I'm just back from the AA's big annual awards bash at the Park Lane Hilton, and it's been a fascinating few hours in the company of - or at least in the same room as - some of the nation's finest hob-hoggers. From my seat at table 42, I could see Glynn Purnell, Tom Aikens, Simon Radley, Richard Corrigan, Helene Darroze, Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill, John Burton-Race, Claude Bosi and Sat Bains, and that was without turning round. Aiden Byrne, from round our way in Lymm, had picked up his three-rosette plate for The Church Green earlier, but told me that his new project, The White House in Prestbury, will now be delayed until 2010.
If you're after the full round-up of gongs, you're best off with Caterer, but from 20 awards, the highlights were a nice spread of out-of-London winners and Raymond Blanc's acceptance of his lifetime achievement award. We were treated to archive film showing off Blanc's luxuriant haircuts past, before halfway through a humble, earnest speech, a tired and emotional John Burton Race leapt onto the stage. I thought it was going to go a bit Kanye West, but the white-haired kitchen lothario kept it to, "He's the most fantastic bloody cook we've got. I love him!" before bounding off.
Other winners, who received an air kiss from host Natasha Kaplinsky, resplendent in cerise, included Sat Bains for his new ranking of five AA rosettes, Marcus Wareing, a very popular winner of the Chefs' Chef award, and Richard Corrigan, whose Mayfair restaurant was chosen as AA Restaurant of the Year London. Predictably, though, given that the audience was largely men of a certain age, the biggest whoop whoop went to Glynn Purnell. Apart from being a figure of merriment and delight in the industry and winner of AA Restaurant of the Year England, he took it upon himself to kiss and squeeze Kappers with the enthusiasm of a sailor home on shore leave.
Monday nights, when many restaurants close, are a fine time for this kind of event, but the tiredness was showing for chefs who may normally be snoozing on their night off. Poor Helene Darroze looked thoroughly exhausted and made her excuses soon after the lovely people from The Connaught, whose table I was on, picked up their award for Hotel of the Year London. And as I passed Angela Hartnett on the way out, she could be heard to respond to the suggestion of further drinks and dancing with, "Christ, no. It's Monday night!" A woman after my own heart. And so to bed.