‘Paolozzi’s mainly concerned with copulating grasshoppers’ says Christopher Turner as he comes face to phiz with ‘Head of Invention’, a bulky sculpture leaning, leadenly on Shad Thames. ‘And I’ve a friend who owns Paolozzi’s raised skirt Marilyn Monroe with detachable legs,’ he adds. ‘Her billowing skirt and torso lift off to leave pins standing on a bit of gauze substituting for the NY grate.’
Marking the 21st anniversary and imminent 80th of designer, Sir Terence Conran, I’ve come to London’s Blueprint Café. The bright white cube spans the first floor of a former banana warehouse turned world’s first design museum. Considering its sleek lines and plate windows, it could also serve as Poirot set. But care of Conran’s £17.5m donation, within three years the museum will shift six miles west to the currently eerie Commonwealth Institute.
Because he edits polemical monthly style bible ‘Icon’ (rival to Conran’s title, ‘Blueprint’) Turner’s my most appropriate dining companion. He’s also author of ‘Adventures in the Orgasmatron’. Of the book’s East coast launch I’m told a rousing replica of the device it describes was painstakingly built.
Arriving at coveted terrace table we spy hoodies casting fishing rods into the wash. To gain a closer look at them from our safe vantage, Turner presses the restaurant’s signature blue opera glasses to eyes. ‘They’re using sandwich bread as bait’ he reports before we’re interrupted by Natalie, delicious waitress from Melbourne. ‘Are you having a bit of a gasbag?’ she enquires. Then, tracing Turner’s gaze she reveals some context. ‘They’re here every day. But I’ve never actually seen them catch anything.’
A stubby launch pushes past. It resembles a nautical take on the near indestructible Trabant. Meanwhile, Belu water’s poured, a possibly conscious anagram of Blue for Blueprint (the font’s certainly similar). But in a design rich location, every angle and curve’s game for contemplation.
On observing that the concise list features a choice of natural wines, triumphantly promoted via a letter from the sommelier, Turner asks me to define what the movement means. I tell him there’s no legal definition to which he concludes that the fact some feature ‘no added yeast’ means the yeast must come ‘off feet anyway.’
A lasciviously plump, supple bulb of baked garlic oozes when pierced, offsetting brisk acidity of fresh, fluffy feta and silken puréed avocado heaped over stiff bruschetta. The plate’s held fast by a black, ribbed rubber mat made by ‘Suba’, similar to coasters at the long to die Met bar. Fortunately there’s more life here – even in butchered meat.
To follow, pepper crusted venison’s poised – the very definition of medium rare – and served with a weave of similarly spicy watercress and inky plum sauce. But Turner prefers his moist, flaky poached salmon. Fortunately, Natalie confirms it owes nil to the amateur fishers outside. A pit bull’s now joined them incidentally. ‘They’re bear baters’ says Turner (of the dog), hand again twitching at binoculars.
Oloroso adds savoury bite to pert, rich, turgid, lengthy-lived chocolate mousse blended with St. Emilion on pastry pedestal. As I soothe my gob with it, Turner spies pictures hovering over banquettes, new since the room was revitalised in May. Turns out they’re by his friend, Ffiona Lewis. ‘She once exchanged picture for an article,’ he says. We venture to study them, kneeling over said banquettes to appreciate their considerable detail. ‘She likes debris left over from meals,’ he says (as do I). ‘And her style’s “post-prandial.”’ (And so by now is ours).
Although food’s approached utter perfection, maitre d’ Christophe confirms Jeremy Lee, Scottish head chef in place for 16 years, hasn’t served in Blueprint’s galley kitchen tonight. Instead he’s been working at the nearby National Theatre consulting for ‘The Kitchen’ production. Arnold Wesker’s clamorous ‘dineamic’ of 1950s London happens to feature friend of mine, Marek Oravec.
We amble out to the promenade where a glass rectangle of enlarged desk lamps glows. Lubricated by a multitude of sips, I call it an ‘anglepoise chateau’. Nonchalant fishermen have gone home. In their place, and that of the pit bull, two fine, fit German tourists ask us to take their photo against the backdrop of Tower Bridge. As the shutter clicks, one of their dresses flutters up…
‘The Kitchen’ opens 1st September.
Blueprint Café, Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD
Blueprint: An icon
Marking the 21st anniversary and imminent 80th of designer, Sir Terence Conran, Douglas Blyde visists London’s Blueprint Café.
Our resident foodie is a former documentary man and utterly gripped by gastronomy: driven by a love of good taste and fascinated by that almost nocturnal, nervously energetic breed known as chefs. He longs, one day, to own a pristine restaurant, boutique hotel, almost mythically revered vineyard and a vast chocolate factory…
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