Lanes of London serves street food to people who hate streets; that is, it exists to soothe the still-curious mouths of lazy, wealthy paranoiacs. This is the character of the dishonest age: you can ride in a gondola in Las Vegas, ski down a mountain in Dubai, visit a wizard’s castle in Watford Junction, and enjoy the Notting Hill Carnival in Mayfair while sitting down. (Other options include staying in a five-star faux shanty-town hotel in South Africa, complete with corrugated iron shacks and authentic ‘poor people’s rubbish’).
It is not for me to call this madness, or to say that as funds grow more grandiose, worlds invariably shrink; or that the whole abominable schtick is entirely self-hating, and the opposite of true adventure: an anti-Phileas Fogg quest which ends with coffee and a mint behind double glazing on the fag end of Marble Arch. I leave that to wiser heads, and Alain de Botton.
Lanes of London is under the cream-puff Marriott Hotel on Park Lane, which is itself a deeply confused hotel — it is forced to pose the philosophical question: can one be posh so near to the Marks & Spencer end of Oxford Street? — on a deeply confused lane. How many authentic London lanes have a glut of traffic, a taxi rank, mad royal gates with a unicorn and lion, a hotel for footballer orgies — the Grosvenor House — and a memorial for the dead animals of war, about which I would love to hear Michael Gove’s opinions; in this case at least, will he admit, were donkeys led by donkeys? In the Marriott here is a lovely marble fireplace, there a random bit of chipboard posing as a drinks table for giants. Not that I don’t love the Marriott chain, with its world-famous mattresses and its designated TV channel starring J.W. Marriott, a wizened Mormon gnome who knows all about the economics of the mini-bar and believes, in the words of the literary critic Harold Bloom, that he is a member of a species of ‘mortal gods, destined to find themselves again in worlds as yet undiscovered’. When you are in Tbilisi, there are few lovelier sights than a Marriott Hotel disguised only as itself, even if its majority shareholders believe in an angel called Moroni, or, to his friends, Moron-y.
Outside there is a lamppost on secondment from children’s fiction (Narnia, perhaps?), a bus stop populated by what look like refugees carrying Foot Locker carrier bags, and some topiary; inside, a cocktail bar playing 1990s acid jazz pop music (one must petition the government to outlaw any easy listening beyond Frank and Judy; what else does an authoritarian state exist for?) and a dim dining room that looks like a slightly depressed Orient Express bar car. If the exterior is cheapskate Victoria and Albert, the interior is cut-price Weimar Republic.
The staff kick off by offering the worst available table, by the waitress station, presumably so one can experience waitressing from the inside, while sitting down, but we reject that as too authentic.
Here, then, is ‘street’ food. The menu offers ‘Brick Lane’ (Indian), ‘Kingsland Road’ (Vietnamese), ‘Edgware Road’ (Lebanese), ‘Portobello’ (British) plus Sunday lunch and something called ‘Did You Say Steak and Chips?’ (This feels like Nigel Farage, trapped in a menu and shouting.)
‘Did You Say Steak and Chips?’
We order in a frenzy of greed — butter chicken, lamb kebabs, falafel, beef noodle soup, barbecued skewers of pork, a bright pumpkin salad, a piece of fried chicken, a trifle made with Pimm’s and a couture Jammie Dodger. The falafel aside, it’s very good; I suppose that if I were a space alien who wanted to sample a selection of Planet Earth’s food in one sitting on Park Lane, because I had to return to my home planet to vote, I would find Lanes of London exquisite. To an Earthling, though, it’s weird.
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