As Swifty’s in New York closes, Matthew Steeples laments the loss of ‘society restaurants’ in London also
Yesterday, Sam Dangremond of Town & Country reported that the New York “society stronghold” restaurant Swifty’s had “closed abruptly” on Wednesday. Elsewhere the New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia lamented the loss of an institution that – along with another favourite of those that holiday in the Hamptons named Michael’s – has dominated his pages since 2000 and this provided a reminder of how many similar institutions London has also lost in recent years.
First to go in (relatively) recent times – though we don’t doubt our most vocal of readers will no doubt come forward with others – was Monkey’s on Chelsea Green. Truly bonkers and described by one reviewer as “what Rules pretends to be for the tourist trade, but probably hasn’t been for quite a while”, this game lovers’ paradise closed and was briefly replaced by the psychedelic shocker that was Tom’s Place in 2008. In the era of Monkey’s customers’ bounced cheques were displayed in the windows; now, as the somewhat unreliable Geales, such schoolboy japes have sadly long been consigned to history.
Foxtrot Oscar in Royal Hospital Road was the favourite restaurant for the set that the Daily Mail’s Nigel Dempster made (in)famous in the 1980s and 1990s and it was undoubtedly the spiritual home of Peter York’s ‘Sloane Rangers’. Run by the redoubtably sociable duo Rex Leyland and Michael Proudlock, it was described as “a greasy spoon for aristos, a Rover’s Return for posh people” by Nick Foulkes in the Evening Standard in 2000 and Elizabeth Taylor reportedly fell off a barstool there. It was sold to Gordon Ramsay Holdings in 2007 and after a period when critics complained “Gordon Ramsay would seem to have thrown the Foxtrot Oscar baby out with the bathwater” was rebranded as the comparatively charmless Maze Grill, a supposedly “laid-back bistro serving traditional comfort food in a room with multi-hued walls”.
A brief rally for those named Cressida and Camilla came in 2008 with the opening of the Brompton Bar & Grill. Owned by Francois O’Neill – whose own father’s Brasserie St Quentin (1980 – 2008) must be included in the list of ‘society staples’ to have fallen in London – ‘BB&G’ as it was affectionately known immediately delighted Tatler magazine and even served absinthe a fountain named ‘The Drip’. Crippling rents and the shisha loving Arabic playboy racers that have taken over Brompton Road brought this particular party to an end in March 2014.
Poissonnerie on Sloane Avenue is one of the most recent society spots to have closed in London. Though a favourite of the likes of Michael Caine and Roger Moore, you’d as likely find an aristo with a Labrador in this traditional fish restaurant or an ageing Liberal Democrat peer and his 75-year old secretary and mistress of thirty years. The restaurant’s website is still live but announces that “Poissonnerie will cease to exist on 24th May 2015 after 53 years of good food and service to the Chelsea community”.
The Poissonnerie and such places as Swifty’s in New York will not be the last society staples to be put out to pasture but at least, with Chris Corbyn and Jeremy King still firmly at the helm of Britain’s most successful restaurant group – and, as The Telegraph pointed out this week, “in healthy shape” – some semblance of civility will still be provided in the otherwise fad driven restaurant sector. This antithesis to the brash plastic-ness of such restaurants of Sexy Fish and its ridiculously over-the-top £15 million interior is still very much required.
At the end of his article, Sam Dangremond shared a recipe for a well-known favourite from Swifty’s. It is so simple and will go down a storm with party guests (unless they’re Jeremy Corbyn, of course) and we repeat it here:
“Caramelized brown sugar adds an irresistible layer of sweetness to crispy bacon. The late chef and food consultant Gene Hovis gave this recipe to Mortimer’s in New York City; it was subsequently adopted by that restaurant’s successor, Swifty’s, and served at cocktail parties both on premises and off”.
1 lb. bacon
1.5 cups light brown sugar
– Separate strips of bacon and blot dry with paper towels. Put sugar into a wide dish. Coat both sides of bacon in sugar, firmly pressing sugar into each strip. Lay bacon out on sheet pans as coated (some sugar will fall off).
– Cook bacon in a preheated 425° oven, turning once, until browned and lacquered, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled sheet pan to let cool. Break slices into thirds.
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