I am always surprised to remember that Andrew Lloyd Webber has taste; it must be remembrance of Cats. I was surprised, for instance, to learn that he once owned Pablo Picasso’s portrait of d’Angel Fernández de Soto, which I always thought of as my Picasso because it looks like my friend Hadrian Wise, who used to come to Merton College bar in his pyjamas. We once rolled a joint as long as The Spectator because he loved The Spectator. High as I was after the Spectator-length joint in 1994, I never thought I would write for it. Neither did he.
Now Lloyd Webber, whose masterpiece is Phantom of the Opera, because it is all about him, has bankrolled a tasteful restaurant in Victoria called the Other Naughty Piglet. He did this because he liked the food in the Naughty Piglet in Brixton. How I love 1980s tycoons and their I-liked-it-so-much-I-bought-the-company schtick; it’s so needy. Even so, I am almost sad to see how restrained Lloyd Webber has become in his ebbing years, because Phantom, which I love — I am a Phan — is all about sex, death and inadequacy, swabbed with velvet and dust; it is an aphrodisiac for straight middle-aged suburban couples, and there is nothing wrong with that. I have seen it many times: in the theatre built for it inside the Venetian in Las Vegas, twice; in Her Majesty’s Theatre, where it has played for 31 years; and even at the Royal Albert Hall, where ‘his’ multiple singing phantoms (yet just one Christine, who was originally played by Lloyd Webber’s soprano doll ex-wife Sarah Brightman) were something obscene.
I have even seen the film of the musical of the novel. The phantom takes Christine to his lair in, sequentially, his arms, on a horse, in a punt. Or maybe a gondola. It is an advert for transport in lairs. Where is the 747? The Boris bike? The bus? But I cannot recommend the sequel Love Never Dies. A superior hack called it Paint Never Dries, and he is right. The phantom cannot be redeemed, with love or the application of small and imaginative sharing plates in convivial settings. It is too late for that.
The Other Naughty Piglet lives on the mezzanine of Lloyd Webber’s Other Palace Theatre in Palace Place. It is a glassy modernist curve surrounded by shabby red-brick mansion blocks — I think of Margaret Schlegel and E.M. Forster and their long-dead world — and it is smooth and spare. There is a staircase that looks like a fashionable giant’s shoe, rising from lobby to restaurant; dark wood walls; spindly chairs; self–consciously attractive plants; playbills for contemporary musical theatre. It fits the new Victoria, which is no improvement on the old Victoria.
Perhaps Lloyd Phantom has been exposed to too many contemporary style magazines? There is no phantom here, for he cannot live without late Baroque fittings; nor is there Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Norma Desmond, or Old Deuteronomy. This is a land of property developers and workers eating the crumbs of consumer capitalism on their way back to the south coast.
Despite this, the Other Naughty Piglet is charming. It is not busy, it is not expensive, and the food, which is modern British tapas, is interesting and graceful. We eat a strange linguine dish with a bright egg yolk; a sticky pork belly; a cool burrata; silky and slim asparagus; a good lump of rump steak; a perfect crème caramel. This is serious food. If the Other Naughty Piglet feels transient, a sequel in a mezzanine in a playhouse by a station cannot be otherwise.
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