We were set for a spine-chilling tale. The date was Friday 13th. Our lunch guest was the horror film director and enfant terrible of the independent film scene, Simon Rumley. The venue was Galvin Bistrot de Luxe at 66 Baker Street; only one more ‘6’ for a truly infernal location. All I needed was a ghastly meal that would lend itself to all sorts of horror parodies and I would have a perfect theme for the review. I couldn’t wait to be disappointed!
Things got off to a bad start; service was polite, attentive and jovial from the outset. No, no, no. This is not what I wanted! Some gentle intervention was needed. As the waiter adroitly filled our glasses with a velvety Languedoc, I coughed violently in the hope that he would flinch, covering the tablecloth in a mess of blood-red wine. His reaction? Not even the slightest of twitches! When he returned with the bread, I stuck my foot out from under the table in the hope that he’d stumble over it, sending fresh slices of baguette tumbling to a sorrowful death. Yet, like the zombie dancers in Thriller, he nimbly sidestepped this obstacle with the faintest of hip-shifts (and was that the moonwalk I saw?). Blast! These chaps are good.
Surely the food would be the restaurant’s descent through the gates of hell? We ordered from the laughably cheap set lunch menu at £15.50 for three courses; at that price, the portions would be tiny, the finer ingredients would be scarce and the whole thing would be a complete abomination. I couldn’t wait.
For a starter I ordered the rather oddly named Imam Bayaldi with Greek yoghurt and coriander cress. Now, you may be thinking that an ‘imam’ is an Islamic holy man (and you’d be right), so why are Galvin listing the poor chap as a starter on their menu? I know it was Friday 13th, but still, that seemed a little excessive. What arrived, I was relieved to see, was a tower of braised aubergine with onion, garlic and tomato, and topped with a quenelle of yoghurt. The dish was delicately spiced and devilishly scrumptious. The portion size was hefty too. Darn it. Surely Lawrence and Rumley’s starter would be disastrous? No luck there either; their gazpacho was angelic. Hell’s bells!
As I contemplated making a scene in the hope that it would throw the restaurant off its exemplary pace, talk turned to Simon’s latest film, Red White & Blue, which is screening at the Frightfest Horror Film Festival this August in London’s Leicester Square. Simon has been jet-setting all over the place in recent months as his disturbing psychological thriller has picked up one accolade after another during the film festival season.
Mains arrived promptly, to spite me further. We had all opted for the beef shin entombed in a fried pancake, rolled into the shape of a dead body in a carpet. “It’s like a Findus crispy pancake!” I said vociferously, hoping that the waiter would take exception to this and gut me with a steak knife for comparing their delicate French cooking to processed oven food. But no, he just smiled. A genuine, benevolent smile.
As I cut through the crispy outer, the beef inside, to my despair, was unctuously moist and intensely flavoured. The onion puree packed a kick and the jus was sticky and rich. “Yum! It’s like congealed blood!” I announced in a mock-Jeremy Clarkson voice. Nobody raised an eyebrow. Not so much as an indignant glance from any of the waiting staff, and a lady at the neighbouring table even had the nerve to smile at me. Damn them all! We polished off the main course in quick procession. It was appallingly delicious and an infuriatingly generous portion too.
Desserts were ordered; the brie for me, a grapefruit parfait for Rumley and Lawrence. The parfait was a bit too cold and Lawrence, trying to hack it apart with his spoon like a blundering serial killer attempting to dismember a corpse with a nail file, sent limbs of parfait flying across the dining room. Ah ha! Was this the first flaw of the meal? They served a cold dessert a bit too cold; hardly the crime of the century. I heard another clank of metal against porcelain as a chap at a neighbouring table had also managed to blast a chunk of the parfait into the air and onto his shirt, much to the amusement of his lunch guests. I don’t suppose I can fault the restaurant for customers who are unable to control a frozen dessert in a civilised manner.
What a great meal it had been; a lunch from heaven. Not the slightest hint of anything hellish, just flawless service and exemplary cooking. So much for Friday 13th being an unlucky day. I returned home that evening, sullen and frustrated that it had been such a propitious experience. I flumped onto the sofa and opened my post, deep in thought about the ridiculous nature of superstitions, only to discover a traffic fine from Camden council for driving in a bus lane. I punched the air and jumped with joy! At last, some bad luck.