NoMad is a new hotel in what used to be Bow Street Magistrates’ Court: a preening piece of mid-Victorian classicism opposite the Royal Opera House that is clearly too fine for the half-hearted criminal classes these days. I was judged in this court once for the very boring crime of cannabis possession (I think I did it), as was Giles Coren for something else (he says: ‘I never done nuffink’), General Pinochet, Dr Crippen (VeryMad) and Oscar Wilde. It heard its last case in 2006: the breaching of an Asbo by a man called Jason. Now it sells cocktails.
NoMad has a restaurant named, as if in homage to a public relations panic attack, the NoMad Restaurant. (I thought NoMad was named after a refugee but I checked and I was wrong.) It offers ‘the interplay between grand and intimate, classical and colloquial, festive moments of revelry and quiet meals that nourish the spirit’. I’m not sure about the adjective pile-up — was anyone injured? — or if the spirit can be nourished in central London anymore, but it is beautiful, certainly: a plant-filled three-storey atrium. All interesting London buildings become restaurants in the end: a kind of food-themed destiny. Each house Karl Marx lived in is now a restaurant, a bar or a private members club. I did the tour.
NoMad has not followed the Yard at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, formerly the Central Detective Unit of the Met, which is morbid and velvet, filled with relics of Death and chairs that look like Mr Men without faces. That would be too pleasing and too easy: but I love themed restaurants. At least they know what they are. NoMad is for the rich and fashionable — by which I mean the socially anxious who absolutely do not know what they are, they treat Tatler headlines as religious edicts — and so, being childlike, they seek no reminder of it. No cushion jigsaws of a dach-shund for them.
Instead, we have immaculate good taste: the kind that Prince Charles has, which is also the reason that he is so widely mistrusted. There is pale green ironwork and heavy Edwardian-style lamps; marble and brickwork; interior windows and plants, which are enjoying a small renaissance in fashionable circles, probably due to the press coverage of COP26. The menu is weird, inspired by map fragments: caviar; sea bream; suckling pig.
I come early, like a governess, and admire the immaculate good taste. I’m not against good taste — or not very against it — but there is a sameness to it which is a denial of what was once, and still should be, a very individual city. Lovely as this restaurant is — and it is lovely — it was more interesting when Dr Crippen was here. But you can’t eat Dr Crippen unless you are Dr Crippen.
Instead we eat NoMad roast chicken, which is what you call a signature dish if you are an idiot. It’s a famous chicken and as a Jew I do not say that lightly. It is certainly classical and colloquial; grand, intimate and festive. It is stuffed with foie gras and black truffle. What to say about this dead celebrity chicken with its own PR staff? It is overflavoured (some chefs use black truffles the way children use finger paints) and rather damp. Pudding is better: an exquisite banana and pecan cake, but pastry chefs are the true artists of the age.
And so another public building falls to fashion. One day Pentonville Prison will spin itself into a hotel, but I hope I will be dead by then. You can’t even be sentenced in a Grade II building anymore. I ask the chicken: where is our civilisation’s sense of occasion?
NoMad, 28 Bow St, London WC2E 7AW; tel: 020 3906 1600