This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of Bellamy’s restaurant, the world-famous French brasserie tucked behind a discreet corner off Berkeley Square. For a succinct summary of the esteem in which this establishment is held, you need only glance at a handful of press clippings. A.A. Gill declared that he could eat there once a week for the rest of his life, and it is the restaurant that the Queen herself has frequented more times than any other.
Since Bellamy’s inception, restaurateur Gavin Rankin has been the man at the helm of this extraordinary ship, drawing on expertise garnered in his eleven years as Managing Director of Mark Birley’s clubs. All of which might sound rather grandiose, and perhaps it is, but if there is one thing that this remarkable eatery is not, it is pretentious.
Should you choose to make the journey to W1, and wind your way past the diamond brokers and supercar showrooms into the depths of a Mayfair night, you will eventually be met with a halo of soft gold lighting, and a polite queue of well-dressed folk hoping to score a Wednesday evening table beneath the burgundy awning.
Once inside, there is a distinct soundtrack to Bellamy’s — as though a foley artist has been tasked with replicating the pulsing hum of well-contented diners for effect. Look around (reserve the corner seat if you can), and you will find that the restaurant’s cinematic effect does not end with its phonics. Every diner might be an extra in a film: the businessmen talking shop over a bottle of Barnaut Grand Cru; young diners overlapping staccato sentences and laughing between bites of a Dorset Crab Salad or Skate Meunière; unwaveringly attentive staff, gliding across the floor like pond skaters to top up wine glasses or recommend an apéritif.
And, moving amongst them all, drinking in the scene before him as though it were a glass of Château Cos d’Estournel 1982 (his favourite), you are likely to spot a silver haired, immaculately dressed gentleman. Gavin Rankin extends his hand and nods to a large party to my left – “a perfectly manageable party of 25 have in fact arrived as a group of 30. Rather tricky at first, but it all seems to be going well!” He laughs, ensures we are comfortable, and promises he will be returning to see how we’re getting along, “I’m up and down like a fiddler’s elbow in here!” Another chortle, and he is off to keep an eye on his palpably well-contented customers.
By his own estimation, Rankin spends an average of five days a week in the restaurant, and will work from 11am until 11pm. It’s a long working week by anyone’s standards, but Rankin shrugs that suggestion off, “I live just up the road, so it’s really a slip ‘n’ slide coming and going”.
His love for French cuisine began at home, where his French-Belgian mother loved to cook, and where he claims he gained an early appreciation for good food. Incidentally, should you choose to order Marina’s Chocolate Cake from the dessert menu, you can enjoy his mother’s exquisite baking for yourself. The 87 year old is sat in the far corner as we eat, and has delivered the cake today. As we express our amazement Rankin deadpans, “yes, we can’t get her to stop bringing them in”, before flashing a mischievous grin.
This familial tie is indicative of a wider theme of intimacy at Bellamy’s, where Rankin considers a small team to be intrinsic to the place’s success. “It promotes that vital esprit de corps which gives a restaurant its spark” he says. And this is an intimacy afforded to all of his diners too, no matter whether or not they are regular frequenters of such an exclusive postcode. A bottle of the house white at Bellamy’s, for example, will set you back a very reasonable £28. “It’s a bit like making the arts more generally available”, says Rankin, “and I am all for it”.
I should also say that the food really is exceptionally good. Throughout my evening, I enjoy Native Oysters that taste like the sea itself (to be best enjoyed with “brown bread, unsalted butter and a glass of an appropriate white burgundy” according to Rankin), and the perfectly cooked Monkfish à la planche, chorizo. Exercising my right as the ‘researcher’, I also sample the criminally delicious Iced Lobster Soufflé ordered by my dining companion. A bottle of Rully Clos de Remenot Dom Michel Briday 2015 is recommended by our waitress, and fits the bill as the perfect tasting companion throughout.
To spend an evening at Bellamy’s is to feel as though you have stepped back in time — but of course, it is a place still (remarkably) in its adolescence. Perhaps then, it is more accurate to say that it offers diners the chance to revel in their nostalgia for a bygone era. You will find no underfilled ‘sharing’ plates, overpriced cocktail lists, or waiting staff who refuse to write anything down in here. There are no diners sitting silently across from one another, absorbed in the blue light of a handset — and no ostentatious guests making overt gestures to signal their wealth (a remarkable and welcome omission in this part of the city). Everyone here has come with the intention of being present.
Taking our leave, I think about the advice Rankin considers the best he has ever been given: “it is not servility, but good service willingly given”, and just how fully he has practised this message within these walls. I now consider myself a fully initiated member of a club that anyone can join for the price of a dry martini.
…I’m not sure I can quite afford to visit once a week just yet, though.
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