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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 24th March 2006


On the face of it, the thinking behind Chair, a new restaurant-cum-furniture shop in Notting Hill, is quite sensible. It's full of all different kinds of chairs--Eames Organic chairs, Verner Panton chairs, Philippe Starck's Louis Ghost chair, Arne Jacobsen's Number Seven chairs--and the idea is that you point to some you like the look of, have the waiter bring them to your table and then try them out over the course of a two-hour lunch before committing to a purchase.

As I say, it sounds perfectly reasonable, and Chair is supposed to be the first of 10 such places dotted around the country. It's the brainchild of Andrew Cussins, the man behind the phenomenally successful Sofa Workshop chain, and for all I know it will make him a second fortune. But, when you think about it, who really wants to road-test a chair before buying it? We're not talking about your run-of-the-mill dining table chairs, either. This place is about as far from IKEA as it's possible to get. I sat in an Eames lounge chair in the basement that retails for £5,299 and even the relatively modest swivel chair I sat in over the course of my meal cost £495. For people willing to pay these prices, the issue of how comfortable a particular chair is comes a very distant second to the question of what it looks like. Deciding whether to spend upwards of £5,000 on a chair is all about status. It's not about posture.

I daresay the concept is just a marketing device--a way of getting people to come to the restaurant, rather than sell furniture--but the danger is that people will take Chair at face value and assume that if they're not in the market for some overpriced designer bric-a-brac there's no point in coming in. That would be a pity because the restaurant, it turns out, is actually quite good.

As you might expect, the food is as trendy as the furniture. Andrew Cussins boasts that it's "organic", "sustainable" and "local", which are the three biggest clichés of the moment in the restaurant trade, but don't let that put you off. The head chef, Justin Charles, has been around the block, working at the Caprice and Whites Club, among other places, and he knows how to cook the British classics. My dining companion was Kirstie Allsopp, the presenter of Location, Location, Location, and she started with a tomato and avocado salad, while I had some watercress soup. Kirstie's currently pregnant with her first child and, like most pregnant women, is prone to sudden attacks of hunger--"When I get a craving for a cheese sandwich, I want it when I want it, if you know what I mean"--but luckily our first courses arrived promptly and they were both very good. For my main, I had an excellent fish pie, while Kirstie had a perfectly satisfactory kedgeree. Best of all, though, was the pear tarte tartin we divided between us for pudding. This was almost up there with the banana tarte tartin they serve at Christopher's Bar and Grill which remains the best I've ever had.

I was expecting Chair to be populated almost exclusively by Wallpaper readers, but, in fact, it was a more down-to-earth crowd than that. There were a few Chelsea-tractor-driving ladies-who-lunch, a few sleek businessmen and, perhaps most surprisingly, a gaggle of heavy smokers at the bar. If you're a yummy mummy looking for somewhere to park the toddler while you grab a quick bite, 202, which is just up the road, is probably a more suitable pit stop than Chair. The atmosphere was much more louche than I was expecting, possibly because of its proximity to Queensway.

All-in-all, then, not the most ingenious shopping/dining concept I've ever come across, but not a complete disaster, either. My advice is to ignore the designer furniture and treat it like the decent British restaurant that it is.

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