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Rakewell

Pills, thrills and (musical) bellyaches: lunch, the Damien Hirst way

4 May 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Against his expectations, Rakewell enjoyed his visit to the resuscitated Pharmacy restaurant at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery last week. The gaff is as stylised as a Jeff Wall photo: bar stools are fashioned into pills, medicine cabinets line the walls and everything – from the (comfortable) chairs to the floor to the greaseproof paper in which a bucket of (very good) chips comes wrapped – is stamped with the restaurant’s cod-pharmaceutical livery. 

Damien Hirst's Pharmacy 2

Pharmacy 2 in Vauxhall. Prudence Cuming Associates © 2H Restaurant Ltd.

The wine list is reasonable and the grub, courtesy of Mark Hix, isn’t bad either. You could rack up a bill to rival the cost of one of Hirst’s formaldehyde carcasses (almost) – but equally, you could settle for an enormous starter of brik à l’oeuf de canard for £6.95 and be sated for the next fortnight. 

That item – a Tunisian speciality that encases a runny egg inside a vast, crispy slab of fried filo pastry – is a bit of an anomaly on this menu. The rest, keeping with Hix’s successful formula, is a hotchpotch of glammed-up takes on meat, mixed in with semi-ironic bistro cliches: the prawn cocktail and eggs benedict play to the sort of person who uses ‘brunch’ as a verb, while a liberal deployment of black pudding, chitterlings and the like will please traditionalists. It’s all very well done – delicious, actually – but who on earth would come here for the food? This is an event restaurant, stupid. 

Crushed avocado on toast with chilli at Damien Hirst's Pharmacy 2

Crushed avocado on toast with chilli. Jason Lowe © 2H Restaurant Ltd.

‘I didn’t expect the place to look so sexy,’ Rakewell overheard a punter at a neighbouring table confess. Sexy? That depends on your preference. But it is very, very clean. 

Two complaints, though. Firstly, given the attention to detail that has gone into the restaurant, you might expect slightly sturdier tables. These, despite their Hirstian branding, are narrow, cheap affairs – the sort of thing you might expect to find in a threadbare museum café.

Secondly, and more importantly: the music. Rakewell and his companion entered to the sound of the Kaiser Chiefs’ 2007 hit ‘Ruby’, and laughed it off as an unfortunate accident of the iPod shuffle function. Next came a song by mid-2000s indie also-rans the Fratellis. Then Badly Drawn Boy. ‘Surely they won’t play Toploader’s “Dancing in the Moonlight”?’, the Rake’s companion wondered aloud. They did. 

At this point, Rakewell caught the attention of a passing waiter: ‘Does Damien choose the playlists?’ ‘No comment,’ replied the Pharmacy man, grimacing.

Damien Hirst and Mark Hix at Pharmacy 2

Damien Hirst and Mark Hix at Pharmacy 2. Prudence Cuming Associates © 2H Restaurant Ltd.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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