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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Thursday 7th November 2002


ES Magazine - 8th November 2002

If only Granita's walls could talk. This trendy Islington restaurant is the site of the famous deal Tony Blair struck with Gordon Brown whereby the dour Scotsman agreed to step aside in the 1994 leadership contest. But what exactly did Tony offer Gordon in return? It depends which one of them you believe--or, rather, which of their spin-doctors you believe. It's probably the single most controversial evening meal in the history of British politics.

If Granita's walls could talk, they'd probably talk mockney, given the restaurant's location. The People's Republic of Islington used to be a stronghold of the Loony Left, but its Georgian squares and central location have made it extremely attractive to Labour-voting media-types who began to invade in the 90s. Now, thanks to the London property boom, Jeremy and Helena--or, rather, Jezz and Hels--are sitting on goldmines. If Islington was on the West Coast of America, these people would be referred to as "bobos"--bourgeois bohemians--but since it's in North London they'll have to make do with being called "Champagne Socialists".

Indeed, just in case Jezz and Hels are in any doubt about this, Granita has a policy of providing all its customers with a complimentary glass of champagne as they walk in. Actually, all its customers may not be strictly accurate. The Blairs, who used to own a house in Islington, are still regular visitors and I don't suppose Tony and Cherie sit idly by while Euan knocks back glass after glass of bubbly. According to my waitress, the Blairs are particularly partial to chocolate cake. Let's hope Euan has a glass of milk with his.

The décor is exactly what you'd expect: all stainless steel and blond Scandinavian wood. Looking around, I was reminded of a line in David Hare's new play, The Breath of Life. "The obituary of my generation: we left no loft unconverted," laments one of the characters. "The revolutionary project: to leave the world a little more chic than we found it."

The operative word in that last sentence is "little" since Granita is a long way from being smart. Granita's patrons are the kind of people who think it's "shallow" to spend more than £100 on an outfit, even if their houses are worth over a million. One of the hallmarks of bobos is that they're incredibly tight-fisted and I wasn't surprised to be offered a £9 dinner menu. I opted for a prawn-and-avocado starter followed by a char grilled lamb main and while it was strictly vin ordinaire I can't honestly say I felt ripped off. In Notting Hill Gate you'd be lucky to get a Cappuccino for £9.

Another hallmark of bobos is that they never complain about the service--at least, I assume that's one of their hallmarks since nothing else can account for the hopelessness of our waitress. I had to ask for everything twice and by the end of the meal, when she still hadn't brought the Diet Coke I'd ordered 90 minutes earlier, I began to lose it. My sister, who was with me, tried to calm me down by pointing out that she was clearly a very sweet girl and maintaining that, when it comes to wait staff, niceness is more important than efficiency.

"The name for my job is 'restaurant critic'," I harrumphed, "not 'restaurant praiser'. I don't care how nice she is, I've been sitting here for two hours and she still hasn't brought my F*ING DIET COKE."

Suddenly, the restaurant's patrons all stopped talking and stared at me in disgust. Clearly, I was a member of the Conservative Party who'd wandered in by mistake. How simply ghastly! I did my best to reassure them I wasn't a complete fascist by turning a bright shade of red.

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