Ralph’s Coffee & Bar is in the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship store on Regent Street. It is rare that fashion admits food exists and when it does, it usually does something insane with it, like when the Berkeley Hotel celebrated fashion week by inventing a shoe biscuit, so you could eat your shoe.
But Ralph Lauren, who dresses Melania Trump because other designers will not — believing that the withholding of couture equals meaningful opposition to tyranny, a position that makes me laugh even as I place my head in the oven — goes beyond couture and into the weird lands of lifestyle. Don’t know who you are, but want to pretend that you do? Find a lifestyle brand that approximates who you think you might be, and follow it into a Polo Ralph Lauren coffin.
Polo Ralph Lauren will clad the itinerant international shopper — we are in Regent Street, where brands are countries, with flags — in a purely American fantasy of how aristocratic English people live. Spectator readers know that real English aristocrats shop at Tesco, think Peter Jones is overpriced and do not brush their hair for fear of dislodging small animals that may live there. They couldn’t afford to shop at Polo Ralph Lauren even if they wanted to; they would not know a silk tartan cushion if it addressed them by name. The interiors of Balmoral Castle, presumably the inspiration for Lauren’s glossy tartans, resemble the innards of a themed hotel that is closed for renovation. Balmoral furniture is a startling orange wood; paint pots are lined against windows in the service block; there is an ornamental stag in the garden.
Even so, how the ideal Polo Ralph Lauren person eats, according to Ralph Lauren, is worth knowing. What plated construct does a construct place inside its mouth? What exactly do toys eat? The answer, at the Ralph Lauren Polo Bar in New York City, a place where, according to the New York Times, ‘Rihanna and Naomi Campbell sit huddled like sleek and improbably beautiful fillies after a sudden storm’, is surprisingly prosaic. It is hamburgers.
First, the London shop: a wide, bright, alien space, freshly painted, with handsome men and racks of coats to file them in. The bar hides behind the coats: Narnia, but rich, and you needn’t open the wardrobe door yourself. It is a dark-wood fairyland and very clean: brass fittings and horse paintings. This interpretation of St James’s clubs, but miniaturised, is so finely wrought, it is, of course, screamingly gay, which is why I don’t hate it. It reminds me, very slightly of The Magic Faraway Tree, as interpreted by Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.
Polo Ralph Lauren men and women sit at tiny tables, or on banquettes. They have lovely hair and shining leather goods. Their clothes are fiercely ironed; they are advertising hoardings, but small and fleshy; they look heartless and fecund. It has been open just one week: when others come, with Mr Messy tribute hair and battered bags, I suspect they will flee.
Hamburgers for fillies sheltering from storms are absent, due to the Crown Estate’s terror of ventilation in newly built kitchens. The menu instead is salads, soups, sandwiches and sundaes. They are lovely, tiny and precise. It is American food for English people who dress like an American version of English people who do not exist, and the experience of eating it, though pleasant, is slightly unreal. My mild butternut squash soup and careful club-sandwich salad seem to shine at me, like an illusion. I do not know how Lauren made food, which is base, seem so pretty, but I like his fashion food lurking behind coats, even as it has no substance; which is how it should be.
Ralph’s Coffee & Bar, Regent Street, London W1B 4JQ, tel: 020 7113 7450.