Friday 29th April 2016.
Summer of ’66, a ten year old Pakastani lad arrives in England, polishing bouncers on his short pants… Autumn of ’77, Tandoori of Mayfair – death by Brylcream, dazzling the hoity toity set with his bhaji shuffle – Jenny Bond in a strappy number titters saucily into her napkin, Ted Rogers on a promise, lets one rip … April of ’16, 7 Spices, his showpiece: the jug of cream, the liqueur instant coffee. The stage is set… “The cream isn’t the best tonight” he confides. This time the cream eddies, struggling for the surface, not quite making it, small gouts blending into the black instant. “It’s not the cream, it’s you, Brian” another waiter remarks in passing. The one who laid the dirty cutlery. Nobody dignifies it. Brian Preston is bigger than that.
Fittingly, there were seven of us who made it, having first rinsed our palettes amidst the belchy, underarm atmos of Shakespeare’s. At once, raucous, boozy guffaws rather unsettle our pre-prandial repose – a table of eight under the impressive basement windowscapes. Swiftly, I figured our chances:1 x Big Daddy; 3 x Brian Jacks’ (squat leotards neatly folded); 3 x Widow Twankeys (wardrobe and make-up permitting). That was us. The opposition: 5 x secretarial loaf hair-dos, 3 x wasp-chewing brutes. I settled for my Paddington stare. Otherwise, and happily, I found the clientele anonymous and unintimidating. There was a gentleman in the lavatories who rather crashed the toilet seat into position but that may have been a pressing exigency.
Handsome, bare, marbled tabletops; marquee canopies suggesting Raj-style opulence. Both Kingfisher and Cobra on draught, and a widely championed pickle tray (no lime pickle mind) – promising beginnings. That said, a note of caution on the ale front: “Worthington’s with a hint of vinegar…” The background music, a tinny murmur of something vaguely 90’s, was less than evocative, but with no hubbub drowning the gentle susurrations of our chit-chat the subdued mood kind of suited. It went somewhat downhill after the almost exquisite bhaji binge (a little longer in the oven, we agreed). An ordinary array of starters, followed by calamitous cutlery settings – two knives and a fork crusted with yesterday’s bhuna. The main events moping in meek mediocrity beneath surprisingly splendid naans. A mixed bag.
We know about the coffee. It’s instant. The cream was a single/whipped hybrid. Even Brian Preston can’t magic liqueur coffee perfection from that. Undiminished, he impressed with reminiscences: Jan Leeming, drunk and stunning, doing her “dancing prawn”. I imagine you could forgive that bottom anything back in ’79. Darren, denied a black liqueur coffee, looked on in glazed defiance, recreating his drink order with hasty sips between the two receptacles provided: a separate liqueur glass and coffee cup.
Tightly rolled meagre wet wipes from plastic sachets. Hot and damp, I admit. Slammed on the face they cover about an eyeball and a medium-sized snout. Gone, I suppose, are the days of thick flannel lemon-scented face cloths… you could change your pants behind those babies. I salute you Motiraj, Church Lane, Sunderland!
In the end, £25 a head, a bunch of After Eights, an underwhelming what might have been… It’s performed much better. A few survivors slope back to Shakespeare’s older and wiser.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles