1. The £44,000 meal
In a show of ostentatious dining that would have embarrassed even Henry VIII, six bankers from Barclays Capital spent the average London salary in a single sitting one night in 2002 in Petrus. Head chef Gordon Ramsay gave the free-spending financiers their food on the house when the drinks bill, which included a bottle of 1947 Bordeaux at £12,300, topped 40 grand. Five of the six men, who were celebrating a successful deal, were later sacked for bringing their industry into disrepute. Which takes some doing.
2. Marlowe’s reckoning
The story goes that the notorious Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe died in a drunken brawl over the dinner bill in a Deptford tavern in 1593. In fact the meal was in a respectable boarding house, and Marlowe’s fellow guests were all connected to Elizabeth I’s extensive spy network. Was Marlowe killed, or did he go undercover? We’ll probably never know – but that hasn’t stopped some people believing that Marlowe wrote all Shakespeare’s plays after his supposed death.
3. The Granita Pact
It may not have the historical significance of the Warsaw Pact, say, but this 1994 meeting between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Islington Mediterranean restaurant Granita was momentous in its own way. The two politicians supposedly made a deal allowing Blair to lead the Labour party into the next election – no Granita would have meant no Cool Britannia, no Noel at Number 10 and no British troops being sent into battle five times in ten years. In perhaps the most fitting tribute to the New Labour era, the site of Garnita is now occupied by an estate agent.
4.The book of reservations
Gordon Ramsay (yes, him again) could probably fill London’s top ten dining moments on his own, but this one’s especially scandalous. In the days before computerised reservations, the bookings diary was vital to a restaurant’s business – so when the book at Ramsay’s Aubergine in Chelsea was nabbed by a helmeted raider in 1998, the hot-tempered hellraiser pointed the finger at his estranged former mentor Marco Pierre White. However, in 2007 Ramsay admitted he’d arranged to have it nicked himself to damage White’s reputation – ‘I knew that it would fuck him,’ he said.
5. Boris Becker in the broom cupboard
The ball-smashing tennis ace shared a moment of passion with model Angela Ermakova in a quiet corner of posh Mayfair Japanese Nobu in 1999. Those few seconds led to a series of denials of wrongdoing from Becker, an illegitimate child, a £2m settlement, a divorce from his wife and a lifetime of ‘balls’ jokes to look forward to.
6. Bowie and Lou Reed share a punch-up
A stormy friendship blew up into a hurricane in 1979 at the Chelsea Rendezvous restaurant when Reed’s dinner guests saw him haul the Thin White Duke across the table and give him a furious bitch-slapping for daring to tell him to ‘clean up his act’. Moments later, it was all hugs and smiles. Until Bowie made the mistake of repeating his remark, unleashing a new attack from the late rock legend.
7. St Alfege is boned to death
In 1012, a Viking army was camped in Greenwich (handy for raiding London) with prisoners including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege. When the archbish refused to let the Anglo-Saxon king pay his ransom, the Viking army got drunk at their Easter feast and bludgeoned him with ox bones, before one of their number – apparently out of compassion – killed him with an axe blow to the head. St Alfege’s church now stands on the spot.
8. An irradiated Russian
It’s a scenario that could have come from ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, had cheery mass-market sushi chains existed in George Smiley’s London of 1974. Ex-Russian secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko contracted acute radiation syndrome after lunch at Itsu in Piccadilly in 2006; he accused the KGB of poisoning his meal with polonium. The forcibly closed Itsu tried to spin some positive PR from the incident, erecting a sign that read: ‘An international espionage incident has transformed this Itsu into a world- famous meeting place.’ It was hurriedly taken down when Litvinenko died three weeks later.
9. Throttle feeding
When someone begins choking in a restaurant, the usual procedure is for a waiter to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre. When art collector Charles Saatchi began ‘playfully’ choking his wife Nigella Lawson in Scott’s in Mayfair this year, however, the system was somewhat different: long-range-lens cameras clicked and divorce proceedings commenced.
‘They haven’t got the stomach for it’ – an accusation often levelled at Spurs, who have failed to finish above rivals Arsenal in the Premier League for 18 years. In 2006, they definitely didn’t have the stomach: the night before a match at West Ham that could have seen them clinching a Champions League place, ten of the team were struck down with dodgy guts. They had all eaten lasagne at a Canary Wharf hotel, which was cleared of any culpability for the mass malady. Still, gleeful Gunners now sing: ‘When the Spurs start to cry, when they don’t qualify, blame lasagne.’
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