24-hour restaurants

Night-time in the bar at the Duck & Waffle, one of the UK’s first high-end restaurants to stay open 24 hours a day

A feature for G2

At 11.30pm, the elevator for Duck & Waffle in the City of London has the hot, beery stench of an underventilated nightclub. I already feel jetlagged from heading out for dinner so late, and when it whooshes me up the Heron Tower’s 40 floors in under 30 seconds it gives me an extra headrush. It is a bit like being drunk, which seems rather appropriate for late-night eating.

In New York, Paris and many east Asian cities, 24-hour restaurants have become part of the eating habits of the population. Not in Britain, which is strange when licensing laws theoretically permit round-the-clock opening and many people work shifts through the night. “It may be because of our historically rigid licensing laws,” says Jonathan Downey, a bar and restaurant owner who has held two 24-hour licences. “At Milk & Honey our kitchen is open until 2am and we probably sell five plates of food during the last hour.”

Which is probably why many late-night British restaurants are aimed at drunk people. Buddies in Brighton has featured on Channel 5′s sociological study Brighton Beach Patrol, and with its fry-ups with lager, pizza and burgers, caters to a distinctly vomity clientele.

London’s oldest all-night restaurant, and the only one with a 24-hour booze licence, is Vingt-Quatre on the Fulham Road. “We have security,” says its managing director Simon Prideaux, “who make the call on whether someone has drunk too much.” At 11pm, VQ’s menu contracts to a few soaky classics: omelette, bangers and mash, a full English. The place has lasted since 1995 by harnessing one of the great truths of eating out: the squiffy don’t crave culinary invention.

“To eat at four o’clock in the morning,” says Jay Rayner, the Observer’s restaurant critic, “things are either going to be really bad or so good that it doesn’t matter where you are. You have to wonder how much value is being placed on the quality of the food.”

Continue reading at the Guardian

Au Pied de Cochon, Paris

Au Pied de Cochon

3/5

In the middle of the night, food becomes an illicit thrill. I love eating by the humming light of the fridge – sticky spoonfuls of leftover risotto, chilled sausage singing with mustard, a Ben & Jerry’s tub, and best of all, I think, the fudgey glories of an unfinished crumble. One thing I don’t care for is yesterday’s pizza, although in my student days I was known to trawl the Domino’s box out the bin to munch that last, discarded slice.

At night-time, as opposed to the evening, restaurants offer a different kind of pleasure. Arching over it all is a body-clock weird-out from eating vast plates of food when you’d normally be tucked up, and it’s vaguely surreal to see waiters wearing black bow ties in that dark before the dawn. But for me at least, the experience carries giggling memories of midnight feasts, of sweets scoffed well past bedtime. And isn’t the communality of restaurants, the way they mesh sociable and private life, somehow sharpest at night? For once, conversations are held between tables, not just over them. There’s more jocular togetherness in the queue at the kebab shop than the most solemn gastro-temple, I promise you.

The Eurostar rolled in late. Au Pied de Cochon was round the corner from the flat where we were staying, and it’s open 24 hours. They claim they haven’t locked the doors here since 1946, a playground boast I’m happy to accept. Les Halles market, now no more, of course, used to be next door, and the restaurant fed its marketeers. The brasserie is decked in that faintly shabby splendour typical of Parisian bistros, and the menu is comfortingly predictable, with an offaly emphasis. By now, regular readers will know I eat with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.

So here’s bone marrow with mustard: quivering, nutty jelly spiced with popping seeds, roared in the oven till brown and sweet, unabashed and globby on hot toast. It’s by far the best thing we eat. Onion soup, which looked promising under an exhausted crust of Gruyère, is ashtray rinse. Green salad is as fresh and exciting as a Robert Lindsay sitcom.

The signature at the Foot is called ‘La tentation de saint Antoine’. Nothing to do with Flaubert’s play, or anything else arty: Anthony is the patron saint of pigs. (And also of skin disease, but that’s just scratching the surface.) The dish is snout, trotter, tail, ears and chips – all garnished, if that’s the right word, with salt. Tempting it certainly is, and though it isn’t set with skill or chosen out with care, I applaud its proud anti-vegginess. The snout’s the best bit, slathered in bearnaise; the trotter is hot and fatty; the tail is fun to dunk and chew; but the ears are horribly gristly. Charlie, who like me is watching his weight, orders kidneys flambéed in Cognac with cream. They’re perfectly pink, in a sauce bloated with potatoes and nubbed with chopped mushrooms, toothsome and reeking with the salty sting of urine.

I finish with perhaps the girliest dish I’ve ever been served. Rosewater ice-cream, strawberry sorbet and a little meringue, the lot gasping under a ridiculous amount of Chantilly. Pink as Piglet, all it needs is a cherry on top. It’s four in the morning, by now, and the evening has been long and lubricated. The pudding is far too sweet, fatty as a Texan, the rosewater smells like granny perfume, and the whole thing is probably quite disgusting. I lick the bowl clean.

We leave as light is beginning to break, though plenty of tables remain full. It’s hard to dislike the Foot, with its pig-fuelled, sleepless menu. There are no great flashes of technique here, nothing that sets the world alight or dances on the palate. But it’s blood and guts served with toil and sweat, and I can only admire the commitment and passion needed to keep the place running. Later on, after a snatch of sleep, we visited l’Astrance, where I had one of the greatest meals of my life. Then, the day after, we went to l’Ambroisie, where lunch was so distant from the ones I’ve most enjoyed, it could have taken place on Pluto. But that, my friends, is for another post.

Au Pied de Cochon, 6 Rue Coquillière, Paris

Tel. +33 (0)1 40 13 77 00

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Dinner for two, with drinks and service, costs €100

www.pieddecochon.com