After much dithering over how to round off a week on the Isle of Wight – because surely everyone needs a treat after they've been on holiday? – we decided that rather than blow several hundred quid on a combination of boutique hotels and Michelin starred restaurants we'd head back to London and make our own entertainment. If we'd been more organised we'd have engineered a long-promised return to Bailiffscourt (next time) but we'd left it too late, and in the end the London options more than made up for the lack of outdoor hot-tubs and walks on the beach. Well just about.
So on Saturday some last-minute investigation revealed that District 9 was showing at the Greenwich Picture House at an hour that gave us just enough time for a cheeky meal at the bar in the Rivington next door. Why we have only done this a couple of times before is utterly beyond me. It's surely the most perfect combination of food and culture you could possibly find. (I think I've answered my own question there: if there's any sort of contest food – and drink – tend to win over culture every time. Ah well, this time we got it about right and after a fabulous rare burger with rarebit topping and a pair of exemplary eggs Florentine we wandered next door for a couple of moderately harrowing hours of shaky camera prawn massacre. What's not to like?
The highlight of our home-treats weekend, though, was Sunday lunch at Le Café Anglais, Rowley Leigh's majestic emporium just off Queensway. We'd been once before when four of us had effortlessly racked up a bill of such impressive proportions that Antonia's dad hasn't spoken to us since (he was there, incidentally; he's not ostracising us on the basis of our spendthrift ways). It's not that LCA is expensive. Indeed if you managed to restrict yourself to the keenish set-price menus you could eat very well indeed for less than £40-odd a head (assuming you drink from the lower end of a long but manageable wine list). It's just that there's so much gloriously tempting stuff elsewhere on the menu that the chances of anyone actually picking the set menus must be vanishingly small. I'm sure it's happened once or twice. But not that sure.
You've got to love a restaurant that establishes a signature dish for itself – in this case Parmesan custard with anchovy toasts – and then sticks in on a list of hors d'euvres so that both you know and they know you're going to order it (and a couple of others like it) before you even think about having a "proper" starter. And then there's the list of proper starters themselves, which includes such temptations as smoked eel and bacon salad, and mains that include a relatively modestly priced grouse (£25 is practically a bargain compared with the cool £38 it was going for at Hix the other week). The set menu stood no chance.
As well as the Parmesan custard (which is as good as it sounds and surely as obligatory here as the roasted bone marrow is at St John), we snacked on some mackerel paté with a soft boiled egg (a good combination slightly undermined by the fact that we'd swapped toasts so I was spreading an already salty paté on those anchovy toasts) and some artichoke fritters (slightly odd these, a bit too rich in their breadcrumby batter). Meanwhile I was tucking into the beautifully dressed eel and bacon salad (more saltiness!) and we were both washing it all down with some perfect bloody Maries.
Mains were an omelette for the veggie half of the party, accompanied by a choice of quality sides, including a dauphinoise that ticked all the right cheesy, creamy and crunchy boxes. I went for the grouse (natch), which was a trifle underpowering for my taste. It was smartly presented on a copper platter with most of the usual accompaniments – game chips, red current jelly, bread sauce, gravy and watercress. Disappointingly, though, no dense liver on toast, an omission that seemed to work as an omen: the first half of the bird I tackled packed none of the punchy flavour I associate with grouse. To be fair, though, the second flank was much more on the mark, deeper in colour and almost metallic in taste. Might have been the way it was sitting in the oven or to do with where our friend picked up its fatal wound. Either way it was like a different bird. Not for the first time with grouse: a game of two halves.
After a blow-out like this, complete with a carafe (hurrah!) each of burgundy and Chablis and a couple of good espressos we were in no kind of condition for pudding. We called for the bill, reflected on opportunity to find good value in Notting Hill comprehensively passed up, and wandered happily out into the September sunshine. A perfect end to the holiday after all. Well done us.
Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB 020 7221 1415