Dining @ The Test Kitchen with Prue Leith

Before even looking at the Test Kitchen’s menu, famous foodie Prue Leith shares one of her restaurant-reviewing secrets: “Clientele is the most important ingredient in any good restaurant. If a restaurant’s empty, I’m leaving.” Luckily, the Test Kitchen is buzzing and Prue remarks: “Nice clientele. Good mix. Not too many suits.”

When Prue opened Leith’s, her famous Michelin-starred restaurant in the swinging Sixties, perhaps it was her policy of giving any woman wearing red a free glass of champagne that quickly established it as the place to be seen. Prue is definitely a red kind of lady. She’s a fireball of energy, and enthusiasm is the quality she considers most important for a successful life.

Prue once famously declared, “As you get older, food becomes more important than sex.” However, in her revealing autobiography, she talks frankly about the joy of falling passionately in love at 66. While the cougar is a socially acceptable figure, Prue pushes the boundary further and advocates love for the sensual sixty-plus woman. This brought her into conflict with her previous publisher who insisted that in her novel, Choral Society, she recast her trio of sixty-year-old amorous women as fifty-somethings. Prue tells me, with a wink, that she complied by making them 59, 58 and 57 respectively.

As the male model lookalike waiter deposits our breadbasket with a smile and a flourish, Prue observes: “You can forgive a lot of bad food if the waiter is charming.” Prue butters and eats the freshly baked bread with relish, declaring, “There’s absolutely nothing as delicious as bread and butter.” I dither over the menu; Prue is decisive. Thankfully they don’t serve amuse-bouche, Prue’s pet hate. “It’s not what you order, it’s usually very good and it takes the edge of your appetite.”

The duck pancake arrives and Prue approves of its simple presentation, declaring, “I hate pretentious sophistication. I like food to look as though it fell on the plate. I don’t like to see the chef’s thumbprint on every plate and I’m absolutely opposed to foam in any form!” The pancake, unceremoniously prodded, reveals its contents. After the first mouthful, Prue declares, “It’s good,” and then offers me a forkful to taste.

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