British police are probing a violent public domestic row between kitchen diva Nigella Lawson and multimillionaire husband Charles Saatchi, who allegedly tried to choke her as they ate Sunday lunch.
Photos published by a British Sunday newspaper show art collector Saatchi grabbing his wife by the neck up to four times and trying to throttle her at their favourite Mayfair restaurant.
The 53-year-old Lawson - dubbed the "Domestic Goddess" - gulped her glass of red wine empty and then tried to pacify her husband during the row. She placed her hand across the table and kissed him on the cheek.
But the 70-year-old Saatchi appeared to be in no mood for reconciliation and is pictured "tweaking" - or pinching - her nose as the socialite couple sat opposite each other and with their fellow diners agog.
Saatchi, according to several witnesses in the packed seafood eatery Scott's, impatiently tapped a cigarette on the table as his wife wept and dabbed tears from her eyes with a serviette.
He then walked out of the restaurant and his distraught wife followed soon after. The couple then left in the same car, according to Sunday People, which published a series of photos.
One witness dining near the couple told journalists: "It was utterly shocking.
"I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset.
"She had a real look of fear on her face. And yet she kissed him. She appeared to be a woman who loves him but was clearly unable to stop him being abusive, frightening and disrespectful to her."
Scotland Yard said officers from its Community Safety Unit were aware of the incident and said "inquiries are in hand to establish the facts".
No formal investigation has been launched and a spokesman for Lawson said she had not lodged a complaint.
But it seems likely that officers will follow protocol and quiz the pair about their very public bust-up, which appears to have placed extra strain on their well-publicised, volatile 10-year marriage.
Thought to be worth £128 million (HK$1.56 billion), the couple, regulars at Scott's, had just finished eating al fresco, where they prefer to sit among the olive trees to allow Saatchi to smoke.
Diners were reported to have said Saatchi started the heated and angry exchange with his wife.
Saatchi, Britain's best-known art collector, told London's Evening Standard newspaper the pictures misrepresented a "playful tiff". Saatchi, an Evening Standard columnist, said "the pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place".
"About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point," he was quoted as saying. "There was no grip, it was a playful tiff."
He said they "had made up by the time we were home".
The very public row sparked widespread media chatter and comment, with Labour lawmaker Luciana Berger tweeting: "A man reportedly grasps a woman by the neck four times in public and no one intervenes - including the photographer who took the photos." Rights groups campaigning for action against domestic abuse and violence against women called for a police investigation.
Lawson has become a by-word for seductive cuisine and velvety dinner parties for the middle classes. And she is widely admired among women for promoting curvaceousness, plus-10 dress sizes and chocolate.
Quite what happened over lunch remains the subject of much speculation.
Sunday appeared to start with a dish of domestic bliss in the Lawson-Saatchi household.
Lawson tweeted a photo of her breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs but then things went cold at Scott's.
Lawson has previously spoken of the tempestuous side to the couple's relationship, however, and said she "goes quiet whenever her husband explodes".
"Then I am a nest of horrible festeringness [sic]," she said in a 2007 interview.
Additional reporting by Associated Press