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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 2nd June 2006

Aglio e Olio


Oh dear. I feel like one of those contestants on The Apprentice who's given a task to perform, comes up with a spectacularly bad idea and is then saddled with trying to make it work for the rest of the episode. I thought that since this review would be appearing in the bikini issue it would be a good wheeze to go to a restaurant on the Beach, that stretch of the Fulham Road that became famous in the mid-90s as a centre of West London nightlife. What I hadn't taken on board is that the Beach is currently about as fashionable as a denim safari suit.

10 years ago, the 200 yards of pavement between Vingt Quatre and the Goat in Boots was ground zero for London's Bright Young Things. It all revolved around Kartouche, the achingly trendy bar/restaurant where, according to legend, Imran Khan firsts set eyes on Jemima Goldsmith. If you came here on a Thursday night, you could expect to see all the most famous It Girls of the day, including Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Tamara Beckwith and Jenny Halpern. The Beach was to the 90s what the King's Road was to the Swinging Sixties.

Naturally, my first thought was to book a table at Kartouche, but I couldn't find it in Zagat's or Harden's and directory inquiries didn't have a listing. A cursory bit of research revealed that it had closed down five years ago and the site was now occupied by a fish restaurant called Randall & Aubin. Should I go there instead? I called my wife's best friend, who lives off the Fulham Road, to find out what the trendiest restaurant in the area is and she recommended an Italian called Aglio e Olio. That, too, wasn't in Zagat's or Harden's, but I did at least manage to find a number on the Internet. I was in business.

At first glane, Aglio e Olio certainly doesn't seem like the Kartouche of 2006. Instead of a spacious brasserie, it's a tiny hole-in-the-wall, scarcely any bigger than a public lavatory. "It reminds me of a dole office," said my dining companion, pointing out the cheap, utilitarian furniture and the grey walls. "Are you sure this is the right place?"

I looked around: no sign of Imran or Jemima on these premises. Instead, nearly every table was occupied by portly, middle-aged men. I was expecting to be surrounded by blonde party girls quaffing champagne as they discussed the previous night's excesses, but the only women present looked like they were on a lunch break from the local branch of Tesco's. (Quite probable, actually, given that there are now three branches of Tesco's on this particular stretch of the Fulham Road.) If this was the Beach, it was less like the Riviera than Clacton-on-Sea.

I suggested we order some food, hoping against hope that it was the cuisine, not the ambience, that had endeared Aglio e Olio's to my wife's best friend. I opted for a starter of salami and deep fried vegetables, followed by veal escalope with new potatoes and broccoli, while my companion ordered a plate of sardines and, for her main course, the green lasagne. After we'd finished, I did my best to put a positive spin on what we'd just eaten. It had three things going for it, I said: it was cheap, it was plentiful and it flew out of the kitchen with admirable speed. She pointed out that the same could be said of McDonald's.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh on Aglio e Olio. Clearly, I was completely misinformed about its status. Far from being a destination restaurant for the rich and famous, it's just a cheap, neighbourhood Italian. If my expectations hadn't been so high, I daresay I would have enjoyed myself much more. The problem is, I'm not sure there is an equivalent of Kartouche in this part of London any more. For the time being, at least, the Zeitgeist has departed from SW10 and moved further west to W11. Indeed, even Notting Hill may be over, with Mayfair emerging as the new stamping ground for London's jeunesse doree. The Beach, it seems, is all washed up.

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