A fake fishing village, and the nastiest thing I’ve eaten as a restaurant critic

Rooftop ‘pop-up’ Vintage Salt is too much even for Selfridges; but the food holds up, with one glaring exception

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

Selfridges is skilled at making things that are not hideous (women) look hideous (women dressed as Bungle from Rainbow or a tree, after shopping at Selfridges). So I was not surprised to discover that it has summoned a ‘pop-up’ restaurant to its roof. It is called Vintage Salt and it is based on a Cornish fishing village. Not a real one, such as Newlyn, but a fake one, such as Padstow, which is based on Selfridges anyway. Selfridges shoppers do not want reality but a half-remembered contortion of something they read in Vogue while having their hair dyed banana yellow in St John’s Wood High Street in the company of a chihuahua smarter than they are.

The portal is an express lift in Fragrance. This is the point, I suppose, at which Vintage Salt and Newlyn part company, if ever they met — when I pass a group of women in ink-black burkas and Dior handbags spraying perfume over themselves, because then they will feel different. This is, essentially, the lie of advertising, which Selfridges screams better than anyone; if you pay to smell like Toilet Duck you will be worthy of love. That they have exactly the same Dior handbag is, I suppose, a nod to the philosophy of the burka. I do not hate all department stores — I like Debenhams — but Selfridges is quite close to a cult of idiocy. Its mantra used to be I Shop Therefore I Am. As manifestos go, that is sub-Boko Haram.

The lift contains a woman dressed in a striped Breton top. Brittany is not in Cornwall. Upstairs, a long and tatty corridor, lined with small boulders and piles of rope. It is slightly Hornblower-esque. At the end, an anxious reception desk staffed by women in cream dresses. They repel a couple without a reservation, without charm.

I am taken to a seat between a sheet of plastic, an open kitchen and a speaker. I ask to move. The girl in cream refuses, with the sort of blank-eyed contempt a 40-year-old woman will only ever see in the face of a 20-year-old woman inside a high fashion department store with a fake fishing village. I loathe her, because if I were younger, and better dressed — I am dressed as tarmac, actually — she would have acquiesced. I apply to her superior. I am moved.

The Selfridges rooftop is fascinating, for a rectangle; I sit beside the huge flags shadowing Oxford Street — a late-capitalist United Nations committed to the security of Fragrance? I watch the cranes dissecting Mayfair. The August clouds are purple, summoning the devil. Where is the sea? It must be in Southend. There are beach huts and nautical-themed engravings and bits of quasi-fishing tat, designed I suspect by someone who has never seen a live mackerel. It is a collection of whimsies floating with the deftness of boulders flung to earth. It is too much even for Selfridges, which is not, by its own design, a real place. It should be a jazz bar.

The restaurants in Cornish fishing villages nowadays are filled with stripped-out Scandinavian-style interiors or pale blue cashmere blanketry. They are, of course, impersonating London; and now Selfridges impersonates them as they impersonate her. That is a massacre of identities entirely typical of fashion people.

The food, just, holds up. Shrimps look like the customers, who are all 25 — thin, orange, big hair — and are very good. Chilled tomato soup with mozzarella is acidly, truly chilling; T-bone is too cold from the fridge. I wanted it blue but hot blue. It feels like a tongue.

I order a chocolate burger. It is a scone, with chocolate slab and something gross impersonating tomato and then cheese; the chips are elongated doughnut. I have not eaten a dish so foul in all my days of restaurant criticism. This, then, is where whimsy comes to die.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Vintage Salt, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB, tel: 020 7318 3287.

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Show comments
  • Marshal Phillips

    Hmmm…. a chocolate burger for dessert; something sweet in the guise of a burger with fake tomato and cheese, sweet chips like elongated doughnuts. How bad can it be? Something for children, I suppose. If it’s sugary, they’ll love.

  • davidshort10

    Good review. It sounds totally awful so let’s hope no one goes.

    • justejudexultionis

      I agree. London does sound totally awful so let’s hope no one goes.

      • davidshort10

        I think you’ve got a bit mixed up here. Ask your mum when you get home.

  • Abie Vee

    Don’t take it personally dear… that blank stare comes to us all. At a certain age one becomes invisible. It’s better than the “what are YOU doing in here.. you’re kiddin’ right?” look that I get when I go shopping for clothes.

  • stephen

    wasnt there anything else for afters?

  • Damaris Tighe

    I struggled to understand this article with its tortured references & analogies. It’s as pretentious as the food.

    • teepee

      Oh, good. I thought it was me.

  • justejudexultionis

    I understand that Tanya needs to eat but she is really much better when she is attacking those twin English evils: Oxbridge and the House of Windsor.

    • John M

      She’s trying to convince the world she’s stopped eating Kebabs. She is the poor man’s Julie Burchill.

    • davidshort10

      Oxbridge is a twin and the House of Windsor is German.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    I misread the headline to say ‘the nastiest thing I’ve eaten WAS a restaurant critic.’ Which I thought to be a likely assertion.

    • justejudexultionis

      Nastier than a Tory MP or London property developer? I doubt it.

      • davidshort10

        Probably the worst-tasting thing in Parliament would be one of the new horde of national socialists who have been voted in.

  • John M

    I have just holidayed in Cornwall and I have no f**king idea what restaurants you are talking about. In fact I doubt they even exist, because I can’t believe the Cornish would remotely visit such pretentious places.

    • davidshort10

      Because the Cornish are poor.

    • starfish

      Plenty of decent restaurants in Cornwall

      Some of them even have table cloths and electricity

      I doubt she ventures far

  • gerronwithit

    You sad, addled, incoherent mess!

  • Nick

    ‘Not a real one, such as Newlyn, but a fake one, such as Padstow, which is based on Selfridges anyway.’

    What the hell is this woman on about? I live in Cornwall and visit Padstow on a regular basis where lots of working fishing boats are based——-And from where they go fishing——in the sea——-for fish.

    Newlyn is a larger fishing port while Padstow is a smaller one.

    Additionally,around the FISHING harbour there are several quaint pubs and really good pasty shops,including the usual nick-nac shops.

    I also know Selfridges department store as well and me and the missus visited the shop last week.And it’s nothing the shops in Padstow.——Nothing.

    And Padstow has never seen a burka babe either.

    • starfish


      I live in Cornwall too – I really wonder whether this pretentious half-wit has ever ventured beyond the hotels in Rock

      • Nick

        Hello Starfish.Me and the missus visited Padstow yesterday for lunch and a walk to the beach.Plenty of holiday makers and fishing boats.

        But no shops that reminded me of Selfridges.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “the nastiest thing I’ve eaten as a restaurant critic”
    Ever tried cicada dipped in honey?
    If you can’t handle foreign food, you are effectively nailing your feet to the UK ground. Sounds painful.
    Jack, the Japan Alps Brit
    “Throw another cicada on the barb.”

  • Mark Dubbery

    I fear some nerves may have been touched. Splendid piece.

  • davidshort10

    Sounds as if the steak could give you serious food poisoning.

  • wish u well

    Hmm – not used to sitting in the cheap seats?