29 APRIL 1989, Page 42

The Gasworks

THE Gasworks is an extraordinary res- taurant. And it serves the most terrible food. Not bad good food, the sort you might get in any number of restaurants, but the real thing, proper bad, bad food. I think it is fair to say that no one who works there would be surprised or even bothered about the accusation; indeed, they would no doubt treat anyone who went there expecting anything better with suspicion. Mind you, they would probably treat any- one who goes there whom they don't already know with suspicion. For The Gasworks, named after and situated oppo- site the real thing in downtown Chelsea, is less a restaurant, more a club, a pretty louche club at that, and a reliquary for artistic junk and high camp.

The restaurant is a bit of a relic itself. In the Sixties it was one of the most fashion- able dives in town, frequented by the Barbara Windsor set and heavy-lidded photographers with leggy models. Now the beautiful people who come are more likely to be in leathers than sequined boleros, but the place still shimmers with a certain languorous rather than raffish, decadence.

From its British racing green exterior (and no more letters on this subject, please) The Gasworks looks like a pretty respectable pub. Inside it looks more like the room Clare Quilty gets shot in in the opening scene of the film version of Lolita. People are expected, obviously, to eat late here. We'd booked for 8.30 and the staff were just sitting down to their own supper, sausages and mashed potato, which we were right to think would be better than we were going to get. But they, the cook, a cheery, hoarse-voiced, lame-swathed lady and the waiter, a slinky peroxide blonde called Pearl, were welcomng enough, and we were given a drink and dispatched into the next room.

And what a room. Here is clutter taken to an art form. What must be years of plunder from the stalls of Portobello and architectural salvage companies have gone into its decor. The floor is deep with dusty-coloured rugs, the walls covered with ornately-framed oils and watercolours. On dark wooden tables and tallboys stand art deco lamps, putti and figurines, amassed bric-a-brac and bibelots. A heavy brass chandelier hangs over at one corner of the room, throwing light over a heavily ornamented chess table and reassuringly sagging chairs, canopied and uncanopied. Footstools are clustered round faded velvet chaises longues. Ormolu and grandfather clocks are pushed against the walls. In one subfusc corner is a gracefully arranged collection of vases and on every surface are scattered objets trouves, fans, busts, bits and pieces of porcelain and glass.

The eating space, where you first came in and in full view of the rather primitive cooking range, is smaller but similarly decorated. Imagine a caff, but the tables are marble rather than formica and the benches are covered in tapestry. Brass pots and pans and what look like antiquated divers' helmets and torture instruments hang from the walls. The menu is largely functionless since only about a third of what's on it (and that's small enough) is available. In fact, the waiter was rather surprised we found and consulted it. But even if it no longer serves any real purpose, they keep it on show anyway, if only in a spirit of coy self-deprecation, for on the back they've stuck a photocopy of the list of restaurants featured in The Complete Naff Guide. The Gasworks is entered pretty high up: 'thieves, tarts, old Eto- nians', it says, 'and, paradoxically, deli- cious food'. Well, I'd go along with some of that.

Food belongs to a time when coq au vitt and steak chasseur were considered in the culinary avant garde; it is the sort of food you imagine Kenneth Halliwell cooked for Joe Orton. On when we went were soup (tinned, with additions — peas and a bit of cabbage) and rock hard avocado with fake caviar and Hellmans; to follow, rack of lamb and duck with red wine, the sort that goes from deep freeze to oven to plate, and vegetables are new potatoes and tinned peas and carrots. There's only cake for pudding, but really it should be called gateau — the sort you buy deep-frozen and in boxes, cream-swirled and already cut into portions. Wine comes in £6 carafes and is potable. Coffee (50p) is a real killer. Dinner for two costs around £35 if you eat everything on offer. But as I said, you don't come here for the food.

The Gasworks, 81 Waterford Road, Lon- don SW6. Tel 01-736 3830.

Nigella Lawson