hat a book called The Theory and Practice of Lunch was ever published has always struck me as rather gleefully improbable — but then it was written by Keith Waterhouse, and it was the Eighties. The grandiloquent title is a wry joke: Waterhouse’s “theory” boils down to the idea that lunch basically should either be for pals drinking too much or as a warm-up for those who fancy each other, and either way is by a mile the greatest meal. Waterhouse’s other supposition is that the best restaurants are facilitators of fun and backdrops for bad behaviour, and should never distract from that.
The restaurateur and art dealer Andrew Edmunds, who died unexpectedly on Sunday aged 79, understood this idea entirely (and wasn’t copying anyone; his eponymous place opened in 1985, Waterhouse’s book came out in 1986). Opened on Soho’s Lexington Street next to his print shop, Edmunds’ British-French bistro is the unchanging ideal of one: cramped and candlelit, a floor of dark-stained wood, wallpaper still with woodchip in it. Tables are covered with white cloth, crockery is simple. Menus are handwritten daily, usually offering whole Dover soles and mackerel, lamb sweetbreads and slow-braised short ribs, that sort of thing. The wine list is famous — well, for a wine list — as it seems not to have any bad bottles and the mark-up is mostly minute. You sense Edmunds wanted his guests to have a good time.
And so he attracted writers, artists and their dealers, a few actors, politicians and plenty of those sorts who seem to have only the vaguest of professions but the clearest of incomes. The place picked up a reputation for sparking romance, which is hardly a surprise: every table for two puts its diners knee-to-knee, cheek-to-cheek. Lowering a menu from in front of the face feels like a come on here.
Edmunds’ passing was quickly and mournfully picked up across Twitter and Instagram, and columns of great affection materialised from the Bank Holiday fog. He has been described as discreet, thoughtful, enormously bright, warm, kind; there is an enormous sense of loss. It is a relief that his restaurant is set to carry on: in a part of town where uncaring developers greedily crawl, it is a stalwart, an unfailing old reliable. I think it is a gift. From him to us. That’s my theory.