The British are an island people with strange habits. One of them is to picnic inside the family car. A British family will drive up to a beautiful picnic site, and enjoy their picnic (usually packed the night before), whilst sitting in the car, with the windows rolled up tightly to keep out wasps and bees. Inside the car it gets hot and sweaty while the smell of day old tuna fish sandwiches begins to permeate the upholstery; a long lasting olfactory reminder of a fun day out.
This curious practice is dying out, but Ralph Lauren has introduced an urban version. Ralph’s, his eponymously named cafe is based in Regents Street in London. The area has the highest concentration of restaurants, coffee shops and cocktail bars per square mile in Europe. But why enjoy yourself in a nice bar or restaurant when you can eat and drink in an airless shop, surrounded by mannequins and shop assistants? It is a most British concept.
Ralph’s is decorated in the Ralph Lauren signature style – a Brooklyn native’s vision of how people in England live when they are not upstairs at Downton Abbey. It’s a pleasant enough space with pictures of horses and rather fey looking chaps in pastel polo clothing. There’s enough wood panelling and baize wallpaper to fill the boardroom of an insurance company. There’s room for perhaps 30 covers.
The menu is unexceptional – eggs, club sandwiches, burgers and the like. My club sandwich came with a choice of white bread – toasted or plain. I can confirm that the bread was reassuringly white. And toasted.
The Bloody Mary is the standard cocktail one orders in a place like Ralph’s. A well made Bloody Mary must have enough chilli and horseradish to pack a one-two punch. The initial burn is replaced by a warming sensation that suffuses the nether regions. This is an indication that the elixir is working. Or that you have wet yourself. Ralph’s makes a tamer Bloody Mary. Theirs is quite thin, and uses a delicate, almost feminine blend of spices with strong overnotes of cinnamon and bergamot. Despite lacking the traditional one-two punch, it is very good.
My Old fashioned was beautifully made, with a gorgeous block of freshly carved, clear, ice. I found it a bit sweet, but that could be my early morning tastebuds. Bourbon doesn’t always agree with me at breakfast.
If you must sit in a store with your purchases while you have a drink, then Ralph’s just about makes sense. It really is no better or no worse than a dozen other places in spitting distance. I suspect Mr Lauren will transform Ralph’s into a more traditional retail space before long.