7 AUGUST 1964, Page 25

Consuming Interest

Al Fresco

By LESLIE ADRIAN THE open-air restaurant, like the open-air cinema, is foreign to British cities. For the reason, one has only to review the uneven history of the Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre. What we usually get in place of beer gardens and terrace cafes are clusters of coloured umbrellas and tiny tables round a kiosk, like the brave attempts in London's Russell Square and Lincoln's Inn Fields. No doubt we have the licensing laws to blame for the fact that they provide only tea and wads in these tare and primitive outdoor eateries.

The fine July weather has given a standing- toom-only send-off to the Little Chef, Trust houses' new venture ('designed by a friend of Lord Snowdon's') in Queen Mary's Rose Garden, Regent's Park. But it only needs a wet spell to Put them in the red before the winter comes, the manager told me, adding courageously, 'In the winter we shall find out who our real customers are., Meanwhile, they have problems. Being on Crown land, they have to conform to certain titles which decree that the family who want buns have lemonade shall, even at the dining hour, naVe the same attention as the serious diner-out. So the open-air elegance of dinner on the lawn i; sabotaged at the outset by the bonton publicum. A Pity, because they have all the makings of a Pod, moderately priced menu (no haute cuisine, °tit good cooking) and a small range of pleasant wines at reasonable prices. The Forte enterprise in Hyde Park is all shut-in wtth glass, which suits the 'climate, but not when it Produces a month like that one just passed, with the thermometer in the eighties day after The popularity of both these parkland ven- tures means that booking is essential. The Hyde ,t'ark place does not permit it (with one hundred itsbles), and at the Little Chef it does not always W.Ork properly, which is even more irritating than ItI1Ply queueing. Pessimistic to a fault (on the right side, I sup- ,Nsc, when the inevitable rains come), the restaur- ant due to be opened at the other end of the Ser- lkIlIine from F'orte's will be glassed in, too. • thRioners will soon be able to eat in the grangery in Holland Park, and at Hampton -,(1,11rt. All this at once after years of dreary Ministry of Works parsimony. But the bureau- j4tS will win in the end, because the leases b°111Pel the reversion to the Ministry of all the ings and other improvements put up in the ":rks at the caterers' expense. London may have Wait for ever for restaurants like the one in ihe it grounds of Versailles or the cafe in Vienna's h6ill'ggarten. The public good is a big stumbling- ' ock in the way of private enterprise in this 44tance. ere Ministries cannot interfere, however, ere are still few restaurateurs who display r Littler any hope for the British climate or any in- uity the all-weather adaptation of their itt Mises. One such is Sands in New Bond Street, 4111ich has an open eating area that is both airy 4 protected, like the garden of Au Pere de near the King's Road. Two with terraces Ntitered from the elements by awnings are La

Terrasse Tio Pepe in Shepherds Place and the Danish Restaurant in Wigmore Street. And once, years ago, there was a restaurant called the Orrery, near World's End, which served barbe- cued steaks in a garden at the rear. I gather that it failed from being too open-handed, not too open-air.

The closed-shop atmosphere of London eating prevails in the Roof Restaurant of the Hilton Hotel, where the view is breathtaking, but the breath must be air-conditioned. Open an emer- gency door for a lungful of London's upper air and the whole system goes on the blink, not to mention the head waiter. The mystery remains, what is to prevent London roofs from bearing restaurants that are covered from the rain (and the sooty fall-out), but open to the winds of heaven? Perhaps it isn't lack of either optimism or enterprise, but simply the shortest summer south of Iceland.

Thanks to clever marketing, Rhineland wines are enjoying a deserved and prosperous popu- larity in Britain. The growing demand, which has created a subsidiary market for the Yugoslav and Hungarian imitations, based as they are on the same Riesling and Sylvaner grapes, has tended to focus on the ubiquitous and infamous Liebfraumilch. And while the German wine law may have a reasonably strict definition of this word (roughly, wine of reasonable quality grown in the Rhineland), there is nothing in British law to ensure that the contents of such blends, for that is what they are, are 100 per cent German, let alone Rhenish.

A great deal of blending and bottling goes on in the numerous British cellars that have come into being as a result of the wine b.)om, and it may be that 'hock' from the Barrossa valley or some other Australian itmob:e, or perhaps from nearer home in Central Europe, finds its way into the mixture. The characterless and un- exciting nature of so many of the so-called Liebfraumilchs on the British market could be thus explained.

If the price is low I say. around the price of a Lutomer Riesling, 7s. to 8s.) no one is going to fret. It is the fancier prices that attract my sus- picion and hostility. Especially when 1 encounter German-bottled named wines selling at anything from 7s. 6d. to I 4s. This revelation comes from the list of the Niersteiner Schlosskellereien, who have just appointed a UK agent, Ernest Freyhan (18 Graham Road. NW4: HENdon 7256). At one end of his list is a 1963 Oppenheimer Krotenbrunnen, bottled in Nierstein, at 7s. 6d., at the other a 1962 spittiese, Niersteiner Rehbach Riesling and Sylvaner, estate-bottled, for 14s. 3d. A list worth inspecting, I would suggest. One reason for these unbelievably low prices is that customers buy by the dozen out of bond, the list is short and stocks of the best 1959 and 1960 wines have gone for good, and are no longer there to be upgraded.