, but it was dark brown and desperately uninteresting. My American lady companion had grilled clams in garlic butter; I ate one, bland and of dreary texture. She agreed. Her husband had risotto, he gave it a "C". Not much taste and no moisture.
I took to checking the room, which was crowded. It's grey and looks like a canteen, but the chairs are extraordinarily comfortable. My main course came then, and was horrific. It was described as Bury black pudding, potato, apple and bacon galette, mustard sauce and onion rings. We serve very good black pudding on my films, in fact movie location catering is excellent in England. It has to be, the crew talk about it a great deal.
This black pudding was tasteless, difficult to get out of a tough sausage skin and oddly textured. The potato etc galette was soggy and tasted rather nasty. The onion rings were limp. In fact, the whole course was limp. The mustard sauce had no known flavour. My Americans had grilled chicken. I'm sure it had a fancy description, but that's what it was. The waitress brought the breast first, saying, "That cooks sooner than the legs". This surprised me. How is it my cook always manages to take a chicken out of the oven with the breast and legs done perfectly and all in one? Anyway, the Americans thought the chicken was excellent and when the legs came later with salad they liked that too.
I asked for petits fours, but they didn't have any. Chocolates would come with the coffee, we were told. In fact, three very tiny slivers of chocolate appeared, one for each of us. After a while, the American gentleman said: "They told us chocolates were coming, they haven't arrived." I had to admit I'd eaten them all. I was so ashamed I paid the bill £101 for three.
I seldom write about wine because it confuses me, but the American chap said we'd had an excellent 1989 Beaune at a very reasonable price (£26.43 all in). It was all right, I suppose. Personally I don't see any point in eating in a clothes shop, I mean, you wouldn't buy suits at the Caprice, would you? I'm sorry to say my first impressions were right. It may be fashionable, but it's absolutely awful. The current Egon Ronay Guide says of it: "some ingredients lose their influence". That's a lot of pretentious twaddle too!
As a special treat, my husband and I recently introduced our twin teenage sons to the delights of dining at Langan's Bistro in Brighton. The food and service were exceptional, and Nicole, the charming hostess, runs the restaurant as only a true professional can. We have tried several restaurants in the area, but nothing compares to Langan's. A memorable evening.
Moyra Alce, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex
I am pleased that, in contrast to Barry Ziff's disastrous New Year's eve at Quaglino's, Joanne Symes's evening was so wonderful. I was a member of Mr Ziff's party that evening and I must thank her for hitting the nail on the head. Who indeed would want to sit at a table on New Year's eve until midnight? We most certainly did not want to, however we had no choice. The point of this letter is to remind readers that Barry Ziff, on behalf of our party, wrote an extremely polite letter to Sir Terence Conran concerning our treatment that evening, in which he suggested that Sir Terence might care to know something of what was going on in his restaurant. His letter contained only facts. He made no comments concerning the restaurant or Sir Terence personally, but Sir Terence's published reply made no attempt to deal with the facts, and only contained little disguised insults.
Robina Ziff, London SW3