Granny goes to Hollywood
I have had my fair share of random snogs at Brinkleys. Way back in the day, of course, when I was very young, footloose and fancy free, and many moons before I even considered hitching up and getting married. Always thronging with people, all of whom either seemed to know each other or knew someone who knew at least five other people there, it was the go to place for young party happy Sloane Rangers, all of whom lived in frightfully jolly flat shares in Chelsea or Fulham, the braying boys with tasseled loafers and signet rings, and the pretty girls with their fragrant freshly washed tresses and their school prefect cut glass accents. This is where we all hung out and got thoroughly blotto, but still managed to look fresh faced and bushy tailed at our art gallery, ad agency or bank jobs the next morning. Oh, for our golden youth when butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths and life ahead seemed like nothing more than one big fun merry go round!
The decades may have rolled on, and times changed, our golden glow has tarnished and we’ve acquired a few dents on the way, but Brinkleys, with minor moderations, is still almost exactly the same. And amazingly, so is much of its clientele. Those fresh faced boys, now bald and paunchy with the red noses of committed drinkers, have turned into ageing lotharios, the dewy girls have swapped their spray on lycra dresses for something expensively blousy to cover ever expanding midriffs, but there they still are, braying and cackling good naturedly, hoping to recreate the frisson of yesteryear. Here and there is a sprinkling of the next generation, confidently following in the footsteps of their parents, and, like them, seeking flirtation, romance and a good bottle of wine.
Unlike many of the hardcore Brinkleyites, quite boringly, perhaps, I’ve moved on, my priorities and interests have changed, and I am an altogether different person now, so I come here rarely. Still, occasionally, it’s nice to take a walk down memory lane and step into this Hollywood Road time warp. This time, the Lovely Husband and I are here to wet the babies’ heads. Yes, you’ve read correctly. Plural! We have just been presented with the most perfect, most adorable twinset of grandchildren, a little boy and a little girl, at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, a few steps around the corner. So much joy and gratitude deserve a celebration!
You can’t miss Brinkley’s. From afar you can already spot the revellers out on the pavement. They’re here under the generous awning in all weathers, smoking, drinking, making merry. We fight our way through the crowds at the bar, heaving with people three rows deep, through the eye of the needle that is the threshold to the restaurant at the back. Here we’re told, in no uncertain terms and despite having booked, that we’ve got two hours and not a minute more. This eat, pay and vacate approach does not sit at all well with me, here or anywhere else. It makes me feel like a walking wallet rather than a valued customer. What of those wonderfully companionable evenings, where the good conversation at the table results in yet another bottle of wine being ordered or perhaps a liqueur or an extra indulgent dessert? Here it’s all about clock watching and, indeed, as soon as one plate has been cleared, the next course is hurled at you. Quick, quick, the tables need turning!
Under pressure before we’ve even started, we order a shared portion of Chicken and Vegetable Gyoza. It comes with disposable wooden chopsticks and tastes perfectly pleasant. My main course, a Lobster and Crayfish Linguine, impresses with its freshness and unusually generous shellfish content. It’s light, tomatoey and the meat is succulent and sweet. This is a seriously nicely done, delicious dish. The Lovely Husband chooses the famous Brinkley’s Burger with Sweet Potato Chips, Rocket and Crispy Onions. And again, it’s ten out of ten. One half of a bun, juicy, beautifully cooked meat, excellent chips, it’s all good. But there’s no time to be wasted and while we are still taking a breather and considering our pudding choice, the waitress hovers nervously. The clock is ticking! Our White Chocolate Cheesecake, Raspberry Sauce and Honeycomb is okay, if slightly odd. It’s not really a cheesecake, more of a creamy crème fraîchy type blob on a bed of ginger biscuit crumbs with round raspberry coulis puddles on the plate. Pretty, but a bit of a nonevent. The British Cheeses, Winterdale Cheddar, Blue Monday, Tunworth, Driftwood Goats’ Cheese, Quince and Crackers are a well and tastily put together combo, completing our meal. And then it’s all over. Chop, chop, move on over. The bar is totally heaving by now, so there’s nowhere for us to go but home.
Brinkley’s is the epitome of middle of the road. There’s nothing here that invites strong opinions of any kind, not in the décor, not in the food, but like a Kelly Hoppen interior of wall to wall neutrals, it carries its beigeness very well, because it does what it does with aplomb. While the menu won’t blow your mind or offer you anything new or unexpected, the food, in its predictability, is perfectly enjoyable and the wine list features some excellent drops at surprisingly reasonable cost. It’s a shame service is so very rushed, leaving the diner feeling processed, rather than cherished, but then, perhaps, that’s good business. Profits are in booze much more so than in food, so it’s sensible to get people flocking back into the buzzing bar area; ‘Just one for the road’, that turns into two or three or four on the way out, as you bump into yet another friend or acquaintance.
It is exactly this kind of well-managed, cleverly targeted ordinariness that makes this wine bar so very popular. The clientele here like to know where they stand with things, they don’t like surprises or fancy shmancy stuff, they want reliability. And the same applies to those around them, they want people they know or, at least, people of their sort, nothing hip or edgy, thank you very much, or, God forbid, outlandish people with strange accents. This is Chelsea/Fulham/Kensington borders, after all, and not Shoreditch! Anyway, where on earth is Shoreditch?
We pay £104 .65 for one starter, two mains, a shared pudding and cheese board and a very nice bottle of wine, including 15% service charge, 2.5% more than in most other restaurants, but then they do considerately serve water glasses with ice on the side, excellent quality food, and they keep the lighting low to soften the middle-aged ravages of time, transforming granny to glammy. Maybe we should visit Hollywood Road more often?!
What I wore
Jonathan Saunders red floral T-shirt dress, black L.K.Bennett high heeled boots with patent toe caps, black Chanel shoulder bag.
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