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Rude food in Paris

Published 13 November 1994
Style Magazine
72nd article

Breast or wing? Stephanie Haggett sings for her supper at the Lido, Paris

Vanessa's best friend Stephanie comes from Stratford-upon-Avon. She looks like an eager student, or a rather over-the-top secretary from one of the Inns of Court.

The sort of girl you'd see at any bus stop in south London. But by night she transmogrifies into a tall, statuesque and occasionally topless dancer at the Paris Lido. She looks gorgeous, she moves lusciously, she dances with her face and her body in the best tradition of the professional hoofer. I hadn't been to the Lido for some 20 years, not since I went to see the show and chat to Miss Bluebell herself, a sweet old Irish lady, about filming her life story. Vanessa, of course, insisted I went again.

There is something about a really dopey cabaret, seen in comfort and with a reasonable meal that is quite enchanting. The Lido has attracted everybody from Hemingway to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and on through Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Laurel and Hardy, Danny Kaye, even presidents Nixon and Reagan. The menus vary from "Touristique" at £80 to "Passion" at £122, including half a bottle of champagne. The show is thrown in. It is a whopping spectacle: 1,200 guests watch over 100 artists on the stage with machinery and special effects that must employ hundreds more. It's changed every four years and I was delighted to catch it near the end of the run because it exuded a sense of dated chauvinism which I rather enjoyed. Star Wars and Indiana Jones figured heavily, together with Incas, waterfalls, gunfights, helicopters, dogs, explosions... I love the publicity puff: "See the incredible laser costume adorning a figure beyond your wildest dreams" or "Your amazement will reach new heights in the second scene as you are projected right into the heart of the exotic Aztec civilisation."

"Who's that girl with the blue hair?" I asked. "That's Stephanie," said Vanessa, proud of a schoolmate who did okay. Well, Vanessa was in 42nd Street for years: I liked that, too. I have to admit that after what seemed the hundredth lot of girls with pink ribbons flowing, or feathers flying, or pineapples coming out of their heads, waving to and fro, I welcomed the Chinese juggler and the swarthy acrobats. The speciality acts are always particularly good in Paris whether at the Lido or the Crazy Horse. As the fourth horse galloped on and chandeliers edged down and a fountain came up, my mind wandered to thinking how good the air-conditioning was and whether anyone else was drinking Louis Roederer Cristal. But as Stephanie bared her bosoms and tripped the light fantastic in yet another amazing costume, I had to admit it was nice to see the Brits doing well.

Far from the glamour of the Lido is the Napoli Bar Restaurant Pizzeria in the Rue de Rosiers, St-Ouen, a northern suburb of Paris hiding beneath one of those endlessly efficient raised autoroutes. This is in the flea market, which boasts everything from rubbish to vastly expensive antiques, but set out over an acreage that makes the London efforts look grossly undernourished. The Napoli has very small tables. It is so busy even I at my most demanding stood no chance of getting two of us alone on a table for four. But then tables in Paris at the cafe-bistros are all small. It's rather like how many people can you get in a phone box, except it's how much you can get on a tiny table. We sat under a rotten mural of the Sacre Coeur opposite an even worse one of the Moulin Rouge. The waiters ran to and fro, sweating. A mound of steaming rigatoni here, steak and chips there, some incredible pizzas, a hand raised to help the next-door diners get their spaghetti frutti di mare. Cheap, cheerful and marvellous. I was inspired to buy an extraordinary 1920s ashtray in the market. It showed a perfectly formed, gilt-bronze figure of the naked Leda doing something highly irrational with a swan. I have a small oil-painting of that already, German, around 1850. I bought that at St-Ouen, too. Just shows what happens when I sit at small tables.