Tanya Gold Tanya Gold

West End churls

It’s playing Ibsen to a crowd that needs Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it is not playing well

Cafe Monico, as if named by an illiterate playboy, is on Shaftesbury Avenue between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Les Mis, so if you want to be in an Asperger’s syndrome/-singing French revolutionary restaurant sandwich it is the café for you, and only for you. It is from Soho House, whose quest to make the whole of Britain a crèche-restaurant with table-tennis tables and photo booths for moronic remembrance goes on. There are more Soho House franchises now than Ivy franchises; even Chiswick has one. It is confusing, but if it upsets the media executive class, who must find new ponds to preen and fight in, I do not mind.

Except that Cafe Monico does not work. It aches for refinement but Shaftesbury Avenue is not refined, and Cafe Monico is not wondrous enough to look wondrously odd here; it lacks the charisma to set up shop in Soho and scream. It sits uncomfortably, a dowager mediocrity in a neon street. To work in Shaftesbury Avenue you need more neon, not none at all. Cafe Monico is playing Ibsen to a crowd that needs Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it is not playing well.

It deserves its fate, because it is, essentially, a plagiarist restaurant, the baldest I have seen; and that is why it fails. Its style is stolen, utterly and unsuccessfully, from the cafés of Corbyn and King, who are better at plagiarising themselves than Soho House is. It would have done better to install a table-tennis table and photo booth for its infant customers than copy what others do better, for the Delaunay and the Wolseley are contrived with an obsession that cannot be replicated by mere eyes; someone has really thought about these restaurants, chewed their mouth, maybe wept.

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