There is one important ingredient for an enjoyable meal that I never see in any write-up: the customers. I used to enjoy Clarke's, a Kensington establishment where Sally knocks out impeccable food in her see-through kitchen. When her set meals achieved media recognition, the jovial clientele changed to impeccably suited businessmen, mixed with over-expectant "special occasion" groups. It scared me away.
For atmosphere, it's hard to beat Guilian Alonzi's Harbour Bar, a 1950s American-style diner in Scarborough. The customers are local tear-aways and wonderful old ladies. The ice-cream is the best I ever had.
The Belvedere in Holland Park was for years a musty old relic, with customers to match. Since John Gold, of Tramp, took it over, we locals are joined by his hyper-glittering followers, a smattering of writers, embassy types and TV moguls. On a good night (or bad, according to how you look at it) you might even see Andrew Neil, Joan Collins and Michael Caine.
Cecconi's in Mayfair is good too: garrulous Italians and Sean Connery. So is Cibo: rowdy media types, the Pinters, John Cleese and Bernardo Bertolucci. Wiltons in St James's is alive with millionaires, titles and cabinet ministers. I once spilt a jug of cream over the home secretary, but he took it very well.
My favourite is Kensington Place. A mixed lot of gays, men (including me) desperately trying to look younger than they are, some BBC "intellectuals" and from showbiz, Julie Christie, Sinead O'Connor and Princess Di. Could anyone ask for less?
I am not a wealthy individual, the leisure money that I have I spend wisely and after much deliberation. I have eaten at Monsieur Blanc's establishment four times this year alone, each time leaving more satisfied than before. If Ms Currie (Restaurant Watch, July 18) was to be so concerned with the bill, why on earth did she go there in the first place? Every time I've had the pleasure of dining at the restaurant I've always opted for the set menu, approx £35 per person. With a good recommended bottle of wine for £25, one can spend less than £100 and enjoy three or four hours being pampered like royalty, plus a table visit from Britain's finest chef.
Mark Sloper, Eastcote, Middlesex
How I agree with Edwina Currie's comments about Le-Manoir. My husband and I went for a special treat some five years ago. Young waiters giggled as they filled us up with bread and water, there was absolutely no ambience. The food was over-salted and meagre, and the bill was astronomical. It was the first time my most generous husband had left without giving a tip.
Sylvia St Inglis, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
It is ironic that you published a letter from Christopher Gilmour, of Christopher's American Grill, who supports your Restaurant Watch scheme. Recently I booked a table there for 10.20pm. I arrived on time and was told to sit in the bar while my "table was being prepared". Thirty minutes later, after enquiring a few times with the receptionist and the manageress, the table was still not ready. I waited another five minutes and left. I wrote to Mr Gilmour, but he has not replied. Surely an owner of a restaurant, like other businesses who receive a complaint, should respond, even if only to apologise.
Frank H Phillips, London W8
I eat out a lot, at nice places, and would be ashamed to put your silly coupon on the table. Eating out is always going to be a chancy business, when you don't yourself buy the meat, slave over the stove for hours reducing the sauces, and hire the staff. But I would not be afraid to complain politely about sloppy service or poor food.
Jenny Fieldgrass, London SW12