Published 19 October 2008 News Review 796th article
Let's be very clear. Quo Vadis in Dean Street, Soho, is fantastically good in every way. Food, ambience, service. For years it was a dump. Then my friend Joseph Ettedgui (he's doing up Mirabelle) bought it from Marco Pierre White and promptly sold it on to Sam and Eddie Hart. They had some tapas places nearby.
Sam and Eddie are stars. They're the new Chris Corbin and Jeremy King of restaurant-world. Chris and Jeremy launched Le Caprice, the Ivy and J Sheekey. They now have the Wolseley and St Alban.
Like Corbin and King, Sam and Eddie are gents. One of them, can't remember which, reminded me I met him (or them) at a birthday party for Sir Anthony Bamford's son. That was a posh do.
When I visited Quo Vadis with my adorable fiancee, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards (she's posh, too), Sam seated us at a nice table with a view of the room: bright, modern pictures, mirrored walls, very buzzy. A lot of "names" go there - that's what my friend the photographer Terry O'Neill calls celebrities. "Very swish-looking people here," said Geraldine. Do you think she meant me?
It really is the new Ivy. I like the Ivy food, but the grub at Quo Vadis is incomparably better. I said to Sam, "I presume you're too grand to take the order." He promptly produced a pad.
I said, "Madame will have green salad to start, then poached egg with artichoke and hollandaise sauce. For me (I'm the low end of the market), brown shrimps on toast followed by veal sweetbreads and tartare sauce."
Sam assured me the chips were made on the premises, so I added chips and fresh peas. "That does mean fresh?"
I cautioned. "Not frozen." Sam said he got them from Secrets Farm outside Godalming in Surrey.
We started with an aperitif of champagne, Campari and freshly squeezed clementine juice. Delightful. The only disappointment was the water, Belu. It's served in magnificent tumblers but it's not very good. The label reads, "All profits to clean water projects." I don't give a damn about that. Just get in decent water such as Evian or Malvern, fellows.
I asked Sam how old he was. First he said he was 34 and his brother Eddie was 32. Then he said he was 33 and his brother was 31.
"You're running a restaurant and you don't know your own age?" I asked in amazement.
"Definitely 33 and 31," said Sam. A few moments later his brother Eddie appeared. Eddie said Sam was 34 and he was 32. Bizarre. I wish I'd never got into all that.
The food was absolutely marvellous. Including very good bread and butter.
The home-made chips were the best I've had in London. The fresh peas were historic.
I finished with treacle tart, usually a total letdown. Theirs was soft, hot and actually tasted of treacle. It came with clotted cream.
I liked Quo Vadis so much we went again with musician Chris Rea and his lovely wife Joan. This time, I started with whitebait. A repeat of veal sweetbreads and rum baba to finish. Great texture, tasty, perfect. Joan had crab linguine, which she described as stunning, and a magnificent lemon tart. Everything was sensational.
Sam and Eddie Hart weren't there that time. "Probably with the registrar of births and deaths, trying to work out how old they are," I suggested.
Not only was the food great, but we first ordered at 7.53pm and our dessert was served at 9.09pm. One hour and 16 minutes later. At the Ivy, an hour and half after ordering, my dessert was nowhere in sight, so I left.
And my hamburger came without a gherkin.
I hear all over the Ivy group they're paring down portions and details.
My pal John Cleese said, "That's accountants trying to run a people business."
I've decided I was a little unfair recently. "Impossible," I hear you mutter. No, I was. I said the River Cafe was reopening (now open) after "tarting up". Its new design incorporates the whole kitchen. It's a delight.
You see a wood-burning oven, counters, bars. It gives it great perspective and distance where there used to be just a white wall. There's no better restaurant design anywhere. They've also added a private room.
I peered at some meat in the wood oven. "What's that?" I asked Rose Gray, co owner, who was cooking that day.
"Pork," she replied.
"I'll have it," I responded.
This was the best pork I've ever eaten. Normally, pork is absurdly bland. Only the crackling is good. This pork had no crackling but somehow or other, herbs, spices, magic, subterfuge, Fairy Liquid, I know not how, it had an incredibly good taste.
Want to know where I eat in London? Quo Vadis, River Cafe, Wolseley, Caprice, Scott's, Scalini, Bombay Brasserie, Bibendum, Racine and, recently, Murano. Follow me. You won't regret it.
Beyond belief. A country in financial freefall and a photo shows its leader proudly cavorting with a disturbingly frenetic Michael Winner. Watch out for Prime Minister - the Final Death Wish.
Ian Lineker, Worcestershire
In your photo with Gordon Brown, you're pointing. Didn't your mother tell you it's rude to point? I guess you're pointing to the place you hired your costume from. A change from the charity shops. Shame about your hair. Couldn't you find a barber?
Maureen Crossley, Colwyn Bay
I've never seen you looking so happy. Had someone just told you your £35m in Guernsey was safe? Who was the fellow with the forced grin standing beside you?
Don Roberts, Cheshire
I agree with you, Ivy burgers are dreadful. So is service at the Ivy club. My date's risotto was cold, as was my steak. Their fancy lift had already broken down.
Peter Wilson, London
Come on, Michael, the Ivy has always been rubbish. You can't even balance a glass of champers on its bar without it toppling over. Sober or otherwise!
Gillian Royale, London
Documenting your friendship and support for the killer and recently convicted gun-toting nasty OJ Simpson is not only absurd but bordering on insanity.
John Carnell, Vancouver, Canada