Tanya Gold

Food | 1 October 2011

Bad sex, worse food

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The Playboy Club on Park Lane was re-opened by Hugh Hefner in June, like an ancient bra he had suddenly remembered was lying under his bed. It has a casino, a bar, a barber’s shop, and a restaurant. My being here is pure masochism, and I should really write the review in the style of Stephen King’s The Shining — Red Rum, Red Rum! But here I am, with my boyfriend. He had to telephone to get a table, because in theory, it is Members Only — Frank Sinatra, James Bond, the King of Bhutan. But they let him in, so it isn’t.

We go in. It is clean, expressionless, like a movie actress. ‘Normally a bunny would show you upstairs,’ says the girl behind the desk, ‘but she is on a tour.’ Like a Big Bus Tour of the counter-counter sexual revolution? A man makes me open my bag. What does he think is in it? Gloria Steinem? And up we go, through a bar showing TV sport and an empty casino, with bunny girls hiding behind roulette tables, and into the restaurant. It is open-plan, and it has sheer curtains with bunny-girl silhouettes on them, so they look like they are squatting. It is full of men shouting. They all resemble Hyman Roth, in varying states of decrepitude, and they are all eating steak.

Over comes the waiter. He tells my boyfriend the specials, and asks him what he wants to drink. He does not ask me what I want to drink and he does not tell me the specials, so I have no idea what they are, and I cannot tell you, and we will never know now. The menu, which I am allowed to see, is surf and turf, baby food for very large babies. They do not serve rabbit. I order a Cobb salad, and he has an oriental roll. The salad is tiny bits of bacon, cheese and sweetcorn, laid out in coloured-coded rows by an OCD maniac. It looks like evil Smarties. Doused in yellowish dressing and stirred, it tastes revolting; should Bond approach and drag me off, I could only be sick on his face. The roll, some pale meat — beef? chicken? Andrea Dworkin? — between enormous doughy halves, is a thing. He eats it, goes pale, and disappears to the gents. When he returns he says, ‘The urinals are mirrored.’

The main courses are better, because they are a steak and a hamburger. They come on wooden slabs, because that is bestial and therefore sexy. For me the entire ethos of Playboy is a man who knows nothing about women asking another man who knows nothing about women what is sexy, and getting it terribly, terribly wrong. The evidence is a dish called Duck Disco Fries. They arrive — sub McDonalds’s, slightly cold, but covered with damp shredded duck and lumps of soft cheese. They are unspeakably repellent, and I cannot eat them. The potato croquettes with a cheese filling are OK, but I cannot escape the idea I am eating Birds Eye food, brought to me by a cadaverous breast fetishist.

You probably want to know about the bunnies. They do not serve in the restaurant. I do not know why — maybe their tails might get drowned in salad dressing and this is not sexy? But they are in the casino, leaning, amazingly glossy and bored. Their corsets are so tight, their breasts are now shelves. You could hang a mirror above them. More interesting is an Inscrutable Chinese Woman, who looks like a casting director’s idea of an Inscrutable Chinese Woman, who is parked at a roulette table. She is covered in jewels and, if it were 1962, I would be absolutely certain she is Peter Sellers.

And that is the Playboy Club in 2011. It is, like Hugh Hefner, not long for this world.

The Playboy Club, 14 Old Park Lane, London W1; tel 020 7514 9000