Daphne’s serves Italian food in South Kensington. (I like the name because Daphne was the name Jack Lemmon chose for his female self in Some Like It Hot, although Tony Curtis — Josephine — wanted to call him Geraldine. I know no one else called Daphne, and I do not need to. Lemmon sated me.) This district, you may recall, is currently a building site, as residents try to dream their houses bigger and their noses smaller; it is a tangle of cranes, personal trainers, tax avoidance, lipstick, adultery and Ferraris swamped with parking tickets. And so Daphne’s, which was a 1980s mini-series restaurant wrought from assorted Nigel Dempster columns and Judith Krantz novels, recently restored, now has the soothing grace of a National Trust interior.
It looks like an expensive jewellery shop, such as Graff, with its big yellow diamonds in the window, promising forgiveness like lumps of cheese: it has a pale gold façade with a rickety black gate and a delicate awning. It says, in pretty capital letters: Daphne’s. It reminds me, initially, of Monaco. Every-thing looks like Daphne’s in Monaco, even the servants.
I have not been able to establish who Daphne is, or if she even existed. A food blog says she was a theatrical agent but I do not treat the internet as fact because I am not insane. I sense she is a construct even if she was real, a comforting one for us flesh women: the woman who could not bear herself, and so threw a dinner party without end. Daphne’s was founded in 1962, hosted the gruesome puddle of sociopathy called café society, and was bought by Mogens Tholstrup, a ‘society Scandinavian’, in 1993; after that, said Dai Llewellyn, who knew such things, ‘I see him at the most exclusive house parties in the south of France and the smartest boar shoots in Germany.’ Now it is owned by Richard Caring, my favourite antagonist. It was wounded by fire in 2014 and reanimated by a Venetian masked ball. I am not sure I would have a Venetian masked ball in an Italian restaurant in South Kensington, but I wouldn’t have one in a greasy spoon caff either. The rich are different; they are less self-aware, and can have masked balls almost anywhere; if you come upon a masked ball in a multi-storey carpark in Wembley, you will know the guests are rich, and lost.
Daphne’s is still pretty since she passed through the burns unit; prettier than Caring’s other heritage restaurant, Le Caprice, which is black-and-white like cheap flooring, and decorated like a 1980s poster emporium that has landed next to the Ritz by accident and cannot escape. There is a fine bar, bold modern paintings and, at the back, a tented room that feels like a garden. It is delicately branded: the knives say Daphne’s. I like them, but they are poor murder weapons.
We are served adequate almost Italian food in the tent. It is not wonderful, but neither is it weird: a crisp schnitzel, undercooked lamb chops, good liver. This is fine for the clients, who are dining in the idealised past, where all seems headed these days because it is less grotesque than the present: silent blond mothers, large Arab families, men in good spectacles. It is very expensive, but that is irrelevant here. The money is not real.
‘Daphne’s has been at the forefront of the party and society columns throughout its rich and colourful history,’ Caring has said. I tell you that so you remember: this column operates on the assumption that anywhere that is fashionable, this column won’t be. Being fashionable is exhausting. It has broken women better than me, who can be found whimpering in hair salons across central London, unable to even discuss the experience.