The Odeon cinema in Whiteleys, Bayswater, has refurbished; it now has eight ‘Lounges’ where you can watch a film and stuff your face with only 49 others, planted on leather seats like fellow passengers on a spaceship to nowhere. Other London cinemas do food (the Everyman, the Electric) but the food is mostly olives and the audience won’t talk to you because they are evil. The Electric, particularly, has the vibe of a Notting Hill serial killer convention; when watching a horror film at the Electric, you sense the audience is rooting for the demon/Antichrist/hot slayer of priests. The Lounge does real food, by Rowley Leigh of Le Café Anglais, which is on the same floor at Whiteleys although, the PR assures me, the Lounge has its own kitchen and chef. So this is perfect for people who don’t care to talk at dinner but would rather watch an actor’s big head, talking somebody else’s big lines. It is a restaurant that allows you to pretend that you are in your own home, which is why I adore it, and why it will fail.
Whiteleys itself is hellish, an ordinary dystopia like Nabokov’s fish tank of a department store. I am not saying it is full of European paedophiles buying lollies but I would advise all Spectator readers to avoid it anyway. It is all escalators and branches of Muji and fat people dreaming of Apple products and Foot Locker — hyper-capitalism on wobbling legs, dazed and numb, so numb, so numb. Do you get that? Numb.
In you walk to an overstyled space where they have hoovered but forgotten to open the windows. Result: a prison made of bright swirly carpets, turbo-naff. I reject The Iron Lady, because I hate to see Margaret Thatcher rebranded as a feminist — as I suspect, would she — and Shame, because it is film about masturbation and who needs to make a film about masturbation? (It’s not a date movie.) So it is The Descendants, which is one of the movies that George Clooney makes when he gets angry with himself for being so handsome and wants to do a Chekhov rip-off set in Hawaii full of actors sitting under tables and weeping because they are so handsome. This is Uncle Vanya in flip-flops.
Once in, a very nice man, almost slippery nice, brings you a menu and talks in that soothing voice you use with terminally ill people. You won’t read the menu yet, you are too busy playing with the leather seats. Up, down, up, down. The neighbours don’t mind because they are doing it too. There is also a call button to order more food. This is cinema as parent or a holiday in the BA Executive Lounge, Heathrow.
The menu is divided into finger, fork and spoon. Since the 1980s cinema is infantilisation, as Pauline Kael spat, so infantalise away, baby! She would probably be gratified if we got baby food through a tube, particularly — no, only — for Spielberg movies. Anyway, it is simple and warm for winter: pasta, risotto, a venison chilli. We order a steak sandwich, fries and a hot-dog/popcorn/ice-cream soda medley. ‘It’s an homage,’ says the waiter, crazily, almost prostrate. ‘Homage?’ says my boyfriend, who is very literal. ‘How can you have an homage to something that is already downstairs?’
The Descendents is dull, an inadequacy party celebrating Clooney’s revulsion at his reflection, but the food is pleasing. £14.50 is a lot for a hamburger — and the fries were £4 on top — but you would pay as much to eat Ikea offcuts at a proper Odeon. The staff is anxious to outperform the BA flight to Dubai and only stop short of cuddling us, and saying, it’s OK, Mummy loved you really. We watch George flip-flop away.
The Lounge, Queensway, London W2 4YN; odeon.co.uk/thelounge