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Death wish

Published 12 March 1995
Style Magazine
88th article

The milky way: Vanessa Perry at Fortnum's (Arnold Crust)

Ever since Vanessa found out she was in my will she's been trying to kill me. Knowing that everything in an English tea is fattening and a no-no, she nevertheless insists every Sunday that we have one. We tried Richoux in Mayfair a couple of times. It's an all-day dining place, with "Victorian" waitresses in full theatrical gear, most of whom seem to be oriental. My mother used to give them hell in Grosvenor House, where she stayed for long periods, walk to Richoux, cause trouble there and then go back to resume duties at Grosvenor House. She was a game girl, God bless her. Even if she did lose £6m in the Cannes Casino and nick antiques, jade and furniture, left to me to sell off to pay the bill.

Richoux has a wide menu but it also does the usual scones, cakes and a variety of teas. It's all perfectly adequate and in a cutesy setting. Then one Sunday afternoon we decided to try Claridge's. My normal, dreadful clothing is tolerated in most places, but for safety I keep a pair of socks and a tie in all of my cars. I don't bother with the socks if I go to Claridge's for lunch because nobody sees your ankles as they're under the table. But for tea in the atrium lounge I donned my reserve socks and a Concorde tie. I thought the new doorman considerably lacked charm. But everybody else there was as polite as usual. We settled into a nice table facing marble pillars, gilt-topped, metal swags on the glass dining-room doors, thick floral carpets, and a circular sofa with an enormous bowl of flowers in the middle.

The tea was prodigiously good. Unbelievably fresh little sandwiches, smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, tongue and more. The scones, one pair with apples, one with raisins, were hot and of perfect texture together with excellent jam and clotted cream. And the little cakes on one of those multitiered things had every item, from layered chocolate cake to strawberry tartlets as good as you could possibly get. A real feast. The whole thing came to £32 inc Vat and service. I exited flourishing their nice little napkin with a yellow embroidered C on it. I told the excellent waiter I needed it because the demister on the Bentley was a bit dodgy and it would be useful to wipe the windscreen with. Outside at the car the new doorman, William Capelan, lolled about, making no attempt to open Vanessa's door as we left. This is rare for Claridge's. But the nice, senior doorman down the road at the banqueting entrance greeted me like an old friend as I drove slowly by.

Another snacky place I am re-endeared to is Fortnum & Mason's Chinese-muralled Fountain Restaurant. Here Vanessa encourages me to pig out on milk shakes. I am prepared to discuss the merits of ice cream and milk shakes endlessly. For ice cream I still slightly favour, above all, Marine Ices in Chalk Farm. Charlie Chaplin used to get straight off the plane and go there. They have an excellent casual-snack restaurant attached as well. On Sunday the marvellously active Camden Lock market nearby is a great tribute to the Camden council. They let it run amok long before Sunday opening became the "in" thing. At Fortnum's we debated whether their strawberry milk shake was better than the ones at Sticky Fingers. I still go for Sticky Fingers, theirs is creamier but has a less definitive taste. Vanessa prefers Fortnum's. Not so thick but a clearer strawberry flavour. On such minutiae civilisations rise and fall.

Minutiae-wise I remember well when the first espresso machine came to London in the early 1950s. It was in a small snack place called the Coffee Inn at the bottom of Park Lane. It caused a major sensation. Down from that very spot, today the coffee bar at the Intercontinental Hotel is excellent. We filmed in the lobby once during working hours and the general manager got extremely shiny about the chaos. I used to walk in and out of the coffee bar taking things without paying. The staff were always a delight and greeted me very nicely on a recent return. I was actually going to an antique fair upstairs, so I didn't settle. I just grabbed a few biscuits and walked around munching. Come to think of it, I didn't pay for them either. Perhaps I shall be arrested and sent to prison. Not serious. I could do with a rest.


I have a sneaking sympathy with Michael Winner regarding the refusal to serve an egg on his pizza (March 5). May I suggest that there are much greater battles to be fought; there are some restaurants in the UK which refuse to serve the other great food of Britain, the chip.
Michael Loewy, Torquay, Devon

On a recent visit to the upmarket Atlantic Bar and Grill in Piccadilly, London, I found the staff so superior towards potential diners that I wondered whether it was worth the effort. We had booked, but the snarly doorman and his female partner were not going to let us into their establishment without a fight. Once inside, the staff with attitude continued to rule. Tardiness was apparently not tolerated. "Five more minutes and we would have given your table away," reprimanded the waiter. We were 10 minutes late for our 9.30pm booking (due, in part, to the aforementioned difficult entry). The surrounds are impressive and space is the overwhelming feature of the grandiose Atlantic, with a 200-seat dining room and cocktail bar. Considering the scale of operations, the menu did not disappoint. Nor did the extensive wine list. Meals were artistically presented and true to expectations. The only ingredient lacking seems to be humility. Otherwise, it is a definite recipe for success. And worth the effort.
Martin Cavill, London E1

When I was checking out of the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey on February 20, Martin Harris, the managing director, was in the reception area. I was tempted to speak to him to tell him that our stay there had been perfect, yet again. He was busy, so I didn't bother. I wish I had. I regret that Paul Harris of Ilkley (March 5) was dissatisfied with his evening there, but advertising the fact in this column leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, too. I have stayed there several times during the past three years and in my experience the Devonshire Arms is second to none.
Wendy Scott, Ewelme, Oxfordshire