Parkes’ Restaurant—eating place of the swinging sixties

Beauchamp_Place_In his Good Food Guide of 1961-62 Raymond Postgate describes the trendy Parkes’ Restaurant at Beauchamp Place (above) in Kensington as ‘ a personal restaurant, dependent upon Mr Ray Parkes, the chef and owner, who offers in his basement at high prices what is claimed to be , and up to date is, haute cuisine.’

Postgate then complains of the ‘ exasperating whimsicality ‘ of such named dishes as ‘ Mr Goldstein’s Prawns’ (15/6), ‘Ugly Duckling’ (25/-), ‘Sweet Mysteries of Life’ (21/-). However, Postgate admires the fact that the ‘very inventive ‘ Parkes was always creating new dishes and provided such large helpings that ‘ the place isn’t quite as dear as it sounds’. Some Jot readers who dined at Parkes’ might recall what these whimsically named dishes actually were.

Parkes is credited with being a pioneer of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that properly began in the seventies, but the conventionally named dishes cited by Postgate, including ‘fillet of beef en croute’ and ‘duck and truffle pate’ don’t sound particularly ‘ nouvelle’. Nevertheless, in his time Ray Parkes was rightly considered an ‘original genius ‘. Egon Ronay described him as ‘ absolutely unique ‘, and the author of British Gastronomy, Gregory Houston Bowden, wrote: ‘ Many experts rate him almost on a par with the chef that he himself admired most, Ferdnand Point of the ‘Restaurant de la Pyramide’ in Vienne.

In addition to his eccentricy as a chef, Parkes was also unusual in that he had no licence. Diners were invited to bring their own wine. Another attraction for the many show-biz clientele that tended to eat at Parkes’ was the fact that it might be open until 2.30 in the morning. [R.M.Healey]

16 thoughts on “Parkes’ Restaurant—eating place of the swinging sixties

      1. Edwin Self

        Parkes is my all time favorite restaurant. Ten years after I dined these once a week, I returned. The maitre’d said welcome back. I told him I had been away for a decade. He said that he remembered me and asked if I wanted to see where I used to sit, adding that the room was not in use today. There it was!. I returned a year later and Parkes was shuttered. I felt it had stayed open just for me. A Twilight Zone experience.

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        1. Sally Hankin

          I was there in 1973. I was alone and found it magical with the beautiful menu all tied up in branches. Beautiful food and great service. I’ll never forget!

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      2. Kenneth Jordan

        My partner Ken Magson worked as an under chef at Parkes, and was always very grateful for the opportunity to progress as a chef. He never had a bad word to say about Ray. His signature dish at dinners was inevitably the Beef en Croute. Vern Lambert, later the fashion historian, also worked there as a waiter in the evenings after a day working at The Chelsea Antiques Market.

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  1. Thomas McGonigle

    I ate left-overs there after being invited by Tom Benson to come to the place. I met Benson in a Dublin pub and he said come to the restaurant after nine or so …I remember him saying Margaret and Tony had been in and I had what they couldn’t eat..creamed asparagus I think… I went other times and even once to Benson’s flat where he showed me the desk where he composed the menu..he hoped to get a picture from Francis Bacon. He never charged me as he knew I couldn’t afford it… it was his little bit in helping a writer not to starve One of those accidental meetings… O, I remember we had to go Harrods to get raspberries…

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  2. Suzy Stewart Dubot

    I was a bartender in Mr. Benson’s Bar along with Charles Rice (in the beginning). Left in 1971, but with precious memories. Fabulous place to work at that time.
    When Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden came to dine with Peter Sellers and Samantha Eggar, they left before finishing their bottle of Romanee Conti (extremely expensive). While the ladies were busy elsewhere, the men asked if they might finish the bottle they’d started. As was the chef’s privilege, he’d already taken what was left for himself. The restaurant was obliged to open a new bottle to send — up on the house!

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    1. Shifty

      I regularly had drinks in the bar at Parkes on the weird squeaky plastic bright lime green chairs accompanied by garlic bread and tzatziki I think it was .One day ,in about 1975 it would have been ,I ordered a Black Velvet but the barman apologised saying that he had no GUINESS.” Go to the -uckin pub and -uckin get some then …” came a voice from behind me …it was the inimitable Tom Benson .It was also the magnificent Hesketh Racing era and they their followers and friends frequently visited for refreshment I recall.

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  3. Mark Lloyd

    We used to supply fruit and veg to Parkes back in the late 70s and early 80’s. Spike was a lovely fella.

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  4. Anonymous

    My Mum, Jane Slater worked there early on. There was a dish called Janie’s Ding Dong and she once told Princess Margaret to hang up her own coat. What fun that must have been..

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  5. Patrick

    have picked up a vintage menu by chef Parkes dated 1962,
    and am so enjoying learning about the restaurant and the people.
    this one does indeed cite – Hen Turkey in Red Wine with Black Cherries + Chestnuts,
    Ugly Duckling with Peaches.
    wonderful.

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  6. Tim Reid

    I believe John Lennon dined at Parkes and alluded to it in his cryptic White Album classic, “Glass Onion”!

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  7. Mario Wyn-Jones

    I worked there as sommelier and assistant manager from 1969 for 6 years . Tom Benson had by then taken over having inherited the restaurant from Ray Parkes. It was the haunt of royalty, film and rock stars including Paul Mcartney, John Lennon, David Bowie, Tony Curtis, Goldie Hawn, Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, Terrence Stamp the list goes on and on. The food was extraordinarily imaginative but owing to the compact size of the kitchen much preparation relied on very expensive ingredients from Harrods Food Hall combined with the contents of canned goods. Tinned vichyssoise went into the caviar soup (lumpfish roe for ordinary punters the real McCoy for select others . Starters and desserts were always garnished with a colourful corsage of seasonal flowers. Flowers also featured strongly in the decor and the weekly flower bill was enormous.

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  8. Sally Hankin

    I was there in 1973. I was alone and found it magical with the beautiful menu all tied up in branches. Beautiful food and great service. I’ll never forget!

    Reply
  9. Susan Rushworth

    I remember eating thereon many occasions, the food was excellent and over the years I have used the idea of fresh flowers on the plates at dinner parties. Wonderful memories from the 60’s

    Reply

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