"This is a love story."
And so the second series of Fleabag came careering onto our screens, drizzled with Frank Sinatra's Strangers in the Night, and jabbing the boundaries of just how many gushing nosebleeds, wildly insensitive gifts, clandestine miscarriages and bouts of bitter bonhomie wrapped up in pseudo-happiness, you can squeeze around one dining table.
Series two episode one is verging on a 'bottle episode'; for the main part, Fleabag (writer-lead) Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her acquaintances spar around the table of an upmarket steak restaurant, during an insufferably-prickly family get-together. It wasn't a set; it's a real restaurant in the heart of London, and you can dine there. Just try not to wallop your waitress in the chops.
Where is Fleabag Series 2 Episode 1 filmed?
Smith & Wollensky, housed in the old Adelphi Hotel, just off Strand. To be precise, the basement section. Our contact, who worked on the episode, tells us that Phoebe Waller-Bridge "always had in mind an intimate, happening, New York feeling bistro — the kind of place [Olivia Colman's] Godmother would love to host her engagement dinner at."
We're not sure that's a compliment or not, seeing how utterly execrable — and flawed in good taste — Godmother is. Indeed, Jay Rayner said of S&W in 2015 that it was shame that the American import 'didn't sink on the way over here.' That's harsh: we love the faux 1930s Manhattan decor, its bottle-green chairs, geometric tiles and lighting so dim, you could dine metres from an arch enemy, without them ever knowing.
Apparently S&W has also had starring roles in The Crown and Stan and Ollie, although don't ask us which bits.
Was the episode of Fleabag all filmed at Smith & Wollensky?
Not quite. The swish toilets — which appear at the very beginning of the episode, and witness the biggest drama of the episode — were purpose built in a studio, to fit in filming equipment. And the alleyway — where Fleabag and a dishy priest, played by Andrew Scott — spark up cigarettes and conversation — was also elsewhere.
But all those restaurant shots: Smith & Wollensky (crew and cast spent four days filming there). Which means you can dine on the very spot where Fleabag smacks the smarm-dripping Martin (Brett Gelman) right in the beard. You will, however, get thrown out if you try to recreate the scene.
Is the food the same?
Claire: "The sauce is disgusting"
Waitress: "Everything OK?"
Claire: "Oh it's delicious, thank you!"
A classic vignette from the episode (not to mention a sharp observation on the Brits' insufferable politeness). Contrary to Claire's appraisal, we can report that the sauce we had (béarnaise) is excellent. Then again, the Fleabag actors weren't eating off the actual S&W menu; a special one was created, because as with all film and TV productions, anything consumed on camera has to prepped by an official food hygienist in conjunction with a designer. (Yeah we just learned that too.)
And although the wait staff are diligent in real life, they're not trying to shove drinks down your throat, like the waitress in the episode (who also winds up with a face bloodier than one of S&W's fillets done rare).
Did the cast ever get together here for a proper meal?
We love the idea of Waller-Bridge, Colman and the others dining round the table post-shoot, in a bizarre mirror image of the horrendous on-screen repast. Unfortunately this didn't happen. Says our contact, "The crew did eat lunch there during one of our recce days, and enjoyed it immensely — but there weren't any cast present."
No-one even got round to signing one of the linen napkins, which are framed and hung by the toilets. Here you'll find a gallery of greats, including Tom Jones (who always orders the same steak and drink, like the bloody legend he is). Maybe the episode should have started with one of Tom's songs, rather than Frank's.
Fleabag, produced by Two Brothers Pictures, is a must-watch on BBC iPlayer.