Stephen Jardine: What to do when dining with stars

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
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Doctor Who walked into a restaurant. It’s not a joke but what actually happened in Edinburgh this week.

Peter Capaldi was at an event in the capital and strolled into a nearby eatery afterwards for dinner. With five million viewers following the adventures of the latest incarnation of the intergalactic time traveller, it’s not surprising Capaldi’s presence caused quite a stir on a quiet Wednesday night in October.

For restaurants, famous customers at any time are a welcome accolade. For years The Ivy in London traded on its reputation as the top celebrity place to eat. If you wanted to see a familiar face, The Ivy was the place to go.

Since then a string of London eateries including The Collection, Nobu and St John have also moved into the spotlight. At the moment the ultimate celebrity restaurant hang-out is the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone. Within weeks of opening it had attracted David Cameron, Prince Andrew and Lindsay Lohan.

That might be enough to put some people off their dinner but for others the chance to rub shoulders with celebrity is enough to justify the £28 for beef short ribs. That’s if they can get a reservation. The Chiltern Firehouse is booked months in advance with a waiting list so long that the Evening Standard produced a special feature with tips on how to beat the queue.

The only suggestion that seemed likely to work involved getting a job at the Chiltern Firehouse but that seems a bit extreme.

In Scotland we don’t have restaurant queue etiquette to worry about. Ending up sitting next to a celebrity is down to luck as much as guile.

A couple of years ago I was in an Edinburgh restaurant when Kim Cattrall walked in at the height of her Sex and the City fame. For a moment the room fell silent but, being Edinburgh, normal aloofness was soon restored. However, two Americans at the bar couldn’t resist going over to ask for a photograph. For a restaurant, that’s when things get tricky. In this case the manager steered the pair back to the bar for another drink. That’s the classy way to do it.

In other restaurants, staff will be straight on the phone to the papers, trying to make a quick £50 from passing on a tip that a famous face will soon be walking out the front door. Others wait to spill the beans later on who ate what and with whom. That might not bother reality TV celebs but real stars value their privacy.

When Nicole Kidman was filming The Railway Man in Edinburgh in 2012, she ate in the same restaurant three times in one week. Partly that was because she loved the food, but it was also because her visits remained utterly private.

So where did Peter Capaldi end up having dinner and what did he have? That would be telling.