York & Albany, Camden Town
020 7388 3344
by Damon Allbran
They say that Gordon Ramsay has a magnetic personality. This may well be true given that he seems to attract and repel with equal force. To me, the idea of dining anywhere even loosely associated with the scrotal wundermensch is anathema whilst, for provincial businessmen, up-in-town for a meeting or assignation his imprimatur is virtual catnip. They patronise his restaurants in barking hordes, their brittle, hard-eyed wives attached to their arms like less benign remora fish, and imagine they have arrived.
The awfulness of both Ramsay and his clientele is really rather problematic for me. You see, the York & Albany, run for Ramsay by Angela Hartnett, is in Camden Parkway - though the extensive PR from the GRH deathstar places it in ‘Regent’s Park’. It’s my local, has a fantastic bar and does a great breakfast.
A few weeks ago, hungover, in need of fortification and unable to face the greased egregiousness of the New Goodfare at the opposite end of Parkway, I dropped into the Y & A for their full fried breakfast, £12.
The place, as usual, was nearly empty so I was seated by the charming and professional waitress in a corner. It was only after the coffee arrived (overextracted, with scorched milk but drinkable) that I noticed the three salarymen sitting in the high-backed armchairs over my shoulder. One was a loud Texan in a glistering blue suit, abidingly awful brown loafers and an aggressive hairpiece. The other two sat opposite in attitudes of supplication; one a beardless junior with artificially spiked forelock, the other an older man whose face formed a rictus of happy compliance while his eyes bled bitter loathing. Their mellifluous Welsh accents seemed strangely out of tune with the Manhattan cocktail-bar roomset and the agonisingly controlled beige decorative palette
My breakfast arrived. A single artisanal Lincolnshire sausage, a slice of Old Spot bacon, a perfectly presented free-range poached egg… but my reverie was interrupted by the urgent voice of the younger suit. He was bartling some vile jargon-laden tosh about how empowering it would be to work with the Texan Mothership. I was overcome with a surge of predatory savagery. Maybe it was the solid whack of haemoglobin from the glorious slice of Irish black pudding, maybe a response to the waft of terror hormones drifting in from the next table.
The Texan was now taking an advantage of a pause in the flattery to hold forth, at length and volume, about his golfing prowess. I hope I betray no sense of anti-Americanism when I say how delighted I was at that moment to see a grilled tomato and mushroom on my plate rather than a smear of baked beans. Full marks to Gordon.
Finally, unable to control himself any longer the young thruster interrupted the Texan’s stream of self-aggrandisement.
Have you considered, he almost pleaded, the financial benefits of locating somewhere outside central London…
I watched as the Texan’s eyes died
…somewhere like Port Talbot.
As I mopped the last of my egg with a crust of sourdough toast, I watched the door swing closed across the broad back of the Texan as across the echoing and empty dining room his two erstwhile partners gazed, disconsolate, at the bill.