Petronella Wyatt

An enduring love affair

The ongoing escapades of London's answer to Ally McBeal

Virginia

I have had for a long time a certain obsession. It began in France when I was about 14 or 15. To be exact, it began in Paris, in the restaurant of the George V hotel. It happened when I first saw the brown topping oscillating towards me, giving off the warm scent of chocolate mingled with vanilla.

I am referring, of course, to soufflés. Once you have been bitten by a soufflé, or rather once you have bitten into it, there is simply no going back. For many years, alas, few London restaurants have emulated Paris. Paris has one eaterie simply called Soufflé, where the practised soufflé-eater can indulge in a whole meal of dishes both savoury and sweet.

In England, however, there have been few reasonably priced places that provide a decent one. This was until Marco Pierre White once kindly asked me and my friend Alice Thomson to eat soufflés at the Oak Room. The dinner was like a scene from Ian Fleming. A telephone was brought to our table by waiters. About once every half-hour it would ring, with Marco on the other end inquiring how the soufflés were.

This was the summation of a lifelong love affair — involving me and soufflés, that is. Since then it has been my ambition to cook one. Cowardice and lack of necessity, however, has prevented any such attempts from being made. There is no moment more humiliating in the life of an aspiring cook than when the soufflé is presented to the table and makes that sudden squelching noise indicating that it is about to collapse. On such occasions, I have seen even my ovenproof friends rush out of the room in tears or at the very least gulp down a large glass of alcoholic sustenance.

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