Hockney at the RA, and a steak lunch

David Hockney, The Bigger Picture, at the RA, and a quick steak at Rowleys on Jermyn Street

Years ago, in a different career entirely I was an art-dealer. Secondary dealing – meaning my partner and I bought and sold works, sitting in auction houses, visiting artists and other dealers. We sold quite a few Hockney prints, mainly his early sixties etchings. I’ve always adored Hockney’s work, so had been looking forward – like a child at Christmas – to the show at the RoyalAcademy. I don’t want to bore you with the minutiae details, but I had finally managed to get two tickets for the Hockney show – The Bigger Picture at theRoyalAcademy. It’s been all over the papers, you must have seen the reviews. Anyway, a couple of weeks before our day out Annie got the phone call that meant she had to work. Damn. The show’s a sell out so no chance of changing dates. I decided to take our eleven year old, Honor. Her head-teacher thought it was an excellent idea. Honor would have to miss French, so she was keen.

I’ve seen two previous shows at the academy – Pop Art and Saatchi’s early collection called Sensation. Both seemed busy, but for Hockney, The Academy was heaving. Not just busy, as in “oooh, excuse me”, or that slight claustrophobic crowd induced panic you may experience around too many people. It wasn’t even close to being as busy as your favoured supermarket on Christmas eve. Just imagine you’re trying to get somewhere near the stage at a really big rock concert. That busy.

But what of the show. It is poorly curated. There is too much average before the few paintings of genius. Hockney’s clear intention was to show the acclaimed newYorkshirelandscapes, and they’re there. And they’re brilliant. But, there was too much other stuff. I’d read all the reviews I could find, and have seen three programmes about his new paintings on the telly – I was not expecting so much of the show to be old previously seen, well known work.

Hockney also takes a while to get into his stride with his new foundYorkshiresubject. Many of the early paintings do not sparkle with the same affection, or shine with the brilliance and confidence of his later paintings on show. His very newest paintings have a lightness of touch that sees the earlier work fall flat. The four paintings of trees (the four seasons, naturally) that line the initial octagonal room add nothing to this show.

The video installation room was packed. I’d seen some clips, the best bits of it on TV, a few days before. There was a huge crowd in the room. Transfixed, happy to sit and stare at the slowly moving picture – whereas moments before they’d have been grazing on the paintings, doing the slow gallery shuffle. But then, that’s the power of the telly. The film worked better on the small screen, where in it’s brevity it was beautiful. In a crowded dimly lit quiet room with the images blown up to the size of a cinema screen it was pompous and plodding. And, why were huge benches provided to sit on and watch the TV show, yet you are expected to amble around in front of the paintings.

It was only after we’d left that I was struck by the fact that so many of Hockney’s landscape paintings feature roads. The majority of the big new paintings have a compelling single point perspective road, or track, or at the very least a path, meandering off into the distance. Not one of the big newspaper reviews or TV shows mentions this common link in all of Hockney’s big landscape works. Is Hockney a keen driver – is it metaphor for his escape toL.A.and his return toYorkshire- does he enjoy walking in the countryside – does he just arrive in his car and start to paint? I’d have liked to hear his answer to those questions.

Honor was understandably not impressed with an hour of being swept along looking at the backs of people’s heads, or maybe all she saw was their tweedy-backs. So, she decided she wanted some lunch. We crossed Picadilly, and ambled upJermyn Streetto Rowleys. Annie took me there once, years ago – I remember really liking it. It’s a nice little steak and chips restaurant near the offices of a company that she used to work for. It’s all old tiles, big mirrors and good tablecloths. Annie was often taken there on her employer’s expense account and watched with horror as the management consultants got competitive, trying to out spend each other on the wine list. And eat the biggest steaks. But, her old-employer’s sillyness should not put you off the fact that the restaurant does serve a pretty good steak and chips.

