Now, let me see if I can get this right. My sister’s husband has a brother who has a friend who is friends with a couple in Zimbabwe who read The Spectator and are ‘very big fans’ of mine. I think that’s it. Anyway, might I email them, just to say ‘hello’? They’d be really chuffed. So I email and say, naturally, that should they ever find themselves in London they should get in touch and we’ll go out to lunch and, blow me, if they don’t then turn up in London (on holiday) saying: ‘Well . . . ?’ It’s not them who worry me. I’m sure they are the most delightful people, as they prove to be. It’s just that whenever I am introduced to ‘very big fans’ of mine, it doesn’t take long for these ‘very big fans’ of mine to realise that I am the most boring person ever and, oh, the look of disappointment on their faces. It’s just the look children get when they open a Christmas present and find it is both wooden and educational. Seriously, I am so boring that I myself nodded off mid-thought the other day because I just couldn’t be bothered to get to the end of it. If I were a rooster, I would rarely, if ever, get to the ‘doodle-do’.
Anyway, lunch it is, with Rory and Mel, the poor things. The venue is up to me so, in the end, I plump for the dining room at the Goring Hotel. This, I think, is a good bet because it has won zillions of awards lately, offers a thoroughly British menu and is just round the corner from Victoria Station, should Rory and Mel suddenly decide they need a quick get-away. I am even, actually, thinking of starting a support group for boring people. I’m not sure how it will work exactly, but we’ll probably just sit in a circle and read our books.
Now, the Goring first opened in 1910 and was the first hotel in the world to offer guests a private bathroom along with their bedroom and if that fact isn’t dull enough for you, don’t worry, there are plenty more to come. It was also, for example, the first hotel to provide all guests with central heating in their rooms. From the outside, the hotel does look rather formal, with its Edwardian façade and doormen in tails. ‘Oh no,’ you would be forgiven for thinking, ‘it’s going to be one of those starchy hotel dining-rooms full of rich grandmothers with nothing to say to their little grandsons overdressed in suits.’ However, as you draw nearer, you will note that the doormen are wearing shocking pink ties decorated with cartoon sheep. Funky!
Into the lobby, which is a cocoon of Edwardian gentility, and then the restaurant, where I am told that my guests are waiting in the bar. The maître d’ calls me ‘Mrs Ross’, which is OK, although if I were truly Mrs Ross, I’d be my mother and would have to play bridge a lot. I’m escorted to the bar where I find Rory and Mel, who obviously don’t yet know what they are in for. They have bought me a gift, a bottle of excellent champagne, which I quickly snaffle away into my bag before they can realise it is much, much more than I deserve. Rory, now retired, used to run a chemical company in Harare while Mel is a radiologist. The current situation in Zimbabwe understandably breaks their hearts. They used to have a small farm which now lies in ruins. Inflation is such that a loaf of bread costs 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars. There is next to no meat in the shops. That vile and disgusting Mr Mugabe. They should let me at him. I could bore him to death. As it is, the Goring was also one of the first hotels to ever install central heating in every room.
Into the dining-room, which has recently been revamped by David Linley, so it is a bit rich grandma but is rather lovely all the same: lots of light, beautiful yellow-gold curtains, warm paint tones of biscuit and cream and Swarovski chandeliers that twinkle and change colour according to the amount of natural light. To the lunch menu, which is £32.50 for three courses and looks really, really good. The chef here is Derek Quelch, previously of the Savoy and then Claridge’s, and whom I mention mostly because if you have a name like Derek Quelch, it deserves to be mentioned. Quelch’s thing, apparently, is the revival of English cooking, and so it’s a menu which, among other things, offers poached duck egg and chickweed salad, roast marrow bones with breadcrumbs, York ham knuckle terrine. Rory and Mel and I hum and haw for ages but no one seems to mind. The maître d’, spotting that Rory is wearing a rugby tie, comes to talk rugby to him. I don’t feel quite so dull after that.
The food? Faultless. That’s really boring, I know, but it’s true. I start with the glazed Scottish lobster omelette and now what I would like to ask is this: why has no one introduced me to omelette and lobster before? It is the most wonderful — nay, sensational, nay, divinely divine! — dish ever. The soft unctuousness of the eggs and then the meaty bite of the lobster. If from now on I were to eat nothing but glazed Scottish lobster omelettes, I do not think I would mind a bit. I then have steamed fillet of Cornish sea bass in a lemon butter sauce — meltingly buttery; beautiful, opalescent fish — and, to finish, the lavender pannacotta with strawberry compote. The pannacotta is so good that, for a minute, I am so preoccupied I even forget to be dull. Rory and Mel, who are keen on good food, but don’t eat out in Zimbabwe as much as they used to now the average cost of a restaurant meal is five million dollars — five million dollars! — are similarly blown away. Rory has braised, devilled kidneys with black and white pudding — ‘terrific’ — while Mel has the calf’s liver with Suffolk bacon; a properly meaty affair served at the table. Rory finishes with the cheeseboard, which is the business, offering a stunning selection of British cheeses with terrific names: Tymsboro; Crockhamdale; Stichelton; Oxford Isis and Cropwell Bishop Stilton. It gave me almost as much pleasure typing those as it did ‘Derek Quelch’.
The most interesting thing about the Goring, aside, perhaps, from the fact that the air-conditioning installed in 1921 via the skirting boards sucked up the guests’ underpants, is that it is still a family business. It is now run by Jeremy Goring, great-grandson of the original founder, and the personal touch really tells, particularly in the service, which is friendly yet never oleaginous, and respectful yet never stuffy. The staff seem genuinely pleased to be looking after you. All in all, it’s a fantastic place, particularly if you are rather boring and have lovely guests like Mel and Rory to entertain. Your guests will have a memorable and wonderful whatever. Perhaps, even, I could run my support group from here. Boring? Come to the Goring. That kind of thing.
The Goring, Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1. Tel: 020 7396 9000.