Crepes, cocktails and the ghosts of Soho’s long-gone restaurants

Buried in a 1930s volume, I find lavish descriptions of London’s top restaurants and discover eating out has changed less than you think So far, the V&A hasn’t been in touch about my idea that it should mount an exhibition, or even establish a permanent gallery, dedicated to the history of British restaurants . But I’m not giving up. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am this plan is tinged with genius, not least because many of you wrote to me to say so. Everywhere I go now, I’m mentally collecting stuff for the archive. Last weekend, we celebrated an anniversary at a swanky hotel in Wales. The chef had used the annoying “slash” method to describe his dishes – as in: “fish/fat/peas/lime/potting compost” – and sent out the starters on a bit of bark the size of a new baby. Once, I might have scoffed at such silliness. Now, I’m too busy memorising all the crucial details to be bothered with eye-rolling. Coincidentally, on the same trip, in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, I made a fantastic discovery in the form of an obscure volume called Restaurants & Recipes by Katharine Atkinson and CM Young, which I found hidden away among a pile of sticky old Keith Floyds and Cordon Bleu guides. It was priced, in spite of its slightly tatty cover, at £18, which seemed extraordinarily cheeky at first, for all that it has some lovely line drawings. But then I realised that, while it was perfectly possible no one else on the planet would ever want to buy it, I longed for it at least enough to pay £18 – at which point, fingertips tingling, I handed over my credit card. Continue reading...

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