I wouldn’t normally visit Coq d’Argent, which I think means the chicken of money. It is a moderately famous restaurant in a pink and brown tower in the City of London, once owned, as so much has been, by Sir Terence Conran, and now by D&D, specialists in soulless food barns. As restaurants go, it feels unlucky. It has — how to put this? — a circular roof garden from which people sometimes throw themselves off. One was a restaurant critic, but his last meal was not at Coq d’Argent. That was at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields. He had good taste, then, and he quoted Samuel Johnson on Twitter as he left: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
How true. I am at Coq d’Argent because it is near the Roman temple of Mithras, which has been rebuilt under Bloomberg — an image that almost defies words — and rebranded as the London Mithraeum. I have tickets to this temple and the Coq d’Argent serves breakfast, and that is enough. Pagan London! There isn’t enough of it; what is left should be treasured by mass media corporations everywhere. Perhaps the Daily Express should uncover, and renovate, a bathhouse to wash itself clean of its sins; perhaps the BBC could have a gladiatorial amphitheatre, in which to feed freelancers to lions. (They pay only £50 for a contribution, and you have to ask for it, so eating us presumably comes next.)
I think often of the city beneath the City, no, the multiple cities beneath the City and the mulch of plague victim and coinage; of the River Fleet, which rises on Hampstead Heath near the ponds, and helped to put London where it is. There is apparently a part of Islington in which you can hear the Fleet, but I have never found it for the traffic.
The temple is marvellous in its shiny void under Bloomberg; so expensively scrubbed and lit that it is probably more terrifying now than it was then. Perhaps Mithraism should have a revival; it is certainly no odder than any other religion, except perhaps Corbynism, and Twitter could give it a bump. I am already imagining the spats. Lord knows what the Romans would have made of Bloomberg’s lighting.
And then it’s up again, back into the 21st century, and to a haunted steakhouse in the penthouse of a tower that looks like a 1980s child’s idea of wealth. You roll up, of course, by lift, as in The Devil’s Advocate.
It is very early, and it is empty: hollow restaurants are becoming a bad habit of mine. I like them, but I’m not sure how fair it is on the restaurants — an empty one always feels like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I try to imagine ghostly clients eating expensive French food — snails, lobsters, steaks — before wandering out to the ‘garden’ for cocktails and shouting. But all I can hear is someone hoovering the carpet. From the roof, you can see a flurry of banks and the Ned hotel, which only used to be a bank, but is now a swimming pool. I think the grass is plastic, and this plastic garden is surrounded by real glass, and it feels wrong.
Inside, the restaurant is subdued, and made of greys and woods. It was smart once, I suppose, but now it is fraying. I don’t feel particularly welcome, but I like odd places at odd times, and Coq D’Argent is certainly odd, segueing to chilling. We eat, swiftly, an adequate sirloin steak and a full English breakfast (the bill is £80 and larceny, but only comparative larceny on Poultry) and wander, with relief, away.
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