We had two rump steaks with the house butter and endless skinny fries. The butter is billed as their “unique herb butter” – I’m pretty sure it has Roquefort in it. They serve it on top of the steak. I liked the butter, Honor did not. Nice skinny fries. Honor left most of her steak, annoying at any price – infuriating at these prices. What’s the matter, darling? “It’s not as good as the ones you get from the butcher.” I thought about it. And she was right. The lovely surroundings, with its in-your-face obvious traditionalism doesn’t makeup for the simple shortcoming of the beef. It was short on flavour, lacked depth, and hadn’t been hung well enough.

“Had I enjoyed the show?” Honor suddenly asked me.

“Hmmm, dunnow. It was so crowded I couldn’t enjoy it,” I said.

“Durr. He’s famous,” she said. “What did you expect.”

Out two steaks and chips, with one salad, and soft drinks was just over fifty quid. Rowleys is at 113 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6HJ. Telephone 0207 930 2707

Dinner at The Angel, Stoke-by-Nayland

The Angel in Stoke-by-Nayland review

The Angel is one of those country pubs that has had to reinvent itself as a smart, but not dress-up, restaurant. It’s a place where older people go once a week to see their friends, and young couples head to when they have a baby-sitter booked and are out on their monthly date.

Mismatched old tables, waitresses dressed in black, specials written up on the mirrors. And beams. Like most old buildings around here, it has lots of old oak beams. They’ve been revealed and cleaned and polished. The rooms are left with not so much the cosy rundown feel of a good Midsummer Murders set – more the sense that a big team of builders has breezed through with the simple instruction to reveal the old character. Thus, also, the exposed bricks.

The menu is half a dozen starters, half a dozen mains, and the same number of puddings. There were some specials, all but one had already gone. By country dining standards we’d arrived late – 8.15. Out friends were later still – 8.25. We hugged, and chatted and where shown to our table – 8.30.

Our friend Jane, a celiac, has this little routine when she sits down. She simply asks the waitress what on the menu is suitable for a celiac. It’s a reasonable request, and one that waitresses normally go and check with the chef. Our waitress did just that, and came straight back with her findings. I cannot understand why more restaurants can’t handle such requests this easily. It should be as simple as “what is suitable for a vegetarian? or a vegan?” If your business is serving food you should know. This chef went out of his way to help. It seems he normally cooks the salmon with a light flouring to the skin, for extra crispness. He’d be happy to do it without. She ordered the salmon.

I had duck liver pate, served – quite bizarrely – with a brulee topping. There was some good toast and a salad that was too big to be a garnish, too small to want to eat. It was served, in that silly modish manner, on a chopping board. The brulee added nothing, the pate beneath was excellent. Annie had Moules Mariniere, which had travelled over the Pyrenees intoSpainand came with a little chorizo – which worked, and chickpeas – which did not.

For main course I ordered Four hour braised Dingley Dell pig cheeks in red wine & rosemary on swede mash with a parsnip puree & mixed baby vegetables. Now, a pigs cheek is a very generous portion of meat, it is at least the size of your hand, has the fatty / meaty quality that you only almost find in pork belly, and then nestled underneath this unctuous goodness there is a little nugget of meat, about the size of a squashed golf ball. Pigs cheeks can be cured to become Bath Chaps, or slowly braised until much of the fat has rendered out. They can be hung up to dry and become the perfect mid-point between prosciutto ham and lardo. I had an oblong plate with three of the little nuggets, perfectly trimmed, slowly braised. They were served, as stated. It was good, but I felt cheated not to have had a whole pigs face on my plate. The skinny chips came served in a little decorative faux frying basket. I have no idea why.

It’s my own fault for being a non-drinker, but there were only two puddings made without booze. Something with goats milk and a twix flavoured cheesecake. I went with the twix. Nice enough, and finally something served on a round plate. Two of the others had chopping boards again.

The waitresses were pleasant, but the manger clean forgot to bring a second bottle of wine we ordered. By the time we were eating, the restaurant was empty – 9.20. The staff waited until we were on our puds before polishing the other tables and setting them ready for breakfast. I half-joked that they where about to start hoovering.

The manager decided to bring us the bill, unasked for at 11.00. £132 for four including a bottle and two glasses, of house white. We split the bill between two – he suggested £116 on each card. A genuine mistake, for which he apologised.