The residents of Mayfair are misnamed: they do not really live here. They live in Mayfair like I live on the A30 roundabout near Morrisons or in dreamland. I am sometimes on the A30 roundabout near Morrisons and sometimes in dreamland but only -sporadically. It would be ludicrous to suggest that either is my permanent address, even if pretending it means that the people I stole my money from can’t steal it back.
Mayfair is a district with an itinerant population and when they are here, tidally like plastic, they dine conservatively, almost fearfully, in a series of restaurants so generic and dispiriting that they either righteously hate themselves, righteously fear us, or have — as anyone who’s ever been to a yacht show will know — absolutely no taste. Perhaps all are true, but in Mayfair nowadays I feel I am reporting not on a gaudy and once-interesting part of the city but on an ice floe fretted with bricks and bad art, floating away to the sea of rotting souls. It may have the restaurants it deserves — increasingly it does — but that is too small a thing to be called justice. It is the Nuremberg trials of restaurant districts, then; its descent towards hell is pleasing to watch but you know, even as you smirk, that it stops much too short.
Here is Bar des Prés, a French-Japanese restaurant on Albemarle Street whose existential meaning is, among other things: you can eat sushi and millefeuille in one place. It is from Cyril Lignac, a man sweating under the description ‘the Jamie Oliver of France’ because he appeared in a programme called Oui, Chef!
I cannot imagine a French Jamie Oliver any more than I can imagine a Jamie Oliver restaurant I would wish to eat in after I ate his notorious entréeon a plank, but Lignac is on TV, so let us marvel as we suck on Domino’s Pizza and long for something better.
Inside Bar des Prés is long and narrow; a restaurant I have known before. They come and go in Mayfair, like mirages. It has parquet flooring, tan-coloured leather bar seats and a mirrored bar that reflects your ennui back to you. There are lampshades that look like baskets, though whether they were once baskets or just yearn to be baskets I cannot say. Either way, they cannot match the fish of the nearby Sexy Fish for pathos, but I believe that fish have souls. The tableware is rustic, which means it looks cheap but isn’t, in the manner of the £275 teapot with reclaimed driftwood handle I found looming in St Ives like the smouldering lump of Evil in Time Bandits. Regarding the table seating, it is again Mayfair’s magical self-replicating banquette, and I still can see blue velvet through my tears.
The menu opens with cocktails. Perhaps you need to be drunk. I couldlike Stringfellows drunk. I could like Poland drunk. Then comes the sushi, sashimi and maki: small lumps of dead flesh, all fine if small dead lumps of flesh are your thing, but I have no appetite. We avoid a very precise 100g of Wagyu beef sirloin (it is £85; does the menu have a lawyer?) and order black cod (caramelised with miso and baby spinach and sesame onion vinaigrette) for £39 and a Tonkatsu -chicken for £26 with sushi rice and soy sauce. The main flavour is salt, like the salt tears of the Israelites when they found manna on the menu of God and were coerced into gratitude. Pudding — a chocolate soufflé and the millefeuille — is better, but the French Jamie Oliver was a pastry chef before he was a famous chef. It is £160 without wine, for dining in nowhere. At least I found it.
Bar des Prés, 16 Albemarle St, London W1S 4HW, tel: 0203 908 2000.