In 2007 Mikhael Gorbachev starred in a Louis Vuitton advert. He was driven past the Berlin Wall with Louis Vuitton luggage and the photograph was printed in Vanity Fair. It was baffling and reassuring, but nothing lasts forever.
A few years ago I went on the Kleptocracy Bus Tour. It is run by a man called Roman Borisovich and it tours London — and sometimes Oxford —identifying kleptocratic crimes, feuds, housing, anxieties and behaviours. During a recent tour, a neighbour of Andrey Guryev, the fertiliser magnate who bought Witanhurst in Highgate, testified that a voice from a security box had asked him to stop strimming his own hedge. Of course, I looked for kleptocratic restaurants from the tour bus — for Novikov (Asian and Italian), for Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel (Italian), for Mari Vanna (Russian), for Rextail (meat). But Borisovich did not mention them and I did not blame him. Any kleptocratic restaurant tour would have to take in Itsu on Piccadilly (sushi) and the Sheraton Park Lane’s Palm Court (afternoon tea), where Alexander Litvinenko met the FSB goons. It is a question of taste, and so I did not race to Zizzi’s in Salisbury for a quick review last week. I loathed the gags about Zizzi’s — poisoned, but still in Zizzi’s? — but snobbery dies hard in England.
The Kleptocracy Tour bus trundled through Knightsbridge. That is no longer a real place but a smelted fairy-land housing the international rich, including Russians removing money from Russia with or without Vladimir Putin’s permission, which is tidal, and laundering it through townhouses, which they ruin with windows and carpets. It is a parallel world with a parallel map and Knightsbridge is its capital city. Harrods is its Waitrose, even if the biscuits are terrible. I like this parallel map and its byways. It is, in my mind, a terrible Narnia, with signposts to Dior, Dubai and death. This is a land where parking tickets are almost never paid. The Mail lurks, waiting for photographs of banana-yellow Lamborghinis being repossessed — it happens more often than you might think.
The kleptocratic restaurant tour, which exists only in this column’s head, also trundles through Knightsbridge. Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel is on Hyde Park and Mari Vanna is almost opposite it. Mari Vanna is dusty and cluttered. It is for the kleptocrat who misses his mother, but not enough to bring her to Knightsbridge. There is the Berkeley Hotel too, with its shoe-shaped biscuits for women who worry they don’t think often enough about shoes. But none are as glossy or as gilded as the new kleptocratic restaurant which belongs to Richard Caring, a man who looks like a kleptocrat but is trapped, for now, in a dying liberal democracy. It is Harry’s Dolce Vita on Basil Street.
Some restaurants are well-named, and Harry’s Dolce Vita is beautiful. It is long and light with a green and white awning, topiary, and a golden front door. Inside, a designer has rummaged for everything he finds lovely and yet has managed, with fawn leathers and light fittings and stained-glass windows, to make something coherent rather than disgusting, which is more usual. It is very slightly Nestlé Gold Blend, but that is nothing to hate.
The food is Italian because kleptocrats love Italian food, and steak, fish and schnitzel are all perfect, if more beautiful than usual; the puddings literally have a PR. The service is prosperity theology drunk neat; that the wifi is broken has reduced the staff to something like existential grief and I feel an urge to comfort them. A perfect restaurant then, in a confected district filled with confected people, and it is both soothing and chilling, because nothing lasts forever.
Harry’s Dolce Vita, 7-31 Basil Street, London SW3 1BB, tel: 020 3940 1020.