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My date was quite excited about going to Scotts because he used to have lunch there a lot in the Eighties with women he ought not to have been having lunch with, and thought it was very sexy and glamorous. In fact, the Mayfair oyster restaurant - where Ian Fleming first asked for his Martini shaken not stirred - has had a sexy and glamorous reputation for about years.
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It was a favoured seafood, cheroot and cocktail haunt for a glittering array of people who ought not to have been having lunch with each other: Edward and Lily Langtree, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich and Yul Brynner. But many restaurants feel the need for a face lift every century or so and, a couple of months ago, Scotts relaunched itself all redeed and done up at a cost of pounds 2m. He did, though, comment on a loss of character in the elegant new de.
What used to be the Oyster Bar with traditional tiles and mirrors is now a light, modern eating area with a pale tiled floor, wooden oyster-shaped chairs and soft downlighting. A sweeping glass spiral staircase le down to the cocktail bar surrounding a column of bubbly water which gradually changes through a heady range of colours, from lurid neon pinks to purples and greens. Very tasteful. This was in stark contrast to the expensive beige-paletted elegance of the posh restaurant area: with fish as its theme and many mirrors, wooden pillars, crisp table linen and comfortable suedette chairs and banquettes.
There were quite a lot of men in suits having dinner with each other. There was a frighteningly Dunhill catalogue-style yuppie couple of the type you could imagine posing in match- ing jodphurs and deerstalkers, or paisley silk dressing gowns, who made you want to get hold of their cheeks and squash them really quite hard against their noses.
Although the menu has been lightened, updated and allegedly cheapened, it is still heavily traditional English in feel. Maybe because of this it was one of those menus which made you fancy nearly everything on it and not be able to decide.
Alongside masses of seafood: caviare; Sevruga, Oscietra, Beluga; oysters: Whitstable, Lock Fyne, Rossmore; Dover sole, lobster, turbot, brill, there was cock-a-leekie soup, steak and kidney pudding, mutton cobbler and a macabre-sounding dish called Hindle Wakes: "cold baby chicken boned and stuffed with pork, prunes and herbs".
Allowing himself to be dissuaded from having the Scotts shellfish platter for both starter and main course, he went for Absolut Brill, which seemed an excellent idea since he had given up drinking and the brill was served in vodka. It was a shame about the drinking because Scotts' wine list concentrates on great classic French wines, especially white burgundies. Much is made, on the wine list, of a rakish interest in New World wines: the tiny selection of reds are described as tending "towards red revolution.
A half-bottle of the second cheapest Chablis slipped down a treat with my starter of mousses of smoked haddock, trout and mackerel on herb griddle cakes. They were dense, old-fashioned mousses, strong in flavour and heavy on butter.
My friend's shellfish platter - superb oysters, langoustine, mussels, clams, scallops - came with "the sort of traditional French mayonnaise you'd expect to find in an old-fashioned place in Paris. For restaurants to serve very down-to-earth dishes at astronomical prices always seems like reckless bravado.
For although you know in a restaurant like this you are paying for multi- million pound face lifts, impeccable service and Mayfair rents, you're still bound to ask what they can do to a plate of cod, chips and mushy peas to make it worth pounds As I muttered about too much mush and not enough pea, the fine distinction between a soggy chip and a floppy chip, and the satanic nature of a breadcrumb as opposed to a batter coating my companion complained, "Nothing will satisfy you except old Ma Posslethwaite's Yorkshire cod and chips cooked in soot," - which was very unfair.
His Brill in vodka - and a delicate fennel and herb stock - was lovely: and the lemon mashed potatoes were even lovelier - a delicious, buttery and inspired potato partner for a fish. Puddings sounded straight-down-the-line gentleman's club: damson fool, trifle, rice pudding, bread and butter pudding.
Neither bread and butter pudding nor trifle tasted particularly distinguished, but the saffron custard on an excellent pear and almond crumble was sublime: a perfect advertisement for the precaution of always ordering three puddings. We finished the evening in the cocktail bar, which, in spite of the tinkling piano and Barbie water seemed a bit empty and forlorn, even for Monday night.
Dinner for two with coffee and a couple of soft drinks came to pounds 98 - including, as well as I somehow can't imagine going to Scotts again. But for people who want comfort, elegance, exclusivity, discretion, respectful old-fashioned service and food they know where they are with, who don't care about the cost and have no interest in sitting on distressed iron chairs on bare boards eating bits of chargrilled polenta with pan- fried kangaroo - it's probably just the thing.
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