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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 1st April 2005


I decided to put Frankie's Italian Bar and Grill, Marco Pierre White's latest venture, to the ultimate test. Would they be able to seat me and my wife and our two children--one newborn, one toddler--at Noon and have us out of there, well fed and well watered, by 1.30pm? The problem was, we couldn't leave the house before 11.30am because of the newborn's breastfeeding schedule and we couldn't be home later than 2pm because of the one-year-old's afternoon nap. Most couples in this situation wouldn't bother to try and squeeze in a two-course lunch at one of London's hottest new restaurants, but my wife needed a break after almost a fortnight of having little Ludo clamped to her chest like a limpet. It was either Frankie's or a week in the Caribbean.

Rather disappointingly for a restaurant named after one of Britain's most famous jockey's--Frankie Detorri--it fell at the first hurdle. We'd been told it was "child friendly", but after first having to lift the pram up the front steps, we then had to carry it down a long flight of stairs. It turns out Frankie's is a basement restaurant which, in my book, makes it very "baby unfriendly". I checked with the maitre d and discovered that it's extremely "child friendly" at weekends, when a magician is on duty from 1pm to 4.30pm, but during the week it makes no such claims.

This adults-only theme was continued once we'd reached the bottom of the stairs where we were confronted with a New York nightclub straight out of The Sweet Smell of Success. Huge glitter balls hung from the ceiling, while beveled mirrors covered every inch of wall space. To compliment this Stork Club ambience, Frank Sinatra was purring away in the background, while the non-natural light was turned down low. I have to confess, I rather liked it, if only because it reminded me of my bachelor days in a series of identical-looking venues in New York's meat-packing district.

When we told our Italian waiter how pressed we were for time, he assured us that they'd be "very, very quick", adding, "quick is even slower compared to our speed". He was as good as his word, bringing the "bread"--a pizza base with a tomato topping--in less than a minute and reappearing with our main courses--we skipped the starters--almost as fast. I opted for Dover sole accompanied by chips and fried courgettes, while my wife had a chicory salad with gorgonzola and walnut dressing. My one-year-old daughter, when she wasn't stealing my chips, contented herself with gnocchi and bacon. We topped the whole thing off with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, one between three, which just about sufficed. We were done and dusted by 1pm, so full marks to our waiter.

The food was unpretentious and well-cooked--no complaints there. Indeed, everything about Frankie's surpassed my expectations. I'm not a big fan of Marco Pierre White's restaurants--there's always something a little phony about them--but he's got all his ducks in a row here. As a concept, it works, which is just as well since this is intended to be the flagship of a nationwide chain: Planet Marco. Just how deeply Frank Detorri is involved is unclear--Marco likes to stay in the background these days, thanks to his rather dodgy reputation--but my impression is he's just lent his name to the venture for promotional purposes.

Only one other table was occupied when we arrived at Noon, but by the time we left, at about 1.20pm, it was filling up nicely. The customers were exactly who you'd imagine on a weekday afternoon in Knightsbridge: businessmen, ladies of a certain age, tourists. No glamour, but then Marco isn't in the glamour business these days--he just sold Drones to Ben Goldsmith.

All told, then, four thumbs up--two large ones and two very small ones. Next time I go it'll be on a Sunday afternoon where, with a bit of luck, the magician will make both children disappear.

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