As we went in, our hostess mentioned that the restaurant had three Michelin stars, but at 78 years of age the chef felt he would rather live without the daily pressure of living up to three stars and had requested Michelin to reduce it to two. We were shown to our table and I chose to sit with my back to the large picture window, through which could be seen half a dozen mountains and a couple of lakes, and faced instead a blank wall. I thought I’d let others enjoy the view as we ate. But virtue has its own rewards, and after a few moments this blank wall slowly ascended, like a cinema curtain before the main feature, to reveal, behind glass, an immaculate, brightly lit kitchen with a dozen chefs in snow-white uniforms busily and unselfconsciously preparing our evening meal. I was famished.
We ordered the set menu. The first course was what appeared to be three small coloured paper fans each. I shoved these into my gob and my saliva dissolved them before they reached my gullet. The next lot of dishes placed before us were concealed under silver lids. At a nodded signal from the head waiter, these lids were simultaneously removed with a theatrical flourish. ‘Ravioli and gold,’ announced the head waiter. He wasn’t joking. In front of me was an expanse of rice with a three-inch square sheet of gold leaf floating on the top. While everybody else was looking down at the contents of their plates in dismay or alarm and wondering whether the gold was edible or purely decorative, I wolfed mine down in great golden spoonfuls. It didn’t touch the sides. Then I scraped the plate clean with three quarters of a bread roll and sat there wondering what the busy chaps behind the glass were going to come up with next.