Articles have been running in the London press about the billionaires flooding into London to take advantage of our lax house purchasing system – the result being that some of the most beautiful squares in the city are now filled with empty houses. The billionaires don’t really see London when they’re here, and certainly don’t interact with it, Meanwhile, the Candy brothers continue building bomb-proof dictators’ pads in Knightsbridge. However the Old Money of Knightsbridge and Chelsea and even Notting Hill disappeared in the eighties, to be replaced by first Arabic, then American and now Eastern bankers. I rented a tiny flat Knightsbridge for a few months and hated its soullessness so much that I moved out.
There are clearly a staggering number of rich people in the city, though – and not just singles but families. Seated behind a large well-heeled family in the theatre last month I worked out that their tickets had come to around six hundred pounds – before travel and dinner. And as for the rest of the cash-rich, time-poor crowd – where do they go? One fashionable choice was the Coq D’Argent – until it became a popular spot for suicide jumpers during the economic downturn.
Another was Mo’vida (geddit?), a nightclub based in Argyll Street that looks like a Thai brothel. Obviously it’s the popular choice of ‘international celebrities’ – it must be; their names are listed on its website in a clawingly desperate attempt to be cool by association – and just as obviously, its other branch is in Dubai. A few years back it served a cocktail called ‘Flawless’, which cost about £40,000 because it consisted of an 11-carat diamond and 24-carat gold flakes floating in Louis XIII cognac and Cristal champagne, and was served in the presence of two security guards, just to make sure that everyone noticed you. Although I think it should also have been served by a deposed pre-Weimar Republic princess presenting it on a tray of lark’s tongues.
Incredibly the place is still there, although it’s clearly gone downhill – I saw some screeching seminude monster-girls being drunkenly tipped into a cab just the other night as proles gaped on, hoping the camera-walkie-phones had caught a glimpse of someone from X-Factor. The problem is that today’s exclusive wealth-magnets are tomorrow’s naff WAGerias. By the time the Buddha Bar opened in London its concept was already unfashionable, and it failed horribly. This constant rolling-over of ‘fashionable’ venues is the price the city pays for having so many wealthy visitors.
What’s interesting is that there’s an Unfashionable London, if you like, underneath this veneer. (The Finsbury outlet above beats all in terms of what it offers, as you can get your trousers repaired and your computer fixed while having a massage). At this time of the year I go to a lot of Christmas parties, most of which take place in joints that have remained unchanged through the decades, and in some cases, the centuries. Today, the Shut-Ins’ Lunch (that’s for writers who don’t have any job other than writing – i.e.. homeworkers) is at the cheapest – and worst – French restaurant in London, an institution that has been in Upper Street for as long as I can remember, doggedly sticking to its dusty Coq Au Vin/Saucisson menu while the rest of the gastronomic world moves on. On Thursday it’s the Financial Times pub crawl, which takes in The Devereux (Temple), The Old Bell (Fleet St), Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (Fleet St), Ye Olde Watling near Mansion House and the Jamaica Wine House near Bank.
I’m drawn to the less visible places – won’t go near a headset-chimp nightclub or a restaurant with a three month waiting list – my favourite being the Swan at Bankside, which looks as if it will be full of tourists but never is, because the door takes you up a flight of stairs – and that’s all it takes to deter casual visitors.
So, today’s question – what’s your favourite unfashionable London place? Don’t be ashamed to admit to liking somewhere dodgy (like the restaurant below, shortlisted in the Shit london Awards this year).