Cecconi’s. A waiting game.
I was once summoned to Cecconi’s by a client, who used to run his company from here over breakfast. He had his own table. Obviously. It reminded me of a story told by C about his father, sitting in a steakhouse in Chicago. He noticed an elderly gentleman sat alone at a large table with a telephone on it. It rang and he picked it up. I want it done, he said.
Every time I have tried to book, I have been offered the not-real-life-friendly times of 5:30 or 10.15. A table at what would be a normal dinner time for a normal person (not that I necessarily place myself in that category) seemed to elude me. But we are nearly in the dog days of summer and the glitterati who usually hang out here seem to have gone off to their yachts.
I find myself with new and lovely contact/friend G, mad about horses and owner of a fair few. We are directed to a superb window table, bang opposite the back entrance of the Royal Academy. If nothing else, this makes for superlative people watching.
I manage to ignore the lovely bowl of bread because I am having a low-carb day. It happens occasionally. But it looks good. Worthy of a mention.
The menu is not something that will scare G’s many horses – adventurous cooking isn’t the point here. Italian staples, with a couple of specials are the order of the day.
To start, I go for that classic dish, vitello tonnato. Thinly-sliced veal, just pink in the middle, with creamy tuna sauce and capers on top. If you have never experienced it, I would recommend it, because notwithstanding that veal and tuna just sounds odd, it really works. It is the closest that I am prepared to get to surf and turf.
It is one of the dishes that works so well in its traditional form, I think that it should always be done that way. Yes, I am talking about you Wild Honey, with your deconstructed veal and crispy caper thing. It was lovely, but it wasn’t vitello tonnato. In this, as in so much else, I am a purist.
And then, the daily special, Dover sole. A lovely slab of fish, this was lovely. Grilled, on the bone, with a slight hint of charring and smokiness from the grill itself. No complaints at all. It came with spinach, which, in my view, is the only permitted accompaniment.
There is no point giving me a side plate for the bones which is one-third the size of the fish, because it will just dangle over the edge of the plate on to the table and with one injudicious flick, it will be on my lap.
But fish bones aside, so far, so good. It was at this point that we obviously donned our invisibility cloaks and disappeared. A good half an hour elapsed between finishing our main course and anyone coming to the table to ask whether we wanted anything else. And only then because I gesticulated wildly. Waiters too busy servicing the outdoor tables, we seemed to be in another world altogether, a world where you don’t get served.
And because we had waited so long, the possibility of dessert faded away, which is probably no bad thing. In the yawning gap between coffee and receipt of the bill, I ventured to the loo. Beautiful fit-out, very elegant marble flooring, scalding water out of the taps. To the point that I actually jumped, which is something I rarely do. As did the woman next to me. There was swearing.
Like the dutiful citizen that I am, I told the maitre d’. But just in case you visit, consider yourself warned.
By this point I was getting quite stressed at the time it was taking to get the waiter’s attention for the bill. I was at the point where I was just going to have to walk up to the desk, when I finally caught someone’s eye.
I asked the waiter to take the service off our bill. He said he would have to speak to the manager. I didn’t have another half an hour. I said I wasn’t prepared to wait, having already waited so long to actually get the bill and a service charge was actually optional and I didn’t actually get it so I wasn’t actually paying for it. It’s a shame, because the food was good and not at silly prices for the area.
I felt sorry for the waiter, because it was clear that they were understaffed, but my sympathy stopped short of the point where I was prepared to pay for bad service. I expect it was that they suddenly had double the amount of tables to attend to, because the sun was shining and the outside tables were full. I know it is England and this rare, but still. England expects and so do I.