The Allis is a restaurant inside the new Soho House at White City — it is called White City House — and it is every bit as ghastly as it sounds. I do not really object to Soho House’s attempt to colonise the entire planet and furnish it with purple velvet armchairs, which are now being replicated in people’s homes, leaving us in a sort of velvet fun palace you cannot escape, while silently crying. It also feels like a poor model for capitalism, even late capitalism. I quite like the one in Dean Street — if you can ignore the people, that is, which you can because they don’t lift their eyes from their MacBooks to your hideous face. But the BBC HQ in White City — shabby and charismatic, like a half-eaten brick doughnut — is not an abandoned warehouse to be pounced on with wallpaper and silks and repopulated by adults who like ball-pits. It was an important part of post-war British cultural history — I delivered my letter to Jim’ll Fix It here in 1983, and smirked at David Cameron when he was in opposition, before he became David Cameron, here — and my God, it — and even he — deserved better than this.
It was ever a wasteland. It still is. But it used to be a nicer wasteland. It used to have self-awareness; it knew how awful it was, and that made it loveable. And so, in the hierarchy of wastelands — and this column will soon visit Battersea Power Station and its restaurants, or ‘outlets’ to review another wasteland, ideally the wasteland’s wasteland — it has fallen. It has been cleaned up. The courtyard is shiny, tidy, a rebuke. Where are the badly dressed social democrats? There are shivering young trees and glinting new windows. The view is of the repulsive Westfield, or as I call it, Little Dubai, and its empty promises of bliss delivered by the accumulation of handbags. The letters BBC have gone from the facade and left only a ghostly imprint of dirt, as at the old Telegraph building on Fleet Street, and that is the thing I like most.
And so above The Allis is White City House. I cannot go in there, of course, and so I can only fantasise about this Eden overlooking Westfield. Swimming pool? Mountaineering? Two ball-pits and all the gold under heaven? Who knows? The rest of the doughnut is flats, probably called apartments now, and it is hard to imagine that anyone would want to live here, except Jimmy Savile and other dead people who have been on This Is Your Life.
The Allis feels like a hallway, because that is what it is. It is the hallway to White City House. I do not know who will join White City House in White City, because there is a railway line separating it from Notting Hill, which has its own Soho House called Electric House. Perhaps they will take the London Underground. Perhaps the London Underground will soon be a Soho House?
It is a dark, glossy, wide hallway with the ordinary mismatched furniture — and charming tat — of the professionally designed restaurant abyss. It doesn’t work here — it’s too tired a project, it’s jaded segueing to contemptuous — and the food, served in a corner designed to resemble a library containing the books of a moron, is dull. Sausage roll, duck scotch egg, mac and cheese, and cheeseburger — it’s barely above adequate and we leave shortly afterwards.
What to do with The Allis? It could have acknowledged its surroundings. It could have been called W12 8QT. The bookings number could have been 01 811 8055. Instead it let the money-bags choose the style — the style is Little Westfield — and all pretension to art, even pop art, flies away.
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