The Fable is three floors high and two days old, a monster newly hatched on the Holborn Viaduct; deep below is the valley of the River Fleet, which is genuinely fabulous, but absent from sight.
The Fable has the following interesting schtick — fairytales. The question, of course, is whose? Here, cries the PR nonsense, lie the breadstick fairies, who I thought were all dead and lying at the bottom of the Thames, poisoned or just killed by ennui. ‘Inspired by the wit and wisdom of Aesop, the fantasy world of fairytales and our spellbinding adventures around the globe, the Fable is a dynamic all-day bar and restaurant,’ it babbles.
Really? Does the City have any dreams left to monetise? I thought they had been stamped out by tax lawyers, but no; here you can consume a ‘Once Upon a Time’ Fable Party Package, which contains three bar platters or one party keg, or, worse, the ‘Happily Ever After’, which comes with a wheelbarrow of beers; an ending of sorts, but not a particularly happy one, unless your childish dreams are beery and horticulture-themed, both at the same time.
The Fable is well-policed by people in earpieces and fashionable hats: what kind of person wears Mrs Mop and Cockney Wanker chic these days? Is it austerity wit? Inside there are baby lawyers (from Hogan Lovells mostly) cheeping for alcohol and advancement; they are very young and dress like Patrick Bateman and the prostitute he murdered in American Psycho; if the restaurant followed its customers, the theme would be prostitute murder; where are the Peter Sutcliffe martinis? ‘I’m horny,’ cries the music, which is as loud as it needs to be in a restaurant whose clients cannot listen to each other or themselves: ‘Horny, horny, horny.’ And then, in case you had forgotten, ‘So horny, horny, horny, horny.’ I get it, I say, as if to Virginia Woolf: you’re depressed. (You’re horny.) So horny. (So depressed.)
The Fable is vaguely industrial, in the sense that a person who has never worked in a factory is invited to imagine one with sticky-backed plastic, poster paints and a toilet roll. It has greys and exposed pipework and is lit by tiny dim bulbs on ends of string. There are piles of hardback books but only as what we must call decor, arranged into tiny curved walls; they have been, I am told by my friendly PR folder, which I cling to as the only voice — or thing — I can hear, ‘carefully curated’. Who curates books when you can read them — carefully? Or to paraphrase Heinrich Heine: ‘Where they have curated books, they will end in burning human beings’; or, at least, curating them. Quotations from Alice in Wonderland line the bogs. This is contemptuous; is it also breach of copyright? I would ask the Patrick Batemans but they are too busy screaming as a entree to screwing on a pile of beers and a sodden chicken club sandwich and calling it a fairytale.
I sit in the basement. What would I like, asks a waitress. A headlamp, I say, to read the menu, which is surf and turf and a bit of ethnic here and there; she looks desperate, waggles her head, brings a candle.
The food comes, after multiple confusions (these happen when waiting staff are above writing things down): ordinary chicken satay with undressed (that is, slutty) salad, good bread, bad curry, bad seafood linguine, and the only sundae I have ever failed to finish — who screws up a sundae? With overwhipped cream and melted ice cream that is then re-frozen — but who cares? The Fable is no fairyland, not even a post-modern, ironic fairy-land that knows it is not a fairyland; and in its brittle heart, it knows it. They tore up the bill.
The Fable, 52 Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2FD, tel: 0845 4680105