Published 31 July 1994 Style Magazine 57th article
Kartouche (George Jaworskyj)
I have been to France but came back to earth with a bump. And you can't get much bumpier than Kartouche, which is in a particularly dreary part of the Fulham Road. It opened recently and the person who dragged me there (I'd certainly have never gone on my own) assured me it was the new "in" place.
Enough to scare anyone off. Actually it was full of people who looked like they'd been contestants on a TV quiz show. The manager is called Torquil. Need I say more? Torquil was off duty the Sunday I went for lunch, but he's a brave lad, because he ate there and read the papers avidly, anyway.
There's quite a nice tile-cum-slate floor, but our table wobbled and, although bits of folded paper were stuck under it at various times throughout the meal, it continued to wobble madly until the end. Rather like dining on the Titanic. The walls are yellow, roughly rag-rolled like those of every other new restaurant that opens in London, and on them are some crudely framed photos of scissors, knives, forks etc. The high-backed cane chairs are solid and just comfortable. The noise is horrific and this on a day when it was not full, and the glass hinged shutters to the Fulham Road were open. If it's ever full, which it doesn't deserve to be, take earplugs and learn sign language. The only interesting thing that turned up was the pre-starter: hot bread, houmous (their spelling) and roasted garlic. This was pleasant.
Vanessa's buck's fizz was so warm it practically steamed. My smoked haddock and poached egg was madly salty. Vanessa had Rinktum Ditty (really) American-style Welsh rarebit. This was just grilled cheese on the same sort of roll the houmous had come with. She said that was salty, too. For a main course I had the roast of the day, which was belly of pork (fatty and horrible) with soggy roast potatoes and some greens I didn't dare try. The famous restaurateur who had recommended the place left 99% of his hamburger and later told the owner he liked his meat to taste of meat, which it didn't. Vanessa had barbecued prawns with a noodle salad, which she liked. The waiter told me the dessert of coffee truffle cake was addictive. It wasn't. It was okay coffee-creamy sludge with a dreadful bit of pastry on the base. The maitre d's attention was transfixed on anything but the customers; the walls, the floor, the street outside, all these he found fascinating. When I ordered still water I got fizzy. When someone on the table broke a glass, large, sharp bits of it were left lying forever; only when my friend put them in the ashtray did they move. The cookie which came with the unpleasant coffee tasted as if it had been stored in silver foil for decades.
The famed restaurateur who had me go there opined it was better for kids than Pizza Express. I've never been to Pizza Express, but I doubt it. There was no style or plan to the food, no concept, no good ideas, no fine ingredients, no good cooking. Nor was it that cheap, prices being near or occasionally above the Canteen, which I now use as a yardstick for everything. What point is there to open in 1994 with this sort of stuff?
My favourite local restaurant, Cibo, has its delightful owner, Gino, getting more eccentric by the minute. It's a terrific place, but poor Gino has been reading too much about Marco Pierre White. I was there the night he went totally hysterical and threw out two people sitting just in front of me. They, not unnaturally, later wrote to this very page. "Get OUT!" he yelled. "You didn't have to do that for me, Gino," I said quietly as the ex-customers fled. "I was having an interesting time anyway."
Gino roared out of my section toward the bar, shouting at a couple on another table as he went: "I've got one in tonight already," there he indicated me "I don't need another!" Then he came and apologised, which I assured him wasn't necessary. He's a splendid fellow and if an Italian can't let off steam occasionally, who can? Now, whenever I go in, I say loudly, thus unnerving the other diners, "Who's on the death list tonight, Gino?" A dangerous thing to do really. It could be me.