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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 17th February 2006


Brompton Cross is still ground zero for high-end British fashion--Sloane Street, Bond Street, South Molton Street and Westbourne Grove, all rolled into one. As such, it is also the number one stamping ground for the ladies who lunch. Within a circle scarcely any bigger than Kate Moss's waist you can find Joe's Cafe, the Brompton Brasserie, Itsu, the Oyster Bar at the Conran Shop, the Collection, the Enterprise and Daphne's. If you're a newly-divorced multi-millionaire on the lookout for your next wife, this is where to take your Bentley Continental out for a spin.

Aubaine is a relatively recent entrant into this crowded field, a Parisian-style brasserie that's also a boulangerie and pattiserie. Indeed, it starts selling freshly-baked pains au chocolate at 8am and brunch is available from 8am to 12pm during the week and until 2pm at weekends. The menu changes throughout the day, but in essence Aubaine serves some variant of lunch from 8am to 10.30pm. It even sells little mini-quiches to take away, just in case you wake up in the middle of the night and feel like a spot of lunch at 4am.

Naturally, my first thought on entering Aubaine was that I was woefully underdressed. I'd arranged to meet an ex-girlfriend there and since Brompton Cross is only four miles from Shepherd's Bush I decided to bicycle. This meant I arrived in a muck sweat wearing an Arctic parka, a woolly hat and bicycle clips. It would be an exaggeration to say that every head in the room swivelled in my direction, but if I hadn't been able to point to my companion, who was already seated at a nearby table, I doubt I would have made it past the maitre 'd. Not only was I the only straight man in the restaurant, I was the only person who didn't have a pair of designer sunglasses perched on his or her head.

I was glad it was an ex I was having lunch with and not my wife because it's hard to stay focused on the person you're talking to in an environment like this. Whichever table I looked at, there were two beautiful Euro Sloanes sipping peppermint tea and nibbling on croissants. Even when I summoned all my powers of concentration and fixed my attention on my companion, I would immediately be distracted by the arrival of some gorgeous, leggy blonde. It was like trying to have lunch in the middle of a catwalk--and this was on a cold winter's day in early February. God knows what it'll be like during London Fashion Week.

As you'd expect from a place like this, the décor is fairly minimalist, with white, bare walls and utilitarian furniture standing on a plain wooden floor. Indeed, the tables and chairs look so hardwearing, I don't suppose the staff have to worry much about leaving them out in the rain during the summer months. One of Aubaine's selling points is that the large glass frontage overlooking Brompton Road opens up, allowing the customers to spill out on to the pavement. Unfortunately, the view of London's most upmarket shopping district is somewhat marred by a branch of Tesco's directly opposite.

The food at Aubaine is fairly pedestrian, I'm afraid. I started with onion soup and followed up with fusilli in a cream and tomato sauce, both of which were disappointingl bland. My companion had more luck with her starter-- potato blinis and smoked salmon--but evidently didn't think much of her main course--spinach and cheese tart--which she barely touched. It was the sort of bog standard brasserie food that's served up at Café Rouge, though that doesn't prevent it charging the kind of prices you'd expect from a one-star Michelin restaurant. Our extremely modest lunch, which wasn't accompanied by either wine or dessert, came to over £50.

If you fancy a cup of coffee and a cream cake, not to mention some great people-watching opportunities, Aubaine is a perfect pit stop. But if you're after a decent lunch in this neck of the woods, I'd stick to Daphne's.

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