A long time ago I went to a restaurant called Pharmacy in Notting Hill. The décor was a complete surprise – because it looked vaguely like what it said it was – which was definitely not a restaurant. It looked like a pharmacy in a psychedelic dream, very wild and quite wonderful. In fact, it was some mad hallucinogenic vision of a pharmacy. I don’t remember the food at all, but the place remained on my list of memorable meals. I believe it closed sometime in 2003.
Last week, a foodie friend of mine told me that Pharmacy 2 had just opened in Vauxhall within the Newport Street Gallery, and that it was a collaboration between artist Damien Hirst and chef Mark Hix. By now I had eaten in two of Mark Hix’s other restaurants, and hoped that the food at Pharmacy 2 would live up to his other ventures.Fortunately, it did – but again the décor was a major part of the memory. The room is big and stark, and covered with pop art kind of pharmacy effects, products and signs, and magic motifs of medicine, magic motifs of medicine, which, under ordinary circumstances, would be – well – ordinary, but these images were amazingly riveting. The restaurant is decorated with Hirst’s famous kaleidoscope butterflies, and has a bar stuffed with surgical kit and pills everywhere.
The food, however, was definitely not ordinary. To start, there were the ‘snacks’ – little plates filled with tasty tongue teasers. We chose cuttlefish croquettes with wild garlic mayonnaise and grilled chorizo with romesco sauce. The cuttlefish was only slightly more marvellous than the chorizo, which set a high standard.It was a good thing that our mains came quickly. Mine was Peter Hannan’s barbecued sugar-pit rib of beef with Bavarian potato salad. This perfectly cooked rib was well-spiced and very reminiscent of North Carolina cuisine, where my daughter-in-law grew up. My friend chose Thai green chicken and prawn curry, which she liked because its soft, mild spices reminded her of Asia where she spent a great deal of her life.We also snuck in an extra starter of ‘Heaven and Earth’, which is basically beautiful black pudding on crushed potatoes. This is a signature dish, but you have to like black pudding.
For dessert, we had perfect pineapple upside-down cake and absinthe jelly. The jelly tasted like a solid cocktail in a cocktail glass, which was made even nicer when accompanied by an English sparkling wine that has been winning lots of prizes. I liked it so much that I finished two glasses, which for an ‘eater’ like myself is an overdose, as I firmly believe that I would rather ‘eat’ my calories than drink them. On this occasion, I am afraid that the spectre of my scales in the morning was firmly hidden behind the old-fashioned, Champagne glasses that we used to use before flutes became fashionable.
The whole meal, like the décor, and the welcoming staff, was young, modern and upbeat. The feeling of ‘wellness’ was so pervasive that I almost forgot to take my pills when I went home, by which time I had visions of pills dancing in my head.
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. (Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.)
Images: Prudence Cuming Associates, 2H Restaurant Ltd