London, Oct. 2 (Reuters): Brown paper obscures the windows of the restaurant where once pan-fried mullet was served up with marinated purple aubergine. The sign above the locked door says GRANITA. And therein, just maybe, lies a tale.
It was here, in this once trendy shopfront restaurant in London’s once trendiest neighbourhood, that two ferociously ambitious politicians met for dinner nine years ago and may or may not have hatched a plan to lead Britain for a generation.
With Prime Minister Tony Blair battered over Iraq, the notorious “Granita deal”, in which Blair and future treasury secretary Gordon Brown supposedly divided power, is once again the favoured talking point of Britain’s chattering classes.
Brown, brilliant but less obviously electable than Blair, supposedly agreed to back his dinner companion as Labour Party leader. In return, Blair would hand over the premiership one day. Neither has ever confirmed the story, but it has since run behind British politics like some archetypal Shakespeare play.
It finally got a dramatic staging on Sunday in a TV movie, with an actor playing a shifty-eyed “Blair” nibbling at a plate of rabbit while a brooding “Brown” simmered across the table.
The following morning, the real Brown, 52, delivered a thundering speech to Labour's annual conference, which most of Britain’s political class read as a brazen demand Blair live up to his side of the bargain one of these days, and go.
Blair, 50, followed the next day with a soliloquy of his own, saying he would never quit.
And so future playwrights will have to wait to find out how the final act of “Granita deal” plays out.
But Blair had best hope he fares better than the bistro in Act I Scene I.
A decade ago London was a much different place, both culinarily and politically. British food, like its long-serving Conservative Party government, undeniably lacked panache.
The remedies for both were found in the north London borough of Islington, a cluster of stately old townhouses.
Blair, with the buttery charisma of Bill Clinton, lived around the corner from Granita, one of a new wave of nouvelle cuisine bistros with minimalist decor and fresh food.
“British food used to be terrible,” said Matthew Lewin, restaurant critic for the local Islington and Highbury Express newspaper. “Then about 10 years ago there was a whole new wave of cooking, far less elaborate and much more simple.” Granita’s original owner sold it last year. A promising French-Algerian chef left soon after, and the restaurant quickly went down hill. It closed a few weeks ago.
Blair’s old neighbourhood, like Blair himself, has long since crossed the threshold from hip to respectable.
Islington is now lined with chain pizzerias and arty cafes. There are five Starbucks outlets and a giant multiplex cinema.
Bohemians have moved on to shabbier neighbourhoods.
So could Blair learn a lesson from Granita' Has he come to seem like last decade’s citrus and chives salmon carpaccio'
“It’s a fair point,” said Lewin. “Sometimes you have to have to find new ingredients.”