Day off today. I’ve been looking forward to that. Mostly I’ve done as little as possible and virtually not spoken. Towards the end of the day I went out for dinner.
At the top of my road there’s a little restaurant called Maze Grill. It’s run by Gordon Ramsay. I’ve actively avoided it for the whole of my adult life. As a kid it used to be called Foxtrot Oscar. I loved it then. It was dark and anonymous. I would go there with my parents and have cheap kedgeree or burgers. Torquill and Michael were part of the furniture. My mum loved it so much she’d go virtually every night, and it wasn’t so expensive as to make that impossible. It was an anonymous vibe, where you could dump a bowl full of pasta on someone’s head because they’d written nastiness about you, and then have another bottle of wine and laugh about it.
When Gordon Ramsay bought the place he immediately made it less dingy and ramshackle. He probably knew that in doing so he would lose the people who had built loyalty over time. He probably didn’t care. After all, he’s Gordon Fucking Ramsay. So he opened up the Maze Grill. And everyone in my area got a keyring in the post. The keyring entitles you to 50% off food on a Monday. I ignored it for years. Bastards. Where’s my kedgeree?
It hasn’t shut down though, this Maze Grill, despite years of my grumbling and boycotting. It is still full most nights. And it is extremely close to my home. Today I crumbled and thought I’d make use of the keyring I’ve kept for so long, and see what it’s all about. After all, 50% off food at a place like that means you’re paying more or less what you should be paying, so long as you’re careful about booze. This evening we weren’t careful about booze though because Ollie, who I was with, gravitated to a pricey St Emilion. But it was my day off, and Ollie covered the excess, and I wasn’t going to moan about a good red wine.
I had a rib-eye and it was excellent. As a kid I would frequently dislike my meal at Foxtrot Oscar, but it wouldn’t worry me. Foxtrot wasn’t about the food. We’d have a good time and feel welcome. The price tonight was just about right for the rib eye with 50% off, and when he saw the keyring the maitre d’hotel put us in an isolated booth downstairs, rather than in the window. I’m glad that Gordon Ramsay is making that concession for locals who want to hide. Any other night but Monday it’s a mug’s game though
Affordable food out is a rarity in my bit of Chelsea. We used to have The Chelsea Kitchen, and up until very recently The Stockpot – both on The King’s Road, both places where you could eat without having to sell your firstborn. The whole area used to be cool and even a bit alternative. All of that personality has been crushed by value. The landlords got wind that the area was considered cool and hoiked the rent up so much that everyone immediately moved to Camden or went out of business. Nowadays The King’s Road is utterly boring, homogenised overpriced crap. 20 years of greed. One of the only places that still survives is Al Dar the kebab shop, where they hate you no matter what you want, and make you pay in blood if you sit down. Takeaway Shawarma is still worthwhile so long as you don’t mind being scowled at, and you’ve got cash.
I never go out in my area. Tonight was an exception. But I think I might go out every Monday to the Maze, if I’m working in theatre. It’s the perfect convergence of the actor’s day off and a 50% discount…