Julie's in Holland Park: 'a timewarp of dark cellar-rooms, tunnels, a sort of greenhouse white place and the old back room (George Jaworskyj)
In 1969 Julie Hodgess, famous for designing Biba's, the 1960s rocket-up-and-down clothes superstore, went into the restaurant business. She opened Julie's in Holland Park, or rather what estate agents have now named Clarendon Cross. After a couple of years she threw in the towel, and the place has since been owned by the property people who had the head lease, Timothy and Cathy Herring.
I used to go to Julie's a lot in the early days. In their large back room with a table not unlike that used by King Arthur I would entertain the likes of Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, Robert Ryan, Ryan O'Neal and other luminaries of the cinema. Although the food was a bit ropey, they all liked it because of its atmosphere. It had a 1960s charm, inventive but safe, twee but delightfully odd. I went back recently and it had changed hardly at all. While the area had poshed up no end, with the suspect Orsini's opening opposite, Julie's remained a time-warp of dark cellar-rooms, tunnels, a sort of greenhouse white place and of course the old back room.
Even the food had moved up a notch. It is pleasant without reaching any serious culinary standards. My wild mushrooms in a pastry basket had very good pastry, my companion (there's a word I hate!) had aubergine and sour cream mousse with toasted pumpkin seeds. And liked it. My beef stroganoff was pretty revolting, old and tired beef strips in indifferent wild rice; the lady chose better with salmon baked in puff pastry with fennel and dill. The butterscotch crepes with cream cheese and ginger could generously be described as adequate. But the overall feel of the evening was rather endearing.
No-one wants major meals every time they go out, it would be too exhausting. Ambience and charm make up for a lot. I do wonder, though, about all those diners sitting in a corridor leading from the bar to the back room and the greenhouse area. I've decided that any restaurant that can sell seats in a passageway must have some secret of success.
Nico Ladenis once said to me ruminatively, "You don't go out of your own area much, do you Michael? You don't even go to town very often." I remember London when there were no parking meters, no yellow lines, you could park anywhere at all and there were so few cars no-one cared. Why should I pay the chauffeur overtime just to eat in the West End?
I decided to go mad, leave my own area (Holland Park) and nip over to the South of France with Sarah. I was again vastly unimpressed with the horror of air travel. Why is it we are so often told the plane is going to be on time? I remember once I had a very alert travel agent and when I said to him a British Airways flight must be on time because they'd sworn it was, he said "Mr Winner, it is on the tarmac at Frankfurt with the engine on fire, it will not be leaving London soon at all!" He was right.
If today you pay the ridiculous price of first class in a desperate attempt to make life more pleasant, you can be sure the area will be full of people upgraded from coach or business and thus in my opinion overcrowded and horrible. I recall once having duck on British Airways and scraping off the sauce and seeing what looked like green mould. I pointed this out to the steward, who said, "It's mould, sir." "I didn't think we'd struck oil," I muttered ungraciously, and since then I've never eaten on a plane at all.
On last week's trip I faced the over-officiousness of airline staff. I had the same two very small bags I've always taken on club class and Sarah had one other tiny suitcase. "The flight's full, " I was told. "Put them in the hold." No good telling the British Airways rep the same-sized cases had been on thousands of times before. Eventually I stuck my briefcase into my suitcase for the journey on to the plane, and once inside took it out.
Needless to say the flight was not full at all, there were nine empty seats and masses of room for luggage.
And I'm still waiting to hear from BA why Concorde flights to Barbados are sold at three massively different prices. World's best airline? Hmmm.