Midweek Jazz at the Ascot

I hadn’t been to the Ascot Hotel since God was a girl. If I remember correctly, my last visit entailed an hysterically delightful Abbaesque drag show with doos-wyn, creaky props and – possibly deliberate – bad lighting. Then the Ascot disappeared into Norwood decay for many years, re-merging a couple of years ago as a boutique hotel, still with oodles of 50s style.

I’d been meaning to pay it a visit for yonks, but it wasn’t until Kathy Raven said let’s get a table together that I got my act together. There’s jazz on Thursday night, she said. Seven for seven-thirty. It was the last bit that captured my attention. Early evening midweek jazz caters perfectly to my suburban tastes. None of this foolish music starts at nine stuff for me.

One of the great things about the Ascot is its location – and abundant parking. Although I’m glad I don’t actually live in the neighbourhood, I find it reassuring to be able to park outside someone’s house and to walk thirty paces up towards Grant Ave to find a bit of night life.

And there it was in all its polished glory: a gleaming balcony bedecked with cocktail tables, stylishly dressed patrons and a middle-aged he-must-be-a-writer in for good measure. I was greeted like a frequent, honoured guest at the red-carpeted entrance by two utterly charming young men, and shown to the table in the adjacent bar stroke restaurant stroke lounge.

I was the first to arrive. I can’t help it. If it says seven for seven-thirty then I’ll arrive at seven-fifteen. I try to be late but should really just give in to my obsessive punctuality. My mother says it’s because I was born six weeks early. I’ll buy that.

So I sat alone for all of three seconds when another charming young man came and offered me a glass of wine. He was the waiter, so I said yes. I’m still kicking myself that I can’t remember his name because he was the kind of waiter you request on return visits. He was just so polite. Friendly. Efficient.

At seven-thirty on the dot Andrew Massey and Andre Behnke stepped up to the keyboard and drums to deliver the kind of sensual, soothing, Michael Franks Popsicle Toes type jazz that makes your own curl. Andrew (on drums and vocals) must have been crooning since birth. His voice adapted slightly to every song, capturing the essence of the mood and era. I could feel the tension of the day drift out into the night. Magic.

By this time our table was occupied by Ms Raven and other serious music people. I tried not to gush inanely but the consensus was that these guys were good. Really good.

By now of course I was excited and already planning my next visit – preferably with my partner, my children, their partners, and ten of our closest friends. This is the kind of experience you want to share.

But you don’t want to eat there. It grieves me to say so but the classical urban aesthetics, welcoming charm, professional service and outstanding music all ground to a halt at the kitchen door.

I had been warned, but ever keen to give it a go I ordered the house salad. The light was dim so it wasn’t until I bit into a singed walnut and tasted the tongue-coating sunflower oil that I knew this wasn’t going to work. Another of our party ordered the minestrone: a tomatoey pool with an excess of pasta and an absence of the promised ‘market-fresh’ vegetables. I sent mine back because I simply couldn’t eat it. Our lovely waiter’s talents were wasted on the food.

I will be back though and look forward to autumn evenings when I can enjoy the open fire, the flickering candles and more soul massaging music. I’ll eat at home.

You’ll find the Ascot Hotel at 59 Grant Ave, Norwood.

You’ll find Andrew and Andre at Jazzco Productions. I’m tempted to organise an event just so I can hear them again.