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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 29th July 2005

Babylon


From the moment I pulled up outside the Roof Gardens in Kensington, I knew I was in for an unusual evening. A stretch limo parked outside started disgorging its occupants, a motley crew that included Robbie Coltrane, Vic Reeves and the drummer from Queen. Rather insultingly, the bouncers then mistook my wife and me for members of their entourage and whisked us past the line of punters waiting to get in. "Don't mind us," Coltrane said to Caroline, indicating his clearly intoxicated micro-celebrity friends. "We're in show business."

Once on the seventh floor, we were ushered into a private room at the back of the restaurant and it was only when the rest of the Coltrane's party staggered in that the maitre 'd realized his mistake. "She can stay," said Coltrane, placing a massive, Hagrid-like paw on my wife's shoulder. "But you've got to go."

I'm relieved to report that she declined to take him up on this offer.

The great virtue of Babylon is the wonderful view it offers of South-West London from its roof terrace, but, alas, we could only get a table inside. The entire Roof Gardens complex, which includes an acre-and-a-half of green foliage, is owned by Richard Branson and the interior of the restaurant looks like it has been tricked-out by the same Wallpaper-reading designer who's responsible for the inside of his fleet of 747s. If Austin Powers ever needs someone to re-do his bachelor pad, this is clearly the guy to call.

To describe Babylon as louche doesn't quite do justice to the sheer licentiousness of the atmosphere. It transpired that Coltrane and his posse were on a stag night and it's not hard to see why they chose this venue above all others. To give just one example, the ladies and gentlemen's lavatories are separated by a thin wall that includes a large hole at crotch level. My wife discovered that by bending down and peering through it she could see various men relieving themselves at the urinals.

Unfortunately, the food isn't quite as exciting. We confined ourselves to two main courses and a selection of puddings, none of which made much of an impression. I opted for rabbit in filo pastry accompanied by an orange sauce--bacon bits in marmalade--while my wife had some sort of aubergine dish. We might have enjoyed our meal more had we not been to Tom Aikins for lunch that day. After the sublime experience of dining at what must rank among the two or three top restaurants in London, Bablyon was bound to be disappointing.

One of the perks of eating here is that you can get into the members-only nightclub on the floor below and, after dinner, my wife and I went down to check it out. It seemed like a fun place to hang out, not least because you have access to three different gardens, including the spectacular Spanish Garden which is often used for wedding receptions. The club's patrons were younger and better looking than their counterparts in the restaurant, but no less adventurous. I got the feeling that if we stayed too long the entire place might be transformed into a giant swingers party, with Robbie Coltrane acting as the master of ceremonies.

Caroline and I quite enjoyed our trip to the Roof Gardens, though we might have had a better time if we hadn't been celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary. If you want to hold a stag night--or even a wedding--this is just the ticket. But for a romantic dinner a deux, I'd recommend somewhere a little more cosy.

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