I first set foot in E & O in Notting Hill just over a year ago as the guest of a friend who'd been invited to a "soft opening". As a West Londoner, I was a little dubious about it beforehand because of its East London associations. The owner, Will Ricker, also owns the Great Eastern Dining Rooms, a favourite with the Damien Hirst crowd, and this was his first foray out of Shoreditch. Admittedly, I live in Shepherd's Bush rather than Notting Hill, but such distinctions fade into the background when faced with an invasion of Young British Artists. It's like the French and the British making common cause against the Germans.
What illusions I'd had about looking down my nose at the clientele were soon dashed. It was packed to the rafters with every well-heeled trustafarian in the area. Even Tchaik Chassay, the Jed Clampett of the Notting Hillbillies, was there. Indeed, the "soft opening" in question was so oversubscribed that the manager had given away my friend's table and advised us to come back another time. Like, in six months or so, when they next had something available. Almost instantly, before it had even opened to the public, E & O had become the trendiest restaurant in West London. Kensington Park Road, the restaurant row of Notting Hill Gate, had been occupied by Will Ricker. He came, he saw, he conquered.
A year later, E & O is still going strong. It's been described as "the Ivy of West London", but a better name for it might be "Nobu Junior" given the type of food it serves. Alternatively known as "pan-Asian" or "South-East Asian", the cuisine at E & O is a mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Thai, a combination that's as popular with Arab playboys as it is with anorexic models. Indeed, Will Ricker has now introduced a similar menu at the Great Eastern Dining Rooms. E & O is supposed to stand for "Eastern & Oriental" but it could just as easily stand for Eligible and Ostentatious. The typical customer has one foot in the All Saints Road and the other in St Tropez. When I went there last week there was an Aston Martin parked outside.
The fact that E & O has become such a "scene restaurant" has aroused mixed feelings in the locals. Take my dining companion, James Mendelson, a long-term Notting Hill resident. I asked him what kind of experience he'd had the last time he'd been there and he said it had been good and bad. The good news was he was sitting a few feet away from Nicole Kidman; the bad news was his waiter was so overexcited by the presence of an A-list movie star in his section he completely forgot to process James's order. It was an hour before his food arrived and James said that if the manager hadn't insisted on paying for it--the least he could do in the circumstances--he never would have come back.
James estimated that about 50% of the restaurant's clientele on the night we went there were "bridge and tunnel", ie, from outside Notting Hill Gate. Since that included me I couldn't get too worked up about this fact, but James complained that the area was now invaded by mini-cabs on a nightly basis. He reckoned that the trustafarian elite had all retreated to the Electric House, the newly-opened West London branch of the Soho House round the corner. This establishment, which boasts a restaurant on the first floor, has the advantage of being members only. No doubt the "bridge and tunnel people" will eventually scale its walls, but for the time being it's impregnable.
I think James was probably being a little hard on E & O. The manager, Marco Fazzina, claimed that three-quarters of the customers were locals and that struck me as about right. When restaurants are as hot as E & O, it's tempting to ignore the needs of your regular customers and pack as many people in as possible, but this spells doom in the long run. Will Ricker knows that the long-term health of any restaurant depends on its local clientele. E & O probably won't be the most fashionable restaurant in West London for much longer--that title may have already been stolen by the Electric House--but I think it's here to stay.