PRICELESS ART. AND PRICELESS NOSTALGIA.
More and more, I find myself falling in love with eccentric old restaurants, restaurants that survive almost despite themselves, without absorbing anything as tedious as a ‘trend’, or doing anything differently to what they’ve done for years.
One such treasure is Odin’s in Marylebone which I’m filing under ‘how the bloody hell have I never been here?’. It is jaw-dropping, every wall heaving with the kind of art you rarely see outside major galleries. Is that a Hockney? A Procktor? Why, yes – yes it always is. There’s even something that looks like a Sargeant, but it can’t possibly be… Can it?
(We ask the formally attired maitre d’ if there’s anywhere cataloguing the restaurant’s riches, but he says not - ‘for insurance purposes’. And fair enough: the walls must be dripping with seriously £millions.)
It is so ludicrously of an other age that it verges on the perverse: the net curtains shielding the interior from the gaze of the passer-by; the Belle Epoque-ish screens and overstuffed furnishings; the punctiliously over-linened table settings; the little Manuel-ish senior server: that rarest of thing in today’s London, a career waiter. Even downstairs, the loos and kitchen area, looks Edwardian.
And the menu! I have a book of sixties and seventies restaurant menus - this Anglo-French fossil wouldn’t look in the slightest out of place aamongst its pages: king prawns with garlic butter (okay, so they’ve added lemongrass, but still); chicken liver parfait with Cumberland sauce; steak, venison and red wine casserole; grilled Dover sole with parsley butter; ‘Mrs Langan’s chocolate pudding’. Mrs L being, of course, the wife of notorious former owner Peter Langan – he frequently accepted art as payment for dinner, which explains some of the riches – who was rabidly pissed for most of his restaurateuring career (film stars and duchesses would queue up to be insulted by him). He ended up setting himself alight in a final, barking howl of thwarted passion.
We have braised oxtail in a thickened, vinous gravy, with mash stiff with about a stone of butter. And chicken livers with artichoke hearts, their sauce again speaking of a mighty hand with the beurre. Apart from the dedication to artery-hardening, it’s not the kind of stuff that’s going to set any hearts racing. But both dishes are delicious in a totally unreconstructed way.
There’s a comically retro little side dish of veg – roast potatoes, parsnips and, sadly for my sniggering opportunities, broccoli that isn’t even vaguely overcooked. And ‘Odin’s rarebit’ – oh, the unalloyed joy of a restaurant that still serves savouries. This is blissful: thick carpet of mustardy, caper-studded cheese on granary toast, with a bottle of Lea & Perrins delivered with some ceremony on doillied silver coaster.
There are daily ‘specials’, the kind of thing that would sit quite happily in the Reform Club: roast cornfed chicken with bread sauce, maybe, or honey-roast gammon with parsley sauce. Gammon! When did you last see gammon on a menu? Just the word itself is making me chortle. I can imagine the chef having to restrain himself from flinging a ring of pineapple on top.
I’d guess our fellow diners (yep, we’re the youngest in the place) waft over from Harley St: their well-padded, bespoke-suited demeanours speak of wealth and entitlement. There’s a scattering of viciously lipsticked Marylebone dames, helmet hairdos twinkling under the chandeliers. Do I love it? Of course I do.