The Blog

Caprice de Femme

This month, London's Caprice restaurant is celebrating its thirtieth birthday. Actually, it's not thirty years old at all - it's sixty. The Caprice opened in the late 40s and became an instant hit with the post-war film and theatre set. In the 1950s, I was taken there for lunch by my father. He was a documentary film director and amongst the other directors in the same company was Lindsay Anderson. Despite being passionately left-wing, they both liked a good lunch.

This month, London's Caprice restaurant is celebrating its thirtieth birthday. Actually, it's not thirty years old at all - it's sixty.

The Caprice opened in the late 40s and became an instant hit with the post-war film and theatre set. In the 50s, age 14, I was taken there for lunch by my father. He was a documentary film director and amongst the other directors in the same company was Lindsay Anderson. Despite being passionately left-wing they both liked a good lunch.

The Caprice was a cut above where they usually ate but they'd read a review by the composer Vivian Ellis. 'By saving up a month's royalties,' he'd written, 'I can sometimes treat myself to a glimpse of such well-to-do Communists as Monsieur Picasso, en voyage, his white locks falling gracefully about his shoulders'

That decided them. If a well-known Communist could eat there they could too. So when he won an Academy Award, Lindsay decided they should go there to celebrate. Because it was the school holidays and I'd popped into the cutting-rooms to say hello, I was taken with them.

Picasso wasn't there that day. But we did see Robert Morley - a famously fat English actor - eating spaghetti.

After that, I only went to the old Caprice a couple more times. By the time I started doing well in the music business in the 60s, it looked stuffy - a jacket-and-tie place for old-time films stars. And in the late 70s, change caught up with it and the place closed down.

In 1981 it re-opened in its current form and it's been one of the restaurants I've eaten at most ever since. From the mass of anecdotes it's provided me with, picking just one isn't easy. But...

In the late 70s I lived in Paris with my Singaporean boy-friend, Allan Soh. We rented a furnished apartment in the 8th Arrondissement. It had once been magnificent - furnished with antique furniture in Louis Quatorze style - but was beginning to fade.

We paid our rent each month to Mademoiselle Pelletier, a flamboyant young lady who'd been left the apartment in her uncle's will. She drove a red sports car and spoke beautiful Parisian-intoned English, learnt from studying in London. She looked like someone who had the world at her feet, but Mademoiselle Pelletier was not quite what she seemed - she was a Monsieur.

At the age of 24 she'd reached a difficult point in her life. She had to decide whether to continue to live the good life on the rent from the apartment, or to sell it and use the proceeds to pay for the operation that would complete her transition to the person she really wanted to be.

On rent days Allan and I sat listening sympathetically to her confusion. We became rather good friends but always recommended against the operation since that would also be the end of our tenancy. Eventually, though, she decided in favour of it. Allan and I were given notice and the apartment was put on the market.

And the point of this irrelevant-sounding story is...

About five years ago I was in the Caprice having lunch when I noticed an elegant couple a few tables away from me. The man was handsome and suave, in his mid-fifties, and very obviously French. His wife had the unmistakeable chic of a middle-aged Parisienne. And with them was their daughter, a stunning twenty-year-old who looked a bit like Charlize Theron. They talked together intimately, laughing a lot, the daughter addressing her parents as 'Mama' and 'Papa', with Papa oozing adoration for her.

Having puzzled for a while over what made the father so familiar, I suddenly realised he was Mademoiselle Pelletier.

As I was leaving the restaurant, his wife and daughter went together to the toilet, so I walked across to him. 'Excuse me! Nearly thirty years ago, you rented me an apartment in Rue Du General Foy.'

He stood up at once, the epitome of politeness, and shook my hand. 'That's right,' he said, 'I remember you well. You had a Chinese friend.'

Confused for a second to find myself talking to someone so completely different from the person I'd once known, I asked, 'What happened to your...er...plans?'

He shrugged broadly and waved a Gallic hand. 'I changed my mind.'

I looked him up and down; his suit was superb, his shirt, his tie, his moustache, his hair, his whole demeanour. There wasn't a hint of effeminance about him.

'Changed your mind, did you?' I repeated rather foolishly.

'Well why not?' he asked. Then leaning close he suddenly pursed his lips in just the same way Mademoiselle Pelletier used to do twenty-five years earlier. 'It's a woman's prerogative, isn't it?'