Toptable launched a service it grandly called 'Book The Unbookables'. The premise was that Toptable's crack team of bookers would obtain for us mere mortals a table at any one of a number of ultra-exclusive restaurants to which, a reverent Joe Public was steered to believe, they had some sort of magical hotline number.
A few years on, when for a time I held one of those invitation-only charge cards which entitle one to the services of a 24-hour concierge wherever one may be in the world and a foot massage on your birthday, I was similarly impressed by the facility to have a table booked for me at restaurants boasting any number of stars, rosettes or hats, across continents and time-zones, simply by placing a call to a friendly, insomniac team in a Brighton call centre.
These days, Toptable has ceased offering to book the unbookables for us, and the adamantium card has gone back because astonishingly sensibly for me, I realised that the Croesus complex a limitless credit limit engenders in one is neither healthy nor fiscally sustainable. And yet, despite having once been so impressed by both, I miss neither, for the simple reason that I know now that there is no such thing as an 'unbookable' restaurant, merely ones with more people answering the phones, or more clued-up at managing a reservation system, than others. If you can be bothered to persist, and can be flexible with timings, you can get a table anywhere in town, on any night of the week. Unless, that is, the restaurant in question does not take bookings, in which case it is quite literally 'unbookable'.
Such is the case with Polpo, the restaurant I'd intended to take my best friend Andrew to for a birthday dinner last week but which was already full with a '45 minutes, maybe an hour' wait even at 7.15ish on a Thursday. I won't labour the point any further than I already have but suffice it to say that I'm just not interested enough in trying anywhere to wait that long, at least not without a proper waiting area to kill my time in. I'm emphatically not criticising the restaurant for it; if they're that full, that early then I sincerely wish them the very best of luck, I just won't be rushing back myself.
Andrew Edmunds, the nearby restaurant we took ourselves off to instead, only takes bookings a week in advance which although a bit of a bugger if you want to be sure of getting a table for a birthday or Valentine's, strikes me as being a very democratic way of doing things. I've been many a time before and always loved the place, and Andrew had heard my ravings but never had the pleasure, so we took our chances on getting a walk-in and were delighted to find that a table was available if only for the next hour-and-a-bit.
Split over two floors, Andrew Edmunds is known for packing in tables and while some diners find that this makes for a romantic, intimate air, others just find it horribly cramped. We were taken down the rickety stairs to the gorgeous, candle-lit, crepuscular basement which I prefer by a whisker to the even more cheek-by-jowl dining room on the ground floor.
Andrew and I liked the look of everything on that evening's menu; it changes every day but as usual offered around six choices for each course, plus a couple of blackboard specials for mains. The cuisine at Andrew Edmunds is mostly Mediterranean, with a bias to French and with the odd British staple thrown in for good measure. It's unfrightening, unpretentious stuff with just enough flair to excite the more demanding foodie, and all very keenly priced. Starters start at just £3.25 for soup and don't stray much north of £7 (dressed crab's the dearest at £8.75), and there are no mains over £16.
To kick off, Andrew chose king scallop ceviche with avocado puree and I opted for smoked eel with apple and beetroot salad and horseradish creme fraiche. The ceviche was terrific, super-fresh (as of course it should be) and packing just enough citrus kick as to not overpower the delicacy of the scallops. It came with a fairly abundant herb salad, punchily dressed, which along with the rich smoothness of the avocado puree created a perfect balance of flavours and textures. Andrew, being a musical sort, called it 'symphonic', which I mentally noted as being rather a good description to steal for this post. My eel dish was another cracker, the unexpected sweetness of the apple bringing interest to the classic taste combination of smoke, earthiness and heat.
Our main courses were equally successful. Andrew's roast pork fillet with a wild mushroom and porcini risotto had the potential to be overwhelmingly rich, especially given the addition of some heady truffle oil, but an accompanying watercress and pinenut salad brought levity and equilibrium. My sea bass fillet with potato and poppy seed cake and crab, fennel and tomato salad was equally expert, the unusual spud 'n' seed galette working nicely with the sweet firm fish and crunchy, punchy salad.
A bottle of a wonderful Schloss Lieser 2005 Riesling, chosen from Andrew Edmunds' excellent mostly Old World list was so zestily fruity it felt effervescent on the tongue. Had we not had to give the table back we would no doubt have also enjoyed a glass or two of something sticky from the long and bargain-laden sweet wine and port selection. Service, from the absolutely delightful, polite and ruggedly handsome Connor, was spot on, and the enthusiasm and warmth of the staff members we met on our way in and out was palpable. Our bill including service came to £72, which sat very comfortably on the price-quality axis.
There's really nothing to fault about Andrew Edmunds. Sure, the closeness of the tables is a love-it-or-loathe-it eccentricity, but its these eccentricities which give the place its particular charm. By the time we'd finished dinner I was in a buoyant mood and the earlier disappointment of not getting in at Polpo had entirely given way to delight that, as a result, I had been driven back into the arms of an old friend. I got to spend time with two of my favourite Andrews that night and concluded that having the odd 'unbookable' restaurant in town might not be such a bad thing after all.
Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Street, London W1F 0LW Tel: 020 7437 5708 No website.