M y brother has been nagging me for ages to try
a restaurant near his office in town. In the end, I caved in, largely because I know from my childhood that when thwarted he will either wee on you while you are in the bath or write Arsenal' on your forehead in laundry pen while you are asleep. If exceptionally riled — if my sisters and I. for example, ganged up on him and got to watch Quincv, say, when he wanted to watch Match of the Day — we'd get both. To this day, my sisters and I all have fringes — do you know how long it takes for laundry pen to fade? — and cannot relax in the bath unless the door is locked and bolted and the laundry basket is pressed up against it from the inside.
Anyway, the restaurant is Rocket, off New Bond Street, which doesn't bode well. Firstly, because it's off New Bond Street, where Prada and Gucci and Chanel and Tiffany and Burberry and Hermes all vie to sell you this year's must-have handbag for £10,000 while refusing to let you put it on your Matalan card — Matalan, a fantastic emporium where you can always buy last year's mustn't-have handbag for 20p or so — it's bound to be bollocky and expensive. Secondly, I'm fearful that if it is called Rocket it will specialise in the dreadful stuff. As I have said before, I think rocket is to modern cooking what the parsley garnish was to the Seventies: utterly pointless, tiresome and overused. Unlike Quincy. Now, that was a great Seventies experience, even though. when it was recently rerun in the afternoons. I noted that it's the same plot every week. Quincy, ME, is doing a post-mortem and he says to the detective, 'It looks like murder.' The detective goes, 'No way, Quincy. It's suicide. Cmon. We gotta wrap this case up.' Then they have a bit of a set-to largely along the following, relentlessly un-Shakespearean lines: 'Murder.' 'Suicide.'
Then they all go down the Chinese restaurant for an argument. `Murder, suicide, murder. suicide. . . . ' Perhaps the scriptwriter meant to write something different each week. but his secretary kept pressing the wrong button. Lastly, I have to say that, for someone with ME, Quincy really got about. One always had to admire him for that if nothing else. Did he ever, I now wonder, look at Ironside's wheelchair and rather wish he had one? If so, he never let on.
We enter the restaurant, which is in a small and delightful hidden mews. There's a bar
downstairs, full of young business types, and a restaurant upstairs, which would be a cliché of the modern restaurant interior (wenge wood, dragged terracotta walls) if it weren't for a lovely huge atrium and a sliding ladder thing to reach the wine on the top shelves, which looks like lots of fun. We'd booked for 1.15 p.m.. but my brother's wife, who is joining us, doesn't arrive until 1.45. Something to do with fenying reluctant adolescent children to school and parking at Totteridge station. My brother says he's already decided on her gravestone: 'The late. late Mary Ross'. She says she would prefer: `Thin, at last!' She is currently, she says, on the Can)] Vonderman diet. We want to know if this means she can only live on letters. Ps and T? Or do you have to count Carolies? Is there a Richard Whiteley diet and, if so, does it prescribe bad puns and even worse ties? My brother suggests she tries the Michelle McManus diet, as you can eat all you like without ever losing weight. It's a miracle! But then retracts the remark on the grounds that it's 'cruel'. I say that from someone who weed on his little sisters while they were in the bath cruelty is only to be expected. He says it was never a random act of terrorism. It was a skilful business. 'I aimed from a distance, sometimes from out in the hall.' His favourite programme when we were growing up was. I now recall, The Golden Shot. Please, don't get me started on Camey and Lacey — 'put the bottle down, Christine!' —or we'll be here all day.
It's busy up here, with tables narrowly spaced. We really have to squish round our table for three. Quincy, ME, might manage it, but lronside? No way. Expensive? Amazingly, no. For the location, it's reasonable bordering on cheap. Average starter, £5. Average main, £10. The menu is modern European. I would say, and I opt to start with the deep-fried Thai baby squid served with sweet chilli and lemon sauce. I think squid is always a good test in a restaurant because, in the wrong hands, it's about as delicious as Blu-Tack — flavourless, rubbery — but here it is wonderfully tender, like little fried kisses served with a tangy, zingy dip. My sister-in-law opts for fresh and roasted tomato salad with basil, chosen from the sideorder dishes rather than the starter ones, as Carol, she says, would not approve of any of the starters. Hers turned out to be an even better choice: a huge mound of plumptious tomatoes, deliciously moist and herbed. I'd forgotten, actually, just how scrumptious a good load of tomatoes can be. My brother has the seared scallops with warm black bean dressing. lovely,' he declares.
Next, it's basically a salad or a pi77a, as that's what Rocket does. (The pi77.as, though, are good, proper piz7as with innovative toppings, like brie and roasted red onions.) I go for a salad, though, and order the rare beef and beetroot one with red onion, celeriac and a horseradish dressing, which sounds both interesting and promising. Alas, though, there is rare and `oops, I forgot to cook the meat', and the beef is actually raw. I give it a go, but the meat is glutinous and resistant to chewing, and just bounces about my mouth in a flavourless, yes, rather Blu-Tack-ish way. I summon the friendly waitress, who is most apologetic — 'it does look too blue' — and whips the plate away, replacing it with meat that's browned round the edges at least Still, it's not especially tasty. The beef, now, is just bland. The salad part is fine, but quite boring, so I give up halfway through. However, my brother enjoys his duck and crispy vegetable stir-fly, while my sister-in-law is most happy with her roasted vegetable salad with olive oil and caper dressing. Tasty, with just the right amount of Carolies, I am told. I don't, by the way, know why the restaurant is called Rocket, as there is no evidence of it on the menu, thankfully.
We have coffee — excellent coffee — but skip pudding as my brother has to get back to his office to do the sort of officey things people do when they work in offices instead of being self-employed and working from home. However, I'm not envious. There is a lot to be said for being self-employed and working from home, especially if you have a really nice boss, as I do. Indeed, she not only lets me down tools when the reruns of Quincy come on; she practically insists on it! Rocket? Largely a good thing. Or, as my sister-in-law puts it, 'Very fresh ingredients served on big white plates. How can you go wrong?' I note, by the way, that my sister-in-law also has a fringe but resist making inquiries. What goes on between her and my brother behind closed doors is entirely their business.
Rocket, 5 Lancashire Court, London WI. Tel: 020 7629 2889.