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Viva Riva
April 2015

No reservations: The understated Riva, in Barnes, is an ideal local restaurant (photo: Michelle Grant)

Rumour has it that Hollywood is considering a remake of American Psycho, the cultish film based on the eponymous book by Bret Easton Ellis, which chronicles the escalating murder fantasies of Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale), an archetypal Eighties Wall Street yuppie. Fans have been posting suggestions as to what the remake might include, prominent among which is “We actually get to see Dorsia”. Dorsia is the El Dorado of New York restaurants, a reservation there symbolising the pinnacle of social and sexual success. Bateman’s frustrated attempts to attain such a reservation contribute to his sense of enraged invisibility—a key moment in the 2000 version has him calling for a table for two, only to be tormented by the maître d’s eerie laughter at the absurdity of his hopes. The elusiveness of Dorsia leads Bateman to psychotic experiments in home cooking involving call-girls’ brains, but as the character states at the end of the film, “There is no catharsis.” He remains excluded from the promised land, and I know how he feels.

Dinner in central London is beginning to feel, frankly, a total shag. A friend of mine dates a famous chef. When we go out to dinner in town, we usually try to book with Open Table, like Joe Punter, only to be told that seats are only available for the 6.30 sitting, or that there are no reservations until June. My friend then sighs, redials, drops the name and a table magically appears. Nice trick if you can pull it off, but it reflects the fact that going anywhere in the city right now is a stressful business. Ubiquitous chains aside, there are surprisingly few places where one can drop in at a civilised hour and just, like, have dinner. No fuss with guest lists and table bumping, no impossibly expensive Michelin-primped food, no anxiety. The street food craze has provided an alternative of sorts, but who wants to stand in line for 40 minutes for a bite of greasy burger? No-reservations might sound all fabulous and spontaneous and urban, but starting my evening in a queue is something I prefer to do at Gatwick.

Meeting in Marylebone recently, my friend and I decided not to play the sleb card. Then we tried six places for an 8pm table without success. We couldn’t even get in at the Chiltern Firehouse, which was a lowering experience, as the cast of The Only Way is Essex apparently can. As she put it, “What do people do in this town if they’re not an effing celebrity?” Her home city of New York now offers a phone app where for a considerable monthly fee clients are guaranteed the table of their choice with a same-day reservation, but short of actual bribery (effectively what the app provides), organising an evening with friends requires just too much commitment. “I only want some sushi,” I wanted to plead to the iron-eyed booker at Roka Mayfair, “not to invade Poland.” It shouldn’t have to be this hard. Sometimes I feel like George Orwell, who, in his 1946 essay on his favourite pub, “The Moon Under Water”, described its attributes before admitting ruefully that it didn’t exist.

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