Friday 7th April 2006
What exactly is a "posh" restaurant? As a child, I ate out so rarely that I thought all restaurants were "posh", but as I've gotten older the category has shrunk and shrunk until today I find myself constantly arguing about whether such-and-such a place can truly be described as "posh". "The Ivy?!? Nah, mate. It's a celebrity restaurant. Posh 'n' Becks might go there, but it's not 'posh'."
So it's quite nice, at the grand old age of 42, to finally come across a restaurant that's the real McCoy. Bellamy's, a French-style brasserie just off Berkeley Square, received the ultimate seal of approval a couple of weeks ago when the Queen herself dropped in to celebrate the 80th birthday of a friend. This is particularly impressive, given that Bellamy's has only been open for about 16 months. To be considered "posh", a restaurant usually has to have been around for at least 75 years, but not in this case. Everything about Bellamy's is so perfectly judged it may well be the most pukka restaurant in London.
How did it pull off this coup? For one thing, it's in the right location. No, I don't mean Mayfair--though that helps, obviously--I mean it's in the same space that used to be occupied by Caviar Kaspia. This was a famous "society" hang-out that, in its day (1987-2004), was the most expensive restaurant in London. I have particularly fond memories of the place because in 1996 I met the then 16-year-old Sophie Dahl there before including her in the Vanity Fair "Cool Britannia" issue.
More importantly, the Managing Director is Gavin Rankin. After setting up Cavia Kaspia, Rankin became Mark Birley's general manager and, for his second go-round in this location, he's recruited Stephan Pacoud, the former head chef at Annabel's, and Chris Steiger, the former manager. The upshot is that eating at Bellamy's is a little like dining at Annabel's, the difference being that you have to cross the street to reach the dance floor.
The interior of the restaurant, as well as the menu, is what Rankin describes as "Franglais". "Sometimes a bit of Franglais works wonders," he says. "If you say 'pommes au choix' it sounds a lot better than steamed potatoes." He took his designer--Tim Flynn--on a whistlestop tour of 15 Parisian brasseries to give him an idea of what he wanted and the result is what might be termed "Brasserie Classique", complete with a tile-and-wooden floor, a brass rail and a collection of beautiful, framed posters. The same attention to detail is apparent on the menu, too, which offers such brasserie standards as Scrambled Eggs and Perigord Truffles, Salad Lyonnaise and Sliced Entrecote with Pomme Frites.
I asked our waiter what the Queen had eaten and the answer was Smoked Eel Mouse with 25g of Sevruga Caviar followed by Roast Quail. Unfortunately, Roast Quail wasn't on the menu, but the kitchen was happy to whisk me up the same starter. The smallest tin of Sevruga they had was 50g so, to make sure none went to waste, my companion had the same thing. This meant that the combined cost of our starters was £108, but if it was food fit for a Queen we felt we had to try it--and it was spectacularly good. Our main courses--I had John Dory a L'Orientale, he had the Entrecote--were less impressive, but not significantly so. We had no room for pudding, but our waiter brought us a saucer of Minstrels--"Never underestimate the appeal of cheap chocolate," says Rankin--which were very welcome.
I have to confess, I was utterly charmed by Bellamy's. Like Caviar Kaspia, it probably won't survive much more than 15 years and, after that, we may never see its like again. It's the last of London's "posh" restaurants and you should enjoy it while you can.
© 2004 - 2013 Toby Young