As Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, hell is other people.
Many would agree, including the London-based Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov. Recently he used an interview to slag off a whole bunch of hellish people, namely spendy Russians. "I find it embarrassing," he said. "Who are these girls drinking champagne and carrying crocodile Birkin bags? It's like a disease people get when they have money. I don't want to be associated with this thing." Doesn't he? That's unfortunate because they are precisely the ones thronging the £100-a-head gastro-disaster that is Novikov in London's Mayfair. If you haven't heard of Novikov be grateful. It's Dante's 46th circle of hell, a nose-bleedingly expensive septic tank containing all that is wrong with flash restaurants, where the Italian food tastes like cheap Chinese and the Imperial sashimi platter costs £227. Before service.
Dear old Arkady is at liberty to slag off Russians in London. I am not. Instead I will simply slag off everybody with stupid money, whichever corner of the globe they happen to come from, including our own. God knows there's enough of them. Right now there's a luxe food economy, focused on a couple of London postcodes, which is entirely supported by a grotesque, preening, Louboutin-heeled, gold-plated iPhone-carrying, plastic-crashing, Bugatti-driving, natural resource-pillaging excuse for humanity that floats like some gold-flecked scummy head on the warm beer of the rest of an economy simply trying to make do.
There has been an explosion in the numbers of high-end restaurants in recent years. None of them would exist were it not for this lot. They sit nightly at the tables, flicking selfies at each other on digital currents, air kissing one another's bottle-bronzed cheeks, their Botoxed eyebrows feigning constant surprise, while picking irritably at platters of exquisitely carved Jamon Iberico, or Peking duck with skin like lacquered rosewood, or bits of sashimi cut just so. For this is the real tragedy. Many of these restaurants are actually rather good: superb ingredients, great cooking, skilled service. And all of it is completely wasted on the very people who can afford it; the ones who book into them not out of greed or even a tinge of hunger, but because they like the way the lighting flatters their complexion and the toiletries in the bogs make them smell like one of Dita Von Teese's freshly pampered armpits.
It gets worse. Obviously there are people who don't give a toss about restaurants like this. Even if they were in a position to save up, this is not how they would wish to spend their money. Fair enough. But there are many others who do care, who will strain to save the necessary pile of cash needed for their one high-end eating out event of the year. Only to find themselves locked in a dining room with a bunch of tossers. What's more as we now know, were it not for all the people those expensive restaurants are wasted on, they wouldn't even be in business for the people who do appreciate them. Of course, some of you may have clocked that I don't just go to them once a year. I have to go all the time. And finally you recognise the depth of my tragedy. Being a restaurant critic is assumed to be heaven. It's meant to be bliss. Instead, because of other people, it all too often becomes something else: a complete and utter hell.
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