In a recent effort to stress his "man of the people" credentials, David Cameron expressed his fondness for a "spit and sawdust" bar in his local neighbourhood where he liked to join his friends to reminisce about the old days when he could barely afford to pay the rent. As soon as it was discovered that the bar in question was Galicia in Notting Hill, hordes of journalists descended on this tapas restaurant to see just how down-to-earth it really was. Needless to say, they were soon throwing up their arms in horror, having discovered a menu that included fresh octopus, Serrano Ham and grilled crayfish, not to mention 19 different types of Rioja. Spit and sawdust indeed!
In fact, I can confirm that Galicia is every bit as down-at-heel as Cameron's description suggests. When I popped in to sample its delights on a Thursday afternoon, I didn't actually detect any spit or sawdust, but the floor was covered in discarded paper napkins, the waiters were surly and incompetent and the food was virtually inedible. Short of claiming he was a regular customer at MacDonald's, Cameron couldn't have chosen a restaurant that was better suited to dispelling the notion that he's a toffee-nosed Tory. Galicia truly is a hole-in-the-wall, the tapas equivalent of a local kebab restaurant.
To begin with, it's located at the Golborne Road end of Portobello, an area that must rank as the most run-down part of Notting Hill. A stone's throw from the notorious Trellick Tower, it's the kind of neighbourhood where holding someone's gaze for longer than half-a-second can instantly result in multiple stab wounds. As I tried to park my car in the middle of the afternoon, I was surrounded by so many truanting children in hoodies I felt like Oliver Reed in The Brood, David Crongenberg's film about a new species of demonic dwarves. I've no doubt that it would have been stolen had it not been a bruised and battered M-reg Polo.
The door to Galicia is so unobtrusive, I had to walk up and down the street several times before I finally found it. Once inside, I was confronted by the hostile stares of about a dozen short, fat Spaniards, all nursing espressos at the bar and smoking foul-smelling unfiltered cigarettes. When my wife appeared alongside me, their beady little eyes immediately focused on her breasts. It was 1.30pm, but there was no maitre 'd in sight, no one who looked as though they might actually work at the restaurant. After five minutes, a septuagenarian gentleman popped up in the kitchen doorway and squinted at us as if we'd just wandered into his sitting room, so outraged did he seem by our effrontery.
We were shown into a nicotine-stained back room and seated at a table that was the size and shape of a postage stamp. We decided to sample a broad range of dishes from the tapas menu, but of the six I ordered our waiter forgot to bring one of them, so I never got to try the Chorizo al Vino. The food was so unspeakable that the only pleasure I got from it was summoning the cross little septuagenarian man to take each dish away after I'd taken a single bite. Of everything I tried, the Crab Claws were the worst. They bore the same relation to a crab as a Chicken McNugget bears to a chicken.
I asked to see the manager, not to complain, but to ask him if it was really true that David Cameron was a regular. "I not sure," he said. "I don't know what he look like." But he confirmed that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings the restaurant is so popular with trendy, Notting Hill-types that it's necessary to book several days in advance if you want to get a table.
Let no man claim David Cameron isn't willing to eat humble pie in his effort to become the next leader of the Conservative Party. Food doesn't come much more humble than the fare on offer at Galicia. Frankly, I'd prefer to eat spit and sawdust.