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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 8th October 2004


When it comes to sheer, over-the-top vulgarity, you've got to hand it to the Italians. Baglioni, a new hostelry on Hyde Park Gate, is a case in point. Not so much a hotel fit for a king as a boudoir fit for a queen, Baglioni is awash with white orchids, black curtains and gold paint. One of my colleagues described it as looking like the inside of Liberace's coffin, but I thought it was more like being in Donatella Versace's underwear drawer. Entering this hotel is like slipping through a wormhole. One minute you're standing on Kensington High Street, the next you're on the set of an Italian soap opera being directed by David LaChapelle. I half expected Nancy Dell'Olio to emerge from the lift dressed in a basque and suspenders.

Brunello, the restaurant in the lobby, is the sort of place that women describe as "sexy" but red-blooded heterosexual Englishman think is so camp they might actually turn gay if they remain there for more than five minutes. My wife and I were seated on either side of a huge, square table that was covered in a grey, velveteen tablecloth. Our chairs, which were upholstered in the same fabric, were like two thrones designed by Jeff Koons. Instead of a wall, I faced what looked like a black, rubber shower curtain. Had we died and gone to heaven? I'm talking about the nightclub, obviously--an impression borne out by the predominantly male, Italian clientele.

The menu is wonderfully nonsensical. One of the main courses is described as "fillet of turbot on the bone" which is on a par with "roast beef carpaccio" and "vegetarian fish stew". I mean, the turbot's either got bones in or it hasn't, right? In keeping with this oxymoronic motif, I ordered "duck ham" as my starter. I was curious to find out what it was. The mutant offspring of Daffy Duck and Porky Pig? Some sort of fiendish combination of pork and fowl created by the men in white coats who brought us Dolly the sheep? It turned out to be nasty little slithers of smoked duck meat with annoying bits of white fat running along one edge which were impossible to separate from the edible part. After chewing the first slither for about 15 minutes, and making no headway, I spat it out and abandoned the rest.

I'd wanted to order truffle risotto as my starter, in spite of its £16.50 price tag, but was told by my waiter that that would be unwise on the grounds that it took 20 minutes to cook. That sounded like a reasonable argument, particularly as my wife and I were in a hurry, so I ordered it as my main course instead. You can imagine my irritation, therefore, when the "duck ham" still hadn't come after 45 minutes. "Right," I said to my wife, tapping my watch. "If it isn't here by 11pm we're leaving." I then glared at the long hand, praying that the hopeless staff wouldn't make it, but, alas, they plonked down the wretched little strips of meat just in time.

The risotto, when it eventually arrived, was okay. It wasn't great by any means--certainly not worth waiting 90 minutes for--but it was passable. Quite unlike my wife's plate of mixed vegetables, which were floating in some sort of greasy brown gunk. To be fair, though, she enjoyed her starter of watercress soup, which at least had the advantage of preventing her from passing out. My wife's pregnant, you see, and doesn't take kindly to having to wait until 10.59pm for her first morsel since lunchtime. We also have a one-year-old who is absolutely guaranteed to wake up at 6am every morning, so the fact that we didn't get home until Midnight didn't go over too well either.

If I was unmarried and childless--i.e., a raging homosexual--I might, conceivably, have enjoyed my experience at Baglioni. There's something almost admirable about it's point-blank rejection of good taste, from the décor to the cuisine. But as it is, I thought this was a truly horrible restaurant. Next time I fancy an Italian meal I'm going to stick to Riva in Barnes.

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