Fera is in Gordon Ramsay’s old cave at Claridge’s. His red and yellow room, like a ripped-off arm, has been annihilated; here now is ‘restful’ green, and food by Simon Rogan. His cooking apparently ‘never stands still’. (I am quoting a website.) Fera means ‘wild’. In Latin. I am not sure a restaurant can be wild, but it can be needy. I request a table online. Fera says no. I telephone. Fera says yes. I give my credit card details because love is always conditional. I am then invited to confirm, reconfirm, and re-reconfirm, in the manner of a restaurant impersonating a woman requiring reassurance from a green lover. It is like the Daily Mail’s dolphin that fell in love with its trainer, and committed suicide when rebuffed.
Claridge’s is beautiful and polished to insanity. I am afraid of the people it employs to stand in the lobby and stare at people. They are here to check that visitors match the theme; and, if they are scruffy or disgusting, to move them onwards as soon as possible. (Of course A doesn’t stand a chance; out of a storm, he is bounced away to the cloakroom, dried, pressed and secured to his chair, which is green.) It also employs a woman to invade a toilet cubicle just vacated, should the guest be too stupid or hateful to flush. There are couture children with nannies, and Arab men in sports casual and wires sprouting from their portable electric goods; everyone else looks like Evgeny Lebedev and his publicist. My favourite Claridge’s story is how General Eisenhower fled his suite because it was pink. He moved to a cottage in Kingston-upon-Thames where only the Nazis could get him.
There is a thick round curtain, which has reminded critics who know nothing of strip clubs of strip clubs; the name on the floor in lights; and a dining room on two levels, arranged around the bleached remains of a dead tree. Is this ancestor worship, for trees? The ‘wildness’ of Fera, which of course means the food, except all food is wild unless purchased at Iceland the supermarket, so it makes no sense, especially in Latin, expresses itself in rustic pottery and the subtle placement of an ornamental pebble and a large wooden fork. It is like glamping indoors. The first plate — the master plate? — is green and black, a punched frog. The metal cutlery all says ‘David Mellor’. I wonder if this is sleazy 1980s Tory grandee homage cutlery; it is not. There are two David Mellors and three menus — for £85, £95, and £120.
The food is serious, over-styled and excellent, if you like the sort of tiny narcissistic food you can eat forever without getting fat, which is as good a metaphor for the reality of modern wealth as I can find, because the hunger is never slaked, even as it is fed; they bring course after course unasked — a rabbit ball, for instance (it is not actually called that), and eel on toast. Even bread is a ‘course’, which may be an innovation. When I ask for bread the swift and subtle staff look confused and say there is a bread ‘course’. If you want bread outside of the bread ‘course’ they will give it to you, but they think you are obsessed with bread and offer it all the time and stare at you while you eat it until you are sorry you asked.
The food is disguised as non-food; duplicitous fairy food, if you will. Cornish crab looks like a meadow bank. Isle of Mull salad is a flower field. Strawberries arrive in a tiny pink dome, like an Ascot hat. This would have Eisenhower screaming for mercy; but here the scream would be another ornamental pebble, sinking to the bottom of the sea.
Fera at Claridge’s, Brook Street, London W1K 4HR, tel: 020 7629 8860.