I write this column at the point of a pitchfork. A, normally so placid — ‘He’s so placid!’ people like to say as he wanders around placidly — has cracked. He is standing over me with what I can only describe as violent placidity, gesticulating at an email from Le Café Anglais, a very smart restaurant in Whiteleys, Bayswater, established in 2007; it is run by Rowley Leigh, who A says writes very witty recipes. ‘Suckling pig,’ it says, ‘Suckling pig. Suckling pig. Suckling pig. Suckling pig. Suckling pig.’ Of course it doesn’t actually say that; it is a notification that Le Café Anglais now does suckling pig every Tuesday. But that is all he can see: suckling pig, suckling pig, suckling pig. At times like this, I wonder at the internal furniture of his brain. His ancestors are calling — it is like The Vikings, but sitting down in a bonfire of pigs.
So on Tuesday evening, we drive to Bayswater, which I can never visit without thinking of Kind Hearts and Coronets: ‘It was typical of Lionel that he should live on the wrong side of the park.’ (I am certain that Louis Mazzini read The Spectator.) And here is Whiteleys, a dirty crown, preening over the dank streets of West Notting Hill, or North Kensington, or South Kensal Rise, or East Shepherd’s Bush, or whatever lie they are calling it in these days of self-hating postcodes. (I call it too near the Westway, the road of all despair.)
Whiteleys gleams with all the happy confidence of the shopping mall living in the right age; it does not know it is ugly or, if it does, it does not care. Some would call it horrible, I suppose, with its lines of escalators like metal tongues, and its flooring bleached the colour of George Osborne’s anxiety; but I like it. I like it because it has a cinema with table service (‘The Lounge’) that has not yet closed down. I like it because A likes it, because it has parking. And I like it because it is not Brent Cross, where it is said that Jewish matrons are buried under the floor so their children will visit them, and clatter over their bones.
We fly up the tongues and, ah, Café Anglais is beautiful, like the Emerald City of Oz relocated to Omsk, or a fairytale Barbie Dream Princess Castle screaming in Harlesden. It is, I think, super-gay. It is long and light, filled with windows — snobs would say it should be in St James’s, but I like that it is here. It is the act of a chef–madman, of an idealist.
The pigs are cooking in the open kitchen. A starts to sweat with anticipation — in his circle this is called ‘the preliminary meat sweats’. We order salad and asparagus from sheer politeness; but we only want the pig. We are refugees from The Wicker Man.
Here it is, in a silver oval dish, nesting on roast potatoes, surrounded by slabs of crackling. It is a lovely thing, marred only very slightly by the fact that I can see the pig’s tattoo, which is numeric. No one wants to be reminded that they are digesting an -individual; but this individual tastes marvellous, and is £28.50 a head. A is happy. He smiles at the food like he smiles at a Jack Russell that is bouncing up and down.
Rowley Leigh appears, sits down; he says he has been drinking red wine and starts eating our salad with long fingers. He is wearing a checked shirt and enormous, very fashionable spectacles. I ask how he cooked Pig No. 062. He claims he does not know, which makes me like him very much. He might be very drunk. I do not know.
Pudding is heroic: Eton mess and Eton mess. From behind a wall of meringue, I watch Lord Linley twitching out, his hands behind his back, a man out of the past.
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Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB; tel: 020 7221 1415.
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