If you review restaurants professionally you would not think Britain wanted to leave the EU. You would think she wanted to live happily in the twinkling golden stars of Europe like Emily Thornberry’s neck fat, eating, semi-eternally, at a European-style brasserie.
British restaurants are a silent acknowledgement that native food is not very good unless you really like cabbage. Please don’t write to me about fungus from Maidenhead. I don’t care. Our cities reflect it; every-where I see European-style brasseries glinting with the promise of European--style bliss. Where is the courage of our seething psychological imperatives? Why don’t we put our madness where our mouths are?
I daydream about a new Brexit-themed restaurant in Britain, but I have yet to see it. It is true that some people are talking about Spam, but they are clearly insane. I imagine this fantasy restaurant as an allotment in Wiltshire starring a pig that you get to kill yourself because you are really a Spartan at Thermopylae. Even if you actually live in Wiltshire. I wonder if it should be called Patriotic British Cuisine: Presenting the Turnip and its Friend, the Pig, and their Friend the Nuclear Deterrent?
But I cannot review what does not exist. I cannot even review its ghostly parent, which is School Dinners, a restaurant entirely designed for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s growling Id — I heard there was bottom spanking after apple crumble but I don’t believe they had the nerve — which is now closed. So instead here is yet another European-style brasserie called Moncks of Dover Street in Mayfair.
There is, I must say, absolutely nothing wrong with Moncks. It is only that I have been here before. It looks like every other brasserie that has opened in London in the past 20 years. It is stylish, it is warm, it looks like Europe between the wars — well, a bit if you once drunkenly watched Cabaret. It has blobs of colour — or ‘accents’ if you read the style press — ennui of entirely the wrong kind (too much brasserie rather than too much communism) and it is almost entirely derived from Corbin & King’s excellent Wolseley (2003). Sixteen years is a long time to continually replicate someone else’s successful restaurant, and I hoped that we had, by now, reached full capacity regarding European-style brasseries, particularly — and I do not think this is unfair, since I write from Tory party conference — since we seem to hate Europe so much. The Café Rouge in Hampstead has closed, it is true (too many impersonators, like Elvis) and so has Bellanger in Islington (a very good brasserie from Corbin & King) but still they pop up. ‘The beating heart of Mayfair,’ says the blurb. That’s a mistake I can swiftly correct. Mayfair doesn’t have a heart.
Every new restaurant must have something new to avoid accusations of plagiarism; especially if they are committing plagiarism. Moncks has jeopardy; but it doesn’t believe in its jeopardy, which is also its theme. It is too predictable for that. Even so, it is covered in gambling-themed paintings: of backgammon, cards and dice.
And in this casino-restaurant that risks nothing we sit at prettily laid tables, are served by charming staff and eat the baby food of the age: prettily charred meat (lamb and beef); creamed potato so soft and salty a baby that loved salt could eat it; de-constructed Eton mess which looks like a sugary wall someone trod on, and the wall wept tears of coulis — for it could still feel something.
You may think this is rather overwrought for a brasserie review. But Europe will do that to you.