NO ONE WRITES BETTER THAN GAVIN RANKIN, our dear friend who owns and runs Bellamy’s, London’s most civilized bar and restaurant…what follows is his Summer contribution, still valid for the fall and beyond. We urge you to visit Bellamy’s when next in London–it is a brasserie of extraordinary charm and admirable French cooking, all at realistic prices. The wine list is a thing of beauty. Bellamy’s is the only public restaurant in London Queen Elizabeth has visited and she has been there twice. Here then, are Gavin’s sage words:
I do not say that turning 60 automatically directs one’s thoughts towards the graveyard, but its arrival struck me like an unexpected train. I have since recovered from time-lag and now incline more to the anarchic side of the ageing process. I remember an article in a magazine aimed at people older than me. It spoke of a group of old boys in a local pub who made weekly contributions to a Death Fund. Its purpose, when one of their number was gathered, was to pay for a very beautiful young blonde, in a short skirt, to stand anonymously at the back of the church – and sob, uncontrollably.
People tend to assume that restaurateurs are possessed of phenomenal powers of recall, particularly when confronted with a face from the distant past – say last week. Well most of us aren’t, and I have the additional handicap of being bad at both faces and names, making do instead with a weak smile. Luigi, our Manager, is way better although he can, on occasion, put a name through the linguistic mangle which leaves both customer and me mystified. Still, I find that darling works with many of the ladies (and some of the men) but otherwise resort to Sir or Madame which seems to do the trick, except with my close family. Wisely, Luigi calls everybody Milord or Milady, which ensures that he surfs a continuing wave of popularity.
Once again August has crashed the party like some distant, unloved, relative whose brash arrival causes everyone else to leave. This time, determined not to be left clearing up, I took myself off to foreign parts which involved whistle-stops in Greece, Formentera and Aix-en-Provence where, for a brief moment, I was once a University student. I travelled to Aix with William Bennett, a fellow alumnus, to visit our old friend Alain Cattaneo, proprietor of the Grillon Bar and Restaurant, who has been unwell recently. In those days he was our protector, consigliere, friend and banker; this last role being a very shrewd one since anything he lent us, in advance of the arrival of our allowances, went straight back over his bar.
Aix is a town of great charm. Originally called Aquae Sextiae (Sixty Springs) it was the first Roman capital outside Italy and is famous for its large number of fountains. Also for the loveliness of its women who have a defiant, unashamed, beauty born of nature rather than art, worn as proudly as a new coat. They look at you directly with eyes that invite admiration, yet still manage to maintain distance. Not coquettes and not nuns. If you don’t believe me take a seat at a table outside Le Grillon and just watch the crowd whilst, in a battle of nerves between you and the waiter, seeing how long you can stretch out a beer.
A Fellini Square
It is also a town full of surprises. Making an unsteady return after dinner through winding streets, we were drawn by music to one of the squares. A hunchback boy was playing Haydn on a piano under a soft night sky pinpricked with stars, with an enormous, theatrical-backdrop moon that seemed almost to touch the surrounding roofs. The audience was a curious one. It was like suddenly appearing in a still photograph from a Fellini film, peopled with eccentric extras. There was an ancient couple holding hands; a poor African family with entranced children; an old lady who had clearly known better times; another old lady who was still having them; a sprinkle of students; a blind man; a deformed beggar and two ladies of the night taking a breather. All listened without moving, rapt and in silence, united for a moment despite differing stations; transported by the beauty of the music until it stopped. And at once the spell was broken, and the photograph came back to life.
So there we are. Summer begins the long descent into Autumn and restaurateurs everywhere look forward to the start of the new school term. Except me of course. I disdain this commercial aversion to children and their holidays, and the absurd theory that they empty tables. Naturally I shall miss them terribly. We will just have to devise a menu to cheer up the parents with a consoling choice of appropriate wines. Details will follow shortly.
We are all back on duty now and Stéphane, Pierre, Luigi, Sergio and Cheryl, along with the rest of the team, and me, very much hope to see you again soon.
18/18A Bruton Place
London W1J 6LY
Tel : 020 7491 2727