The Trafalgar, Chelsea

 

I don’t much like Chelsea. I don’t think many of us do. Whilst it might have been quite fun to wander down there in the 60’s to watch Twiggy snog Georgie, or to hang out with Vivienne and Malcolm ten years later, nowadays it seems to consist mainly of sloaney girls who aren’t as pretty as they think are looking for a Geordie to victimize or someone to buy them a house. Not even Chelsea fans like Chelsea, mainly because very few of them can afford to live there, unless they’re Russian and have managed to siphon off their entire country’s energy profits in dubious circumstances.

I have to admit to a certain fondness for the King’s Road in the late eighties, when, despite its obviously faded grandeur, I still got excited by vintage 501’s at American Classics and once spent an outlandish amount on a 50’s flying jacket that I looked terrible in but loved with a passion. And even now, as a contented habitué of Battersea, I do find myself over there quite regularly as the walk across the river is lovely and (in a sentence written entirely for the benefit of comedians Smug Roberts and Nick Revell) the farmer’s market is mah-vellous. Actually, it isn’t. The farmer’s market is full of unimaginative restaurants for those who read a menu by price and get worried by originality, but the Duke of York Square market on a Saturday is well worth a trip. Try some freshly shucked Maldon Oysters, have a pie, remortgage your house for some Spanish ham and definitely try a Rainbow box from the Caribbean stall, whilst nicking bits of cheese and chorizo from anyone nice/stupid enough to leave any out for you. Then vacate the area.

I very rarely eat on the King’s Road – I’m sure there are some decent places (ok, Pizza Express,) but I can never get away from the idea that someone is secretly pilfering an extra tenner from my wallet just because of where I am, and so many of the options (ok, Pizza Express) just seem to be offering the same old same old. I sometimes pop in to Phat Phuc for a pho, but it’s not exactly a world-beater.

However, we were going to the cinema because having, to my shame, dragged my sorry literary arse through the final installment of the Harry Potter books just to say I’d done it, we now had to go and see the last film as apparently it’s the best (it isn’t.) Working on the utterly misplaced theory that a bad book makes for a good film, I had agreed to go to Cineworld and we needed to eat, as man cannot live by popcorn alone. This led to a lot of wandering up and down and one nearly full-blown argument, until we eventually decided to risk it and go to the Trafalgar.

I say risk, because I have walked past the Trafalgar many, many times and always thought it to be full of exactly the types and all the culinary ambition I have already dismissed. Perhaps the fact it was fairly empty, especially the dining area, improved my mood. As did the décor, which has got that slightly bohemian ‘we just threw this together and somehow it looks both careworn and groovy’ look, which I believe costs thousands. Things looked up further when I overheard the barman discussing the draught ales with what sounded unmistakably like enthusiasm.

Ah. Enthusiasm. Perhaps best overheard, rather than introducing itself, sitting up on its hind legs, offering you its chin to tickle and then licking you throughout the course of your meal. Meet our waitress. She did a good enough job, and in this recession-ravaged-professional-miserablist of a country, maybe a sunny disposition is something to be treasured, but the words, “I’ll be bothering you throughout the meal because (insert tinkly laugh) I haven’t got anyone else to bother!” didn’t fill me with joy. Neither did her amazement that I was having a water and the lady was having a cider. What is the world coming to! And then I had a salad and she had fish and chips! Short of getting her cock and balls out and whapping them on the table, I can’t see what my girlfriend could have done to surprise our waitress more. Although she did come back to check how things were thirty seconds after putting the plates down the wrong way round, so maybe that’s exactly what she was looking for.

The menu is not earth shattering, but then again it’s a Chelsea pub looking to do a brisk trade, so I didn’t expect it to be. I’m not going to tell you what kind of sausages they had with their mash because you already know they’re Gloucester Old Spot. Modern not quite gastropub I would call it, and only because the word gastropub is so overused that it needs qualifying if they’re not doing astonishingly twiddly things with unexpected ingredients. Her fish and chips were, however, excellent. Crunchy batter, well cooked fish, good chips and perky tartare sauce. Apparently the peas were good too, but they’d disappeared by the time I got a look in. My crab, samphire, chicory and butternut squash salad was a revelation. I don’t like brown crab meat. I know I should – it’s the essence of the sea, the bit the Nigels and the Nigellas secretly love to lick off the spoon etc etc, but to me it’s fishy and gritty and the white stuff is delicate and moreish and everything that is perfect about seafood and exactly what we had here. Generous flakes of crab combined beautifully with slightly salty samphire, crunchy leaves and cleverly cut ribbons of squash all held together by a perfectly understated lemon crème fraiche dressing.

At £26.35 this wasn’t massively cheap, but neither was it taking the piss either, unlike the waitress, who proceeded to bring us a customer feedback form and point out that it wasn’t just to say how brilliant the service was but you could also win a meal for two which was actually quite likely between you and me because not many people fill it out so tinkle it was well worth doing wasn’t it just for the fun of it ahahahaha? Seeing as this was (approximately) her fifteenth visit to the table, I thought it best not to pass comment. I still left her a tip, partly because I’m terribly nice too, and partly because I feared if I didn’t, the whole façade would come crashing down and I’d leave the place with her grabbing my ankles and wailing ‘What did I do wrong?’ Which would have been a much better ending than Harry Potter and the Deathly Epilogue managed three hours later.

July 2011

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