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When you’re meeting an old school friend who you haven’t seen for three decades, you want to chose a special place to lunch, although nothing is probably good enough for a mate with whom you used to bunk off lessons (at Canterbury college) to eat moist lumps of banana bread and play endless games of snooker. Luckily (and despite that austere name – Reform Social and Grill anyone?) the three course Sunday brunch (including two hours of free flowing Prosecco wine) at the restaurant of the plush Mandeville hotel in Mayfair, where I also plan to stay the night, has everything going for it.
Booking a table for two for the following day (Sunday), I head up to my Superior Double room on the second floor. The oeuvre of interior architectural consultants ARA Design, who’ve worked their magic on hotels from Jordan to the Seychelles, my room is bright and spacious with smooth beige walls and carpets, lit up with splashes of colour in scarlet bed throws and funky, sixties- style circle deco curtains. Clad in pale marble, the bathroom has a power shower and a hands off radio for easy, under-the-jet listening. There’s a full-length mirror – an essential item when you’re preparing to meet someone who last saw you when you were sweet 18. There’s also a desk if you should get the sudden urge to do some work (I don’t) and a cushy armchair to flop if you get the sudden urge to laze (I do). Then I remember that I live for half of the year in a remote Cretan village where the nearest chic boutique is the one selling chunks of feta cheese made by Manolis the hunky goatherd, and tear out to do some last minute shopping.
The Mandeville is just around the corner from one of London’s prime shopping districts, so I have plenty of time to plunder the racks at Selfridges and paw the exclusive designer goodies in chic boutiques along Bond street. Wandering back to the hotel with my loaded shopping bags, I make a detour to admire the magnificent red brick abode that once belonged to the fourth Marquis of Hertford and now houses The Wallace collection, a world renowned assemblage of 18th century French paintings, Sevres porcelain and other delights that were collected by the Marquis during his lifetime.
At noon the following day I meet my old school pal in the The Reform Social and Grill. That clunky name is explained on entering the restaurant, where my pal is ensconced in a leather club chair that looks like something you’d find in the drawing room of Downton Abbey. The gentleman’s club atmosphere of The Mandeville’s old style eatery is further reinforced by dim lighting, and wooden fixtures and fittings. Cosy and slightly pompous, it’s the ideal place to meet someone who, when you last saw them, wore striped pink leg warmers and swore that Tom Robinson was a gay version of God.
Over our three course lunch we talk about Mr Croft our dotty, asthmatic, dearly-loved history teacher; old flames like Edward Hart and John alias Stig; and pop icon Ian Drury, who taught in the art college next door and sometimes gave concerts in ours.
Our antique schoolgirl chatter is punctuated by sighs of pleasure as we steadily work our respective ways through baked cauliflower cheese soup peppered with delicious chewy dumplings, followed by hearty slivers of roast aged topside of beef, served with hunks of Yorkshire pud and crispy roast potatoes, followed by creamy, crunchy, calorie-packed slabs of toffee apple crumble topped with brown bread ice-cream.
By the end of our lengthy meal we’ve bridged that 30 year gap and talk has turned to modern times. From bomber jackets to boob jobs; Blondie to Britney Spears we’ve talked ourselves back to the present day. Our Mandeville meal has been a pleasant hiatus in our busy lives, but now we are ready to step outside and face the trials of our post-millennium world once more.
The Mandeville Hotel, Mandeville Place, London W1.
Reception: +44 (0) 20 7009 2200
Reservations: +44(0) 20 7009 2262