Posted: 1st August 2019
Before last month I recall going to the famous London nightclub Tramp just once. To be honest, nightclubs are not really my thing. I am happy to go for a drink in the early hours of the morning, but I want to be able to hear what my interlocutor is saying, otherwise I might as well be drinking by myself, or better still – at home in bed. I have never enjoyed dancing much, and these days I don’t even go through the motions.
So let’s us travel back to the previous time I went to Tramp when I was a guest of the great chef and Yorkshireman Marco Pierre White. This must have been before 1994, for Marco was still cooking at Harvey’s in Wandsworth and had yet to move to the Hyde Park Hotel where he was awarded his third Michelin star. Five years later he chucked it all in, together with his stars, and decided the time had come to make money rather than food. Many top chefs do, and have done, the same.
I had gone along to do a piece on Marco’s kitchen. This meant watching the ‘coup de feu’ with a glass of champagne in my hand. The ‘coup du feu’ is the moment (generally around eight p.m.) when the orders start to come in thick and fast. As I recall there were eleven chefs in a space little bigger than a domestic kitchen. Then there was me in my corner with my frequently topped up glass of champagne (Marco: ‘Get Giles another glass of f**king champagne’) plus waitresses who came in to collect plates and who were routinely abused by Marco.
The abuse was also dished out to the chefs, who spoke – like Marco himself – a sort of kitchen patois that contained a large element of French. In Marco’s case (‘Pierre’ being fantasy name) this contained no perceivable element of grammar.
Never having worked in a modern kitchen I found the process gripping enough. Quite a lot of the food was already packaged up in sous-vide bags and slipped out onto salamander or plate while Marco added the final flourishes. I noted with interest (we were all sweating like pigs) that a thin stream of sweat ran off Marco’s nose and onto the plate, there to mingle with the delicate sauce or seasoning: a signature touch – the real taste of Marco guaranteed for every diner.
After the adulating crowd retreated I was taken out into the dining room and fed more champagne, while a sous-chef knocked up some eleven dishes from the menu. These I was to taste while Marco explained this and that, possibly with his feet on the table. The dishes were quite delicious though, and I am sure I ate much too much.
I was heading back to Islington, which is about as far from Wandsworth as you can be while still remaining in London. Marco had an idea: we would go to Tramp in Jermyn Street in a taxi and then I would be half way home. When he got there we were (from memory) led into in a large-ish dining room. Marco promptly ordered more champagne and some bowls of chips with ketchup. I demurred: I had had quite enough to eat. ‘They are not for eating’ he said, and he shook his mane in the direction of the next table where was sitting Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. ‘They’re for throwing, at ‘im’.
I picked one up and lobbed in the right direction. It struck Wyman squarely on the head. The great musician looked slightly put upon, but otherwise took it in his stride. Marco, on the other hand, was critical of my performance: ‘They didn’t teach you anything at public school, did they? You ‘ave to dip it int’ sauce! Otherwise it doesn’t stick!’
After my bad behaviour all those years ago I was slightly surprised to be invited to sample the new menu at Tramp, but the story of my assault on Bill Wyman was well received. A charming Italian waiter who had served the club for more than thirty years and waited on our table put out bowls of chips and ketchup, just in case Bill Wyman should come in. He had been seen in the dining room as recently as four weeks back, so the episode had not dented his fondness for Tramp and nor should it have done.
The pretext for my latest visit was the club’s fiftieth jubilee. There was a new range of champagnes in dumpy bottles (I tasted only a very nice blanc de noirs with a telltale aroma of raspberries) and an addition to the menu in a ‘Golden Anniversary Tramp Burger’ which alluded not only to the filling but also the founder Johnny Gold. This turned out to be plated (sic) with 24 carat gold leaf, with foie gras on top – in the tradition of the ‘tournedos Rossini’– and a truffley relish underneath. Beforehand I ate some Spey salmon with pickled cucumber and wasabi yoghurt, and for pudding there was a glazed banana mille-feuille with vanilla ice-cream and toffee popcorn. My friendly waiter plied me with wines from New Zealand, a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a Mount Holdsworth Pinot Noir. Bill Wyman, however, wisely kept to hearth and home and did not go to Tramp that night.
After dinner I had a little cognac and watched the floor show, but my attempts to communicate with my neighbour failed, and I thought it wisest to make my way back to my cot.
TRAMP celebrated its 50th Anniversary with on a special dinner on 19 July, and lanew menu as well as the Tramp Champagne and 24 Karat Gold Burgers they are launching to commemorate their golden anniversary.The restaurant is steeped in history, from Marlon Brando, who habitually ate a plate of pasta for breakfast with staff, in true Godfather style, to their famous Tramp Burger – a regular 3am order of Joan Collins – which has been a stalwart of the menu, with its secret ingredient passed from chef to chef over the past 50 years, and Shirley MacLain, who fashioned her bangers and mash into penis shapes while Mel Brooks barked like a dog beneath the table, on all fours . It’s fed a nation of legends from Sir Michael Caine – who met his wife Shakira there – Keith Moon – who swung from its 17th century chandelier, pulling it from the ceiling – Jack Nicholson, George Best, Prince, Princes Harry and William, Princess Margaret, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Kate Moss and David Beckham.