Le Confinement Est Fini
Go on, flick through the pages of 1990s House and Garden magazines and eventually you’ll come across a double page spread of the last and late Knight of Glin; his wife Madam FitzGerald, Min Hogg’s second best friend; and their eldest daughter Catherine, the garden designer, all tucking into fruits de mer at Bibendum Oyster Bar. Desmond has his starched linen napkin tucked right into his shirt collar. Standards, and all that. Did they gasp at the carpaccio of Scottish scallop and smoked pike roe? Or what about the black tiger prawns? Even more aptly, did they devour Irish oysters washed down with some dry and aromatic Viognier? “Our shells clacked on the plates,” wrote Seamus Heaney in his poem Oysters, “They lay on their bed of ice.”
All that was then and all this is now. Brill on the bone and crab quiche and other brilliant things are served up… and suddenly… with a showering of ado and a flowering of aplomb the Honourable Ola de la Fontaine rocks up totally on form sporting an emblazoned sports jacket. How terribly happening. Blazing blazers are a thing at Bibendum. For a moment, there’s some momentous momentary recall of a nebulous first floor restaurant lunch in May 2003 just when this place was ablaze with blazers. Ola’s now in top gear as always, revving it up, formulating plans and solving equations. She might resemble Charlotte Rampling’s younger much better looking sister, but Ola is more than a mere actress: she’s a qualified connoisseur of fabulousness with a diploma in decadence, a bachelor in brilliance and a masters in magnificence. And she just so happens to be South Ken’s top perfumier.
What Ola wants Ola gets: Gillardeau oysters. “Draycott Avenue and all around here has such a local vibe,” she shares. “Everybody knows everyone. Thank you for asking.” It helps of course that her local is double Michelin starred. Lunch is dreamy – “Laying down a perfect memory,” to quote Seamus Heaney again in his poem Oysters. Sometimes it just feels like Bibendum has been the fulcrum, the axis, the crucible of South Kensington life for at least the last two decades. Michelin building turned Michelin restaurant. Now that’s not so much a lost story arc as a full 360 degree circle. It’s all about Head Chef Claude Bosi’s 2020 French cuisine living up to building designer François Espinasse’s 1905 French architecture. “Did you know,” seeks Ola, “that the 18th century diarist Samuel Pepys fed his cat Hodge with oysters?”
“Terence Conran who currently owns Bibendum took full control of the interiors,” completes Ola. “The Michelin man stained glass windows upstairs inspired the design of the snug chairs, the wall lights, the butter dishes, the salt and pepper pots, so much!” No fewer than 34 vibrant external tile panels depict car racing at its most glamourous early 20th century prime. This is Art Nouveau meets Art Deco meets art on a plate meets art on a date. But did Desmond FitzGerald all those years ago, tucking into his seafood, realise he was sitting in a former tyre fitting bay? Who knows. All that was then and all that will be is yet to come. Now for the new normalcy: an alfresco vernissage, the unveiling of the Koestler Awards 2020 for arts in criminal justice settings, is on standby at Southbank. Vroom vroom, time to get that car and burn some rubber!