You cannot have cars and dining tables in the same dreamscape: it doesn’t work, unless you think carbon monoxide is a herb, or are wearing full Hazmat, like some teachers. London is in much denial about its air pollution; in the East End child asthmatics are choking. But we must embrace it for a few days more; others have lost more in pandemic than an attachment to the convention that if we dine outside it should be in a flower-filled garden. Perhaps there are enchanted restaurant gardens in London, but I have never found one. I conclude that, outside fiction or aristocracy, they do not exist.
Instead, we have modish kerbside dining. I have always mocked people who bought flats with balconies on London’s roads and sometimes are mad enough to sit on them and look happy, but a curio — a mistake — becomes a luxury with ease. It’s a question of supply and demand: you know that better than I. Just now, the only restaurant tables available are out of doors; and so, just by existing, they become desirable.
But are they? It’s funny to watch people eating under brollies with water in their socks and invoking the Blitz spirit — increasingly I think people don’t really understand the Blitz spirit, which was about bombs and not salad. Restaurant marketing is as skilful as ever — nothing destroys advertising, and it never will — and I am glad. They will need it as they rise from the calamity. But I am increasingly convinced that outdoor dining is unpleasant, especially if it has pretensions, and expensive restaurants have to have pretensions because they are not selling food, but self-worth, self-deception and love.
Take 28-50, a restaurant on Mary-lebone Lane.