The first golden cat went missing on the Monday. By Friday afternoon, you knew the place was going to be a hit. Casual theft of this kind is a side effect of every successful restaurant in town, after all. Bibendum, down on plummy Sloane Avenue, used to churn through hundreds of chubby, Michelin Man ashtrays a month for most of the eighties.
Chef Tom Aikens almost came to physical blows with a hedge funder in 2004 when, after a £600 dinner, he accused her of stealing a silver coffee spoon from his eponymous two-Michelin-starred Fulham restaurant. “I’m standing there with my Celine dress and Cartier bag,” the customer screamed as Tom barred the exit. “Do I look like the sort of person who would steal a spoon ?”‘ Short answer: yes.
Over at Quaglino’s, during its louche 1990s resurrection, it was the art deco, Q-shaped ashtrays that went for a five finger discount — 25,000 of them, apparently, wandered up that grand staircase in the space of a decade (but then they were designed by Sir Terence Conran himself and did double up, rather nicely, as salt-and-pepper dishes). At Virgin Atlantic it was always the very sweet engine-shaped pepper pots in the business class lounge that went astray (in a typical quirk of Bransonian flair, the company eventually began engraving the words “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic” on the base.) Rihanna likes to steal glassware from Nobu, apparently.
At Sexy Fish, it’s the little metal koi carps that tend to find their way onto ghastly people’s dressing tables. The giant pepper grinders at moule-and-beer emporium Belgo in Chalk Farm were snaffled away for sport during the 2000s — the yuppies wore special overcoats for the occasion.
Down in Grosvenor Square, though, it’s the cats. “They’re being fucking stolen!” Gordon Ramsay cries as he picks up the ornate little figurine sitting on the table in front of us — “Loads of them, every single day! And at £12.50 a fucking go, too!” Well, you can hardly blame the punters. The cats (chopstick holders, really) are darling little things: beaming and portly, weighty and golden, two arms aloft like a toddler begging to be lifted joyously into the air. Ramsay tells me they went through 16 rounds before settling on this final design. In fact, I have one on my mantelpiece at this very minute. I tap it on the head each morning for luck.
Not that anything here has been left to luck. There’s simply too much at stake in this new venture, which steps into the ritzy spot down near the old US embassy that used to hold Maze. Anyway, Ramsay has always preferred sheer graft to flagrant hope. This is the man who has 15 restaurants in London and another 23 overseas. He’s won 16 Michelin stars in his time and still holds seven of them. He’s got a black belt in karate and better abs than you. He’s cheated death in Iceland and slept in the park in Mayfair. (More on that shortly). Luck? Where we’re going, we don’t need luck.
Fierce and giggling, determined and outrageous, Ramsay sat down opposite me in the Tokyo-noir depths of Lucky Cat for seared scallops in sweetcorn hot sauce (truly lovely) and Lake District sirloin (which I got in trouble for eating with my hands.) It’s the end of opening week, and at one point, Ben Orpwood, Ramsay’s protege and the executive chef at Lucky Cat, sidles over to say hello. He looks tired but happy, like the father of a newborn who secretly adores the shrill of the baby monitor at 3am. They should both be very proud, I tell them, sauce on my face, like an awkward work pal at the buffet of a Home Counties christening. This is a terribly handsome baby.
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