It’s Galway Races week.
This year, they’ll be quieter than ever.
Oh the days of the famous Fianna Fáil tent are long gone.
But there’ll be hardly anyone there because of Covid-19.
I was sent there once, to do the diary for the Evening Herald.
And I know I’ve told this story before. But it’s that week again. So I’m telling it again with a bit more detail about the main character.
It was some time back in the Eighties and I was struggling a little to get enough material to fill a page every day.
And then I struck lucky.
I bumped into Peter Langan.
You may not have heard of Peter.
He established a restaurant in London, partnered by Michael Caine and chef Richard Shepherd.
Langan’s Brassserie became THE place to eat and THE place to be seen in London.
And was probably as much because of, as well as despite, Peter’s eccentric and erratic behaviour due to him being a chronic alcoholic.
Eccentric and erratic?
For example, when renowned art critic Brian Sewell asked Peter if he could bring his dog Rosie into the Odin’s restaurant, which he also owned, to mark her recovery from surgery, Peter agreed.
So the three of them sat at a table, Brian ate, Peter drank – and the dog got stuck into some diced steak.
‘When a group of Australians objected, Peter identified himself as the owner and said: “I’d rather have this restaurant full of dogs than Australians. They have better manners.” ’
On another occasion an outraged woman found a dead cockroach in the ladies’ loo and complained. He put her right: “It can’t be one of ours. This cockroach is dead. All ours are alive and healthy.” He promptly swallowed it, washed it down with vintage Krug.
He commissioned the artist Patrick Procktor to paint a mural in the restaurant. He didn’t like the result – a painting of Venice – so he had it covered in brown varnish which was subsequently removed.
Michael Caine was one of the three partners in the restaurant.
Peter described Caine as a “mediocrity with halitosis who has a council house mind”, while Caine retorted: “Peter stumbles around in a cloud of his own vomit and is a complete social embarrassment. You would have a more interesting conversation with a cabbage.”
Anyway, I introduced myself to him in Galway and he asked me if I’d like to join him for lunch.
So we went into the lunch tent and sat down and ordered I can’t remember what.
And champagne of course.
The food arrived, he looked at it and called the waitress and asked her to take it away.
“What’s on the dessert menu?” he asked her.
She read out a list. And one of the items was Black Forest Gateau.
“Two Black Forest Gateau,” he said turning to me to say “you can’t go wrong with Black Forest Gateau.”
“It’s not defrosted yet,” the waitress told the owner of a Two Michelin star restaurant in London.
He said not a word but got up, bidding me to follow him, and we went to the bar. I drank Guinness, he drank champagne. I remember little else.
Peter died in December 1988 in a fire at his home near London. Most people believe he set the fire himself after realising his marriage to his wife Susan was over.
She survived. He died some days later.
She still speaks fondly of him.
And my memories, limited though they may be, through my own fault!, are similarly of a nice, funny, gentle kind of guy – who clearly had a problem.
He made my week in Galway!