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John Whiting

Connaught Hotel Dining Room

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Does this letter from Allistair Cooke prompt any comment?

The [London] Daily Telegraph  28 March 2002

Re: Imminent destruction

SIR - Following on the sad retirement of Michael Bourdin, London's greatest practitioner of simple, classic French cooking, the appalling news has just reached the colonies of the imminent destruction of the Connaught Hotel's restaurant.

Is there not a London authority, like New York City's Landmark commission, that can, after public petitioning, freeze the approach of the Philistines and, after designating a building as a historic site, ensure that it is not to be defiled or destroyed by "developers"?

New York's commission was comatose for years until it was rudely awakened by the irrevocable gutting of the old Pennsylvania railroad station (Rome's Baths of Caracalla, as fine as the original). Most recently, by a timely intervention, New York's Grand Central Station was saved and splendidly restored. If you have no similar check on "major redesigns", I suppose nothing can be done about it.

An eye that cannot appreciate the unique Edwardian elegance of the Connaught's wood-panelled dining room probably itches, for its next project, to do over St Paul's in the Pompidou, or Outdoor Plumbing, style.

From:

Alistair Cooke, New York


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Correction:  NYC's Landmarks Commission was formed following the destruction of Penn Station, which certainly was a wake-up call.  England does have  very fine programs to preserve and protect its landmarks -- the National Trust, which owns certain sites and opens them to the public and English Heritage, which identifies additional sites and confers recognition on them.    

In NYC, and it may be true in London, as well, use is not protected.  In the vast majorityof designations, only the exterior of the building is the designated landmark and the owner can do whatever he or she pleases inside.  Even if an interior is protected, as is, for example, the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, which is also designated, the use is not protected.  Should the owners decide to close the restaurant and lease the space to another business, they could, but that business would not be able to alter the interior (except for the movables, like furniture, which are not protected) without taking receiving permission from the Landmarks Commission.  In most cases, for major work,  a hearing is held, during which the public is invited to submit testimony concerning the proposal.   I don't know how it works in England or if the Connaught is even a listed property and how that would affect the restaurant.  I'll try to find out more.

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Correction:  NYC's Landmarks Commission was formed following the destruction of Penn Station,

Sorry Sandra, but nobody corrects Allistair Cooke.

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In the several months prior to his retirement, M Bourdain had offered special themed meals at the restaurant. One may have focused on dishes he had created for royalties/ celebrities. Did members sample any of the meals in the "farewell" series?  ;)

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SIR - Following on the sad retirement of Michael Bourdin, London's greatest practitioner of simple, classic French cooking,

I'd like to correct Mr. Cooke on the "simple" bit.Bourdain's cooking may have been rooted in classical French cuisine but he made it all his own and it was elaborate and involved.I ate there once about 10 years ago and I remember not being able to tell what any dish was about from its menu title and the food,while delicious,being heavily designed and "worked".

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Bourdain's cooking may have been rooted in classical French cuisine but he made it all his own and it was elaborate and involved.

It's interesting that the Connaught Hotel remained at or near the top of the Good Food Guide's recommendations from the first edition in 1954 down to the present. This tells us something about both the Connaught Hotel and the Good Food Guide.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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John-Having eaten at The Connaught on two occassions (delightful) I fail to see the problem with renovating the dining room. It never struck me as that distinctive or original in terms of decor (have I missed something?) The comparison to The Four Seasons in NYC doesn't seem to be a fair one. Those are Philip Johnson designed rooms in a Mies Van der Rohr skyscraper that is considered the perfect expression (and first expression as well I believe) of a glass & steel structure. When was The Connaught done or what about it makes it so distinctive from any other place in town that expresses hotel or clubiness? If anything, it's the sitting room just in front of the dining room that is "classic" at The Connaught. The one with all the copies of Punch going back over 100 years. A friend of mine once described that room as where people should sit when a war is going on because it makes one feel that nothing can go wrong, i.e., it has the feeling of permanence.

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I fail to see the problem with renovating the dining room. It never struck me as that distinctive or original in terms of decor (have I missed something?)

Steve, I've never eaten there. That's why I posted Cooke's letter without comment. From me, it was really a question.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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That letter could not have been from THE Alistair Cooke. First of all, it's much too short. Second, it sticks to the point without deviating.

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All these years and now I find out that Alistair Cooke has deviations. Another illusion bites the dust.

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Is he still alive?  Wonders never cease.  I think I remember that he retired from recording his unlistenable letter a few years back.  By the way, Charlie Drake is still with us (oh, it came up on another thread somewhere...)

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Is he planning a comeback? Actually, doesn't he do the Jim Davidson rude pantos?

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I believe Monty Modlyn's still alive as well.But Arthur Mullard is definitely dead.Does anyone remember Charlie Drake knocking himself unconscious live on TV by diving through a bookcase at the end of his show.........Ah they don't make 'em like that anymore

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We had heard that the famous Connaught Hotel dining room was to be closed, so four of us turned up for lunch on March 6th, not having been there either ever, or for getting on for twenty years.  It was so bad it was funny.  

The lauded dining-room was closed. so we were put in the tea-room, together with maybe a dozen other bemused diners; the head-waiter was spectacularly rude.  For example, when one of our party asked for a third slice of beef from the trolley he was treated as if he were Oliver and had virtually to wrestle for his portion.

The food, with a couple of exceptions was reminiscent of any Railway Hotel circa 1960:  Take the starters (please). My smoked trout was rock-hard, tasteless, and garnished by sliced olives, with fake scales made of cucumber.  The whole thing presented a la Fanny Craddock.  My wife's Kipper Pate looked (and I was told, tasted) like Pedigree Chum, with more of that cucumber on the side.  Oysters cannot be spoilt, and nor can smoked salmon - which was at least wild.

For a main course I selected the mixed grill, but was unable to distinguish any of the meats except the kidney, which was more reminiscent of a musket-ball than a once-living organ.

I could go through the whole meal, but would bore all.  Suffice to say that with the exception of the Roast Beef and Souffle potato, which were superb, the quality of food was ghastly.

In summary, we may have eaten at a time when staff morale was low, the Gordon Ramsey connection only just having been made public, but I for one am delighted that more acceptable offerings will be replacing what we were offered.  By the end of the meal we were suffering mild hysterics because of the appalling rudeness of the staff and the naffness of the food. A second example of the many service failures occurred whan I asked for more Souffle potato.  "I'm sorry but the Chef says it will take him half an hour."  I persisted and another plate arrived in less than five minutes.  Ho Hum!

Not that this was cheap.  We did drink reasonable wine, but £480 for lunch for four people is gets us something pretty superb most places.

Roll on Ramsey!

:angry:

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LML

You're telling me you've never rolled in late in a drunken stupor, raided the cupboards and found nothing to eat, so tucked in to the dog food?!

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You're telling me you've never rolled in late in a drunken stupor, raided the cupboards and found nothing to eat, so tucked in to the dog food?!

No, strangely enough.

But but I do cherish a rather hazy memory of having tucked in to my dog.

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There was an article the other week in the paper  regarding Dog Cuisine in Korea,what with the upcoming World Cup and so on.

Dog Cuisine (Tang) is now banned but thrives everywhere on the black market.

The article interviewed the most well known Tang chef in Korea.

When it was put to him that Westerners dont eat Tang because we think dogs are cute,loyal, funny etc.he replied

"Dogs are none of these things.They only PRETEND to be like this to try to convince people not to eat them"

Now THERE'S a culture clash for you.

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