Bibendum is a hushed restaurant on the first floor of the Michelin House on the Fulham Road. (Bibendum is the name of the Michelin Man; as such, he is the only restaurant mascot I can think of who is a morbidly obese drunk, and here of all places. It is a noble gesture in a district full of Prada and control). The building is extraordinary — an art-deco whim standing on a corner like Cinema Paradiso without the dreams. It was once the headquarters of the Michelin tyre company; as such, I admire the ambition of placing a tyre company in what is essentially a Venetian palace, but perhaps tyres were considered special then. In the Congo, for instance, rubber took a lot of people with it.
Inside, on the ground floor, there is a Conran shop selling ludicrous gifts as a joke on the credulous rich, who shop here to be trolled by their own wealth and idiocy: a wooden tool box is on sale for £5,995 (including tools), for some future dystopia in which all the handymen have died, or for Patrick Bateman. A book about watches is £595. (There are no contingency plans for making watches). There is also a seafood restaurant which I remember, on a blazing day, as a collection of spindly legs under yowling blonde faces, all surrounded by images of past Grands Prix in tile — but I have never liked Fulham. In compensation for not being Chelsea, it behaves worse than any district in the town.
Upstairs is Bibendum, in the manner of a business-class lounge sitting on a Chicken Cottage. It has a famous new chef, Claude Bosi, formerly patron chef of the two-Michelin-star Hibiscus in Mayfair, where among other things he demonstrated molecular gastronomy by freeze-drying cabbage.
It is soft and smooth, and decorated like a cruise ship, for the fashion of the age is to frighten none with drama. The carpets are blue, the walls are pale, the chairs are grey. The salt cellar is the Michelin Man with a waist and no head. He — the fat drunken tyre salesman — is everywhere, which makes me wonder whether Michelin demanded his retention in a contract when they sold the building in 1985, in which case what hold does he have on them? He is on stained glass; in silver; riding on a rocket and a bicycle; in china; making to grope a woman; in bronze. He has a terrible self-confidence — is he Tony Soprano? — and the cognitive dissonance with the clientèle blows the head off.
They bring a small tree to the table. It sits on a piece of grey carpet in a pot with stuffed olives, but nothing shocks me about expensive restaurants nowadays; in Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo they brought the table to a big tree and I dined under it, on monetised salad.
The food is small, French and rather muted from such a name as Bosi: there is cold foam in an eggshell, flavoured with something I forget. (This being Fulham, it was likely truffle.) My companion moans that he would rather have a boiled egg in an egg-shell, but he is the editor of the Oldie and must say this for professional reasons; and in any case, I agree.
The foam — we did not order it, for who eats foam willingly? — is the only dangerous item. We eat stylish plates of lamb and vegetables, and a piece of chocolate that looks and tastes like a Nestlé Aero, and is, therefore, more pleasing than anything else.
Ah, it is calm and soft and dull. This, then, is what being rich is for in south-west London, and although it is fine in an unworldly way, it is unworthy of its setting, and I cannot say it is worth the journey from St James’s.