Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis

Bloggaz just wanna have fun
Bloater paste
David/Critical Couple/Jeremy Lee and Wine_Chap/Hollow Legs
Le menu
Eel sandwich: house speciality
Sea kale

Fish n artichokes
Voldermort sat here
Professional host and fellow alumni of the 'Evening Standard's 1000 most influential people in London' year 2010/11, @winechapUK or, to give him his real name, Tom Harrow, set up a dinner for food bloggers at Quo Vadis restaurant. Originally opened in the 1920s, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital here and Marco Pierre White ran it for a bit, the art deco styled Quo Vadis is a Soho institution.
I walked in, peering about without my glasses to try and find Wine Chap, and I saw Ralph Fiennes (pronounced Rafe, yes I know, there's even a Yahoo question about this). He was sitting right there looking friendly and... with a nose.
Back to me briefly...I wore my new bird fabric Get Cutie dress with a bird headress. I'd like to think I looked fabulous.
Back to Quo Vadis: Jeremy Lee, formerly of the Blue Print Café o'er the Thames, is back in Soho. Darlings, he's home! After all he started out at Alistair Little, plus he's easily the campest man in cookery, with his 50s quiff, sashaying gait and his Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enunciation...
Six of us bloggers were there plus Wine Chap. This included Eat Like A Girl, Hollow Legs, HRWright, Cheese and Biscuits, and a mystery bloke. "Who are you?" I asked.
He seemed reticent to answer. "David" he mumbled.
"Who ARE you?" I boomed insistently "Come on! Blog name please" I snapped my fingers at him imperiously.
He caved: "I'm Critical Couple"
"Ooh you are the one that everyone hates!" I blurted cheerfully.
Strictly speaking he's one half of the couple that everyone hates.
The Critical Couple had only been blogging a little while when they caused enough controversy to have a story about them in The Guardian. They've been profiled in ES magazine. Esteemed restaurant critique Marina O'Loughlin deplores their very existence. Everyone bitches about them. Douglas Blyde seems to be the only person that likes them.
What I've managed to glean so far is that they are a British American couple (he's British, she's American) who have alot of money and choose to spend it on restaurants and good wine. They've also been doing a sort of lazyarse rich banker bastard version of a supper club: they hire the very best chefs in town and pay them to create a fantastic meal around their house. They then invite a select few to enjoy the meal with them. Probably why Douglas Blyde likes them so much. (Only kidding!)
David seemed quite shy. Although he did gleefully mention that he'd recently unfollowed me on Twitter.
"Did you notice?" he asked.
"Yes" I replied.
"It's because I can't bear anarchists who have PRs." he announced.
"But I don't" I said, thinking that I'm not sure I'm an anarchist either but I didn't want to complicate matters further.
"I can't stand hypocrisy" David continued.
"But I haven't got a PR" I repeated.
"Oh" he said "I thought you did".
"Nope. All that publicity...it's just liddle ole me" I shrugged. "I have to admit that when my book came out, I was shameless. I worked every contact. But I figure, you gotta go for it with a book, you've got a couple of weeks max to make a mark"
He went quiet.
We sat down on the leather padded banquette seating. On the table opposite us, St John's Fergus Henderson was eating. Just then, Ralph Fiennes walked past . The whole table went quiet, we all elbowed each other. The whole table that is, apart from HR Wright (the self-proclaimed gayest man on Twitter) who shrieked "OH MY GOD IT'S VOLDERMORT!". Accompanied by a slim dark haired lady, later revealed on Google to be Amanda Harlech, Fiennes slid behind us into a private dining room, painted black with padded walls. As he disappeared, our table erupted with giggles and whispers (just like in that scene of 'Notting Hill' when Julia Roberts goes to dinner with Hugh Grant's friends). I guess you must always be accompanied by that when you are famous: a hesitant hush then an explosion of fame induced hysteria.
On the other hand, despite his fame, I don't really get the point of private dining rooms. Half the fun at restaurants is seeing and being seen.
Then the food started to arrive: potted ramekins of bloater paste (bit livery), mackerel pate (good), something meaty that looked exactly the same, a dish of anchovy aioli. We weren't served separate dishes: they understood their audience here of greedy "let's try that" bloggers. Small dishes just kept arriving. We had already had martinis and champagne and were onto some great white wine, it's fair to say we were getting louder and ever more excited.
Jeremy Lee would come out every so often and greet each table. Hugs for Fergus, flirting and coquettish eyelash batting for us and probably a bit of genuflecting toward Voldermort in the dark padded room.

Next the meat eaters got slices of flesh on a plate, some sort of game. I laughed out loud when I was handed what appeared to be a few sticks of steamed celery covered in a white sauce. Then I tasted it...it wasn't celery but sea kale and the sauce, a lemony buttery sauce buerre blanc. I handed it around and all the carnivores were envious.

