Back in March, shortly after it opened, I asked Chiltern Firehouse for a reservation. The suddenly hip Marylebone joint came back with an offer: “We can fit you in on 6 July.” A three-and-a-half-month wait? Even the ability to pronounce the surname of its New York owner, André Balazs (it rhymes with Farage), matters not to the receptionist. It is social connections that get you into this restaurant.
A-listers tripped easily through its doors: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen; the list is so jaw-dropping, it’s a wonder that any food gets masticated on the premises. (Perhaps that’s a good thing: when a friend pulled a few strings for a table for me and my team on the Evening Standard diary last month, we didn’t exactly come back raving about the monkfish.)
We teased away at this elitism for months. Then one recent evening the cherry was finally dropped into this absurd cocktail: as Lindsay Lohan pirouetted for the paparazzi outside, David Cameron sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. (My phone buzzed immediately with a disbelieving text message from a fellow diner.) With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night. I’m told that even the PR maestro Matthew Freud, sitting at another table, looked surprised to see him there.
Drop dead glamorous
“Turn right for the lobster,” said Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler magazine, at the “Art Ball” the magazine hosted with Christie’s auction house on 12 June. We had all been asked to dress as works of art. I had come as a Mondrian; others had come as Tretchikoff’s blue woman and Michelangelo’s David. In the next room, to which Reardon was directing me, was a table laid out like a Dutch still life, overflowing with beef, fruit, hams and the aforementioned lobster. What was missing was the bitter peeled lemon, the rotting fruit: the symbols in the Dutch paintings that remind us such earthly delights are passing vanities. But there was one memento mori in the room: a skull. A guest wore a balaclava encrusted with fake diamonds, after Damien Hirst. Even mortality is glamorous these days.
Home from home
Last Saturday night, on the side street in Soho where I live, the waiters sneaking ciggies and lovers kissing were disturbed as 11 men in England shirts came through chanting: “Where the f*** are we, where the f*** are we?” Lost souls. The Aussies living opposite and the Koreans and Americans beside me all leaned out of windows to watch them.
This was not a usual sight in the melting pot of Soho. Three blocks further east and these lads would find themselves in a sea of blue shirts on Frith Street where Bar Italia was screening the big match (and where I was going to watch). My footballing loyalties were forged in 1982, staying up for the final with my Italian father. Paolo Rossi’s name was spoken like a saint’s. I remember Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour peer, telling me how confused he was watching the 1966 World Cup final with German-Jewish relatives. He was primed to cheer for England but when Germany scored they whooped; despite all the history, it was still home.
London, a city of immigrants, has many teams to cheer for and countries left behind.
Flicking through Hard Choices, I was struck by how warmly Hillary Clinton wrote about our Cathy Ashton in her memoirs. The outgoing EU foreign affairs commissioner’s successes have been largely ignored in this country. Brokering reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo can’t have been easy and she has been chipping away at the nuclear impasse with Iran with some rewards.
Ashton comes across as a good listener, perhaps more appreciated by those across the table than by her own side. She is not bothered about personal PR, nor photo opportunities with Angelina Jolie.
Who will No 10 nominate to replace her? Political tribalism means it will be a Tory. As for qualifications, they may be less relevant than guilty consciences in Downing Street. Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson both went to Brussels because they had been unfairly sacked from cabinet. So Andrew Mitchell for an aid – or bicycling – portfolio, or Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s old boss at Conservative Central Office, perhaps. After the delicate touch Lansley displayed in handling NHS reform, what could go wrong?
Dionne and dusted
Several different PRs call to ask if I would like to go to see Dionne Warwick sing a late gig at the Dover Street Arts Club, revamped a few years ago and now more a home to Euro and Asian bling than struggling artists. As a sweetener they all promise that Kate Moss will be at the gig. They can’t see my shrug down the phone line: it’s Dionne Warwick I want to see.
When I arrive, Topshop owner Philip Green is pacing around the street outside, pestering his mobile phone. I presume he is ringing his dear friend Kate to find out where she has got to. In the velvet-lined basement downstairs Warwick is tetchy, chiding the audience for filming her on their mobile phones and not applauding her backing band’s solos. Last year, she was declared bankrupt, down to a couple of fur coats, a pair of diamond earrings and $1,000 in cash. Burt Bacharach’s muse still has a voice like honey but clearly also pride like peanut brittle. Can you blame her, out touring again aged 73, to such an entitled crowd?
The main table below the stage was empty, likely reserved for La Moss, who never did show. Still, Philip Green bounded up to Warwick afterwards. “Didn’t we have such fun in Monaco?” crooned the Topshop tycoon. Warwick looked blank. “Who are you?” she asked.
If the comeback tour fails, there’s always the reception desk at the Firehouse.
Joy Lo Dico edits the Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard