Twenties Girl

Page 23


She grins broadly at me and I give her an air high-five. Clive Hoxton is an A-list name! He’s tough-thinking and hard-playing! He’ll totally make up for the weirdo and the kleptomaniac. In fact, if we get him, I’ll ax the kleptomaniac, I decide. And the weirdo isn’t that bad, if we could just get rid of his dandruff…
“All fixed up!” Kate puts the phone down. “You’re having lunch today at one o’clock.”
“Excellent! Where?”
“Well, that’s the only thing.” Kate hesitates. “I asked him to name a restaurant. And he named-” She breaks off.
“What?” My heart starts to thump anxiously. “Not Gordon Ramsay. Not that posh one in Claridge’s.”
Kate winces. “Worse. Lyle Place.”
My insides shrivel. “You have to be kidding.”
Lyle Place opened about two years ago and was instantly christened the most expensive restaurant in Europe. It has a massive lobster tank and a fountain, and loads of celebrities go there. Obviously I’ve never been there. I’ve just read about it in the Evening Standard .
We should never, never, never have let him name the restaurant. I should have named it. I would have named Pasta Pot, which is around the corner and does a set lunch for £12.95 including a glass of wine. I daren’t even think how much lunch for two at Lyle Place is going to be.
“We won’t be able to get in!” I say in sudden relief. “It’ll be too busy.”
“He said he can get a reservation. He knows some people. He’ll put it in your name.”
Kate is nibbling at her thumbnail anxiously. “How much is in the client entertainment kitty?”
“About 50 p,” I say in despair. “We’re broke. I’ll have to use my own credit card.”
“Well, it’ll be worth it,” says Kate resolutely. “It’s an investment. You’ve got to look like a mover and a shaker. If people see you eating at Lyle Place, they’ll think, Wow, Lara Lington must be doing well if she can afford to take clients here!”
“But I can’t afford it!” I wail. “Could we phone him up and change it to a cup of coffee?”
Even as I’m saying it, I know how lame this would look. If he wants lunch, I have to give him lunch. If he wants to go to Lyle Place, we have to go to Lyle Place.
“Maybe it isn’t as expensive as we think,” says Kate hopefully. “I mean, all the newspapers keep saying how bad the economy is, don’t they? Maybe they’ve reduced the prices. Or got a special offer.”
“That’s true. And maybe he won’t order very much,” I add in sudden inspiration. “I mean, he’s sporty. He won’t be a big eater.”
“Of course he won’t!” agrees Kate. “He’ll have, like, one tiny bit of sashimi and some water and dash off. And he definitely won’t drink. Nobody drinks at lunch anymore.”
I’m feeling more positive about this already. Kate’s right. No one drinks at business lunches these days. And we can keep it down to two courses. Or even one. A starter and a nice cup of coffee. What’s wrong with that?
And, anyway, whatever we eat, it can’t cost that much, can it?
Oh my God, I think I’m going to faint.
Except I can’t, because Clive Hoxton has just asked me to run through the specs of the job again.
I’m sitting on a transparent chair at a white-clothed table. If I look to my right, I can see the famous giant lobster tank, which has crustaceans of all sorts clambering around on rocks and occasionally being scooped out in a metal net by a man on a ladder. Over to the left is a cage of exotic birds, whose cheeping is mingling with the background whooshing sound from the fountain in the middle of the room.
“Well.” My voice is quite faint. “As you know, Leonidas Sports has just taken over a Dutch chain…”
I’m talking on autopilot. My eyes keep darting down to the menu, printed on Plexiglas. Every time I spot a price, I feel a fresh swoop of horror.
Ceviche of salmon, origami style £34 .
That’s a starter. A starter .
Half a dozen oysters £46 .
There’s no special offer. There’s no sign of any hard times. All around, diners are merrily eating and drinking as if this is all totally normal. Are they all bluffing? Are they all secretly quailing inside? If I stood on a chair and yelled, “It’s too expensive! I’m not going to take this anymore!” would I start a mass walkout?
“Obviously the board wants a new marketing director who can oversee this expansion…” I have no idea what I’m blabbering about. I’m psyching myself up to peek at the main courses.