A 12 year old waiter arrived with an entire baby goat on a roasting tray. I felt sad. My dish however made up for it: medallions of white fish  (I was too merry to find out which) I mean, turbot with roasted artichoke hearts.
Hollow Legs tasted it and shouted "HORN!" (This is apparently a young person's expression of enthusiasm.) It was indeed very good.

Ralph Fiennes wandered out of his padded cell with a 'where the hell is my waiter' look on his face. See! That's the problem with a private room, they just forget you. Out of sight out of mind. (I had the same when I gave birth to my daughter. The hospital put me in a room that used to be a broom cupboard. I wasn't seen by a nurse for days as they forgot about it. Eventually I managed to attract attention by dragging my pee bag and drip stand with me outside of the room and waving down a cleaner)

Dessert time..."What would you like?" asked the young waiter.
 "Cheese!" I demanded. We had such good wines, yes I know it's demodé to match cheese and wine but I really fancied a cheese board. I was given Stichelton, Montgomery and something else with a Gerwurtraminer.
Dozens of desserts were brought out. Some of them never made it up to me but highlights included the almond tart and something else. Oh god I can't remember. But I loved it.
I was taking a picture of our table and Mr Fiennes exits his private room. He smiles. He's always smiling. I'm not sure why he seems to be typecast as a baddie because he seems particularly amiable for a star. I said to him: "We're food bloggers". I felt he needed an explanation for the noise level and the frenetic dish passing, loud proclamations of food enjoyment, slurping, licking, sharing and merriment. He nodded, still smiling. His lady came out. "Great food isn't it?" she said.
"Fantastic. What did you have?" I asked
"I had the steak"
"Bit of a boring choice..." I suggested.
"It was really good" she said as they left, waving. What nice people.
Us bloggers climbed upstairs to the private club section. Cheese and Biscuits is a very talented man; not only can he write wittily (c'mon why won't a paper employ him as a restaurant correspondant? He's LOADS better at restaurant reviewing than say, Zoe Williams) but he also plays virtuoso bluesy piano.
Some sort of rock band with requisite shaggy hair dos, skinny jeans and eyeliner jammed with him on the piano. We all sang 'Hey Jude' noisily.
David of The Critical Couple edged over and said with a note of surprise:"I quite like you". A couple of days later I noticed they'd followed me again on Twitter.

Jeremy Lee at Quo Vadis

26 Dean Street  London W1D 3LL, United Kingdom
020 7437 9585
Cheese n Biscuits playing


  1. I don't know...I think all anarchists should have PRs;)

  2. Love that top photo! It was so much fun.

  3. Fiona: actually that's what I said to him too..if I could have a PR I would!

    Niamh: t'was indeed!

  4. What a fab review - very entertaining and a fun read.

  5. Sass: you've found my secret reviewing blog!

  6. Poor old Critical Couple. They haven't really done anything wrong and are subject to such vitriol (I don't mean this blog post by the way).

    There was a post on eGullet which I thought summed it up quite well:

    "What does concern me is how they were abused and hounded through social media by people who one would have thought were old enough to know better. We all recall stories of how adolescents have been cyber bullied to the point of suicide, and we all tut tutted, but here were so-called liberals forming fascist groups to destroy some people they didn't like, just because they were different and didn't play with the popular kids.

    Even more alarming was the fact, if I recall correctly, that some professional food writers* joined the witchhunt!

    This is the dark side of social media, adults behaving as if it were a school playground and no dinner lady to step in. "

    *Tim Hayward.

    Whether people like them or not, think they are gauche or not, there's really no need for the barrage of hate that has been thrown their way.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. HI Patrick,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I'm glad you don't think my blog post was vitriolic as I certainly didn't mean it to be. It's all written in gentle jest.
    I don't know them well enough to be critical of them or otherwise. I just recounted what happened.
    The social media thing can get a bit playground bullying though can't it?

  9. Why is it that food bloggers all love each other, and fashion bloggers despise the 'competition'? Must be friendly nutrients in cheese.... Sounds like a great night out. Makes me want to book a flight for London

  10. I find it very odd that you would take up so much space on your blog post to write about the CC. Surely you were there to write about the food?

    You may not have intended it to be vitriolic but it was hardly nice and you certainly don't have the facts about them right.

  11. I don't think there is anything vitriolic in what I said about the CC. What I say about "lazy arse banker bastard" supper clubs is said a) in humour but also b) with a grain of truth and c) having run a weekly supper club for 3 years is exhausting and requires incredible endurance and commitment, they are, virtue of their money, taking the easy route.
    But actually I applaud the fact that they spend their money on food and wine. This is a good thing. I wish there were more people in a position to do that.
    Plus I write about other stuff because I think the online food world, it's hierarchies, it's gossip is more interesting than a straight restaurant review.
    Someone needs to record this stuff. It's hilarious. There is definately a novel to be written about the food world, bloggers and twitter (where all the real gossip goes on in the parallel twitterverse, the DMs).


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)