When a fashionable restaurant has passed its peak there are several things it can do to revamp itself. If the situation is really desperate it can go for the complete overhaul, redesigning the interior, changing the menu and, in some cases, hiring a new chef. An alternative, if things haven't yet reached that stage, is to switch PR companies and bring in a new manager, though that's a sure sign that things are going south, the restaurant equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Finally, if the brand just needs a bit of a polish, you can introduce some sort of menu gimmick. It won't bring Madonna and Guy Ritchie running to your door, but it might garner a few column inches.
That's precisely what the Fifth Floor Café has done at Harvey Nichols. Still very popular at lunchtime, where it serves as a pick-up joint for ladies who lunch, the powers at be at Harvey Nicks have decided that the Café needs a bit of a boost, possibly because the Fifth Floor Restaurant has recently undergone a major facelift. It's introduced a "Beauty Menu" which, in essence, means adding a bit of bullshit beneath a handful of the dishes about the rejuvenating effect of the food on offer.
Thus, the list of starters now includes pan roasted scallops that, according to the menu, will give you "rosy cheeks and a clear complexion", while the mains include grilled lemon sole that will provide you with, er, "rosy cheeks and a clear complexion". Perhaps the PR company that's dreamt up this wheeze needs to employ a more imaginative copywriter. There are a grand total of four dishes on the "Beauty Menu" and they all guarantee "rosy cheeks and a clear complexion". Even by the standards of PR gobbledegook, that's pretty weak.
I got the distinct impression that the whole concept had been hastily rethought at the last minute in response to some unforeseen development that threatened to turn it into a bit of a disaster. But what could that be? The clue lies in the fact that all four items on the "Beauty Menu" are carbohydrate-free, that is, you can eat them if you're on the high-protein, low-carb diet. This is generally referred to as "the Atkins Diet" because it was pioneered by Dr Robert Atkins. Why wouldn't the Fifth Floor Café want to be associated with this? Well, for years the American Heart Association has been warning people of the dangers of this diet and, sure enough, Dr Atkins dropped dead a couple of weeks ago having suffered a severe heart attack last year. So much for Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution.
You can imagine the conversation between Sophie and Samantha at the PR company:
Sophie: "Sweetie, darling, have you seen the papers? We're going to have to re-think that 'No Protein' diet at Harvey Nicks."
Samantha: "I'm all over it, babe. From now on it's going to be called the 'Beauty Menu' and instead of saying it makes you thin we're going to say it gives you rosy cheeks and a clear complexion."
Sophie [Awestruck]: "Brilliant!"
Samantha [Filing nails]: "That's why they pay me the big bucks."
So what's the food on the "Beauty Menu" actually like? Well, the globe artichoke salad was absolutely disgusting, the bits of artichoke having been marinated in lemon juice for so long they'd started to ferment. Perhaps it was intended for those fashionistas who, in addition to being on the Atkins Diet, like to purge after every meal. The lemon sole, on the other hand, was pretty good, though since it was accompanied by a single segment of pink grapefruit, rather than a platter of new potatoes, it was about as filling as a rice cracker. If I'd have eaten ten, I might have got my daily intake of vitamins and nutrients.
No doubt the "Beauty Menu" won't do any harm to the Fifth Floor Café, which is so busy at lunchtimes you sometimes have to queue for an hour to get a table. But rarely have I encountered a more brainless PR gimmick. Sophie and Samantha should be ashamed of themselves.