Published 28 November 1993 Style Magazine 22nd article
Tea with Angela and Sparkle (Simon Townsley)
Well, I survived my open heart surgery. I even survived the hospital food, though it was touch and go whether Timothy Blow, the catering manager at the Princess Grace, would survive me. I think it's very good that hospital food is largely inedible. You don't have a great appetite and it helps you lose weight in my case, 15lb in 10 days! One of my first complaints was the fresh papaya salad which seemed a suitable starter. Unfortunately, this was so hard a chainsaw would have been needed to cut it.
A couple of days later I ordered the pitta bread filled with Greek salad and Feta cheese from the vegetarian menu, one of two menus on offer. Blow was called again. "What is that, Mr Blow?" I asked, pointing at the opened pitta bread. "Er...it's chicken, Mr Winner," he said uncomfortably. "Why is chicken in a salad on the vegetarian menu?" I asked. "I think the chef's mind must have been somewhere else," said Mr Blow.
From time to time I gave up on the hospital food and had some brought in. This was not always wise. Herschel Havakuk, who owns Harry Morgan, a delicatessen-restaurant in St John's Wood High Street, a Jewish place as close as you can get in London to New York's Stage or Little Carnegie, provided my friend Sparkle and me with a remarkable offering. There was chopped herring, chicken soup with kneidlach and lockshen, fried plaice and fried carp, chrane (a mixture of horseradish and beetroot sauce), coleslaw, matzos (a sort of unleavened bread), pickled cucumbers and various other Jewish bits and pieces. After my afternoon nap, the chief physiotherapist, Angela Templeman, came to take me for my walk round the corridors and stairs. I could hardly move, the weight of lunch was so heavy upon me.
Sparkle stayed at the hospital, taking time off during my afternoon naps to go to what used to be Maison Sagne in Marylebone High Street but which has recently been bought by Patisserie Valerie. There she would drink cappuccino and occasionally bring me back something highly unsuitable such as a pink marzipan pig with a chocolate bottom, or a meringue. Maison Sagne played an important part in my life. It was there as a child during the war that my mother would take me and encourage me, to much oohing and aahhing from her friends, to devour up to 12 cakes in one sitting.
I think every private London hospital should have in the lobby a statue of a rampant Jewish Mother. It is they, God bless them, who bring their children up in the belief that to eat a large meal, leaving nothing and seeking more, is a greater blessing than any academic or business achievement. "Look, see how he eats!" is announced with pride. Some 40 years later, the cardiologists of Harley Street reap the benefit as they swap clogged arteries and sit gravely by the bed of the former-junior nosh-champions. But bad habits die hard, and the day before I was to leave hospital, after only nine nights, my cardiologist gave me permission to take an outing to Patisserie Valerie at Sagne as it is now called. The Rolls drew solemnly up at the hospital entrance. I was ready in my Turnbull & Asser silk dressing gown, and accompanied by Sparkle (real name Catherine Neilson) and watched over by Angela, we drove the few yards to the cafe. There we devoured cakes and coffee. I was only meant to have the meringue with cream, but I admit to eating more than half of the rum baba put on the table as decoration by The Sunday Times photographer. Mother would have been proud.
Am I the only person in Britain sick and tired of hearing about Terence Conran's various eating establishments? I probably speak for many when I say enough is enough. Another point is the apparent reluctance of your columnists to try restaurants outside London. Hard as it may be for Londoners to believe, people living away from the metropolis do manage to eat out, often marvellously well, and still have change from £50 for four people. Send your reporters north. Jennifer Robb, Manchester
As a vegetarian who loves good food I am increasingly encouraged by the growing number of chefs who make the effort to include imaginative vegetarian options on their menu The Lygon Arms, The Lanesborough and Snows on the Green, to name a few. Unfortunately, there are still some chefs who disdain to cater for our dietary requirements, believing that we will be satisfied with a plate of vegetables. I recently ate at Ian McDonald's L'Epicurean restaurant in Cheltenham, having given them 48 hours' notice that I was a vegetarian. My first course was a small swirl of fresh tagliatelle with a minimal smattering of pan-fried mushrooms, which was dry and bland. When offered asparagus as a main course, I said I did not just want a plate of vegetables, but was assured the chef had something special in mind. I was served a portion of chargrilled asparagus with two small potato pancakes which were so hard that my efforts to cut them resulted in chunks flying off my plate on to the floor. Although the meal was somewhat redeemed by a superb lime tart, the bill for £103 for two, before service, hardly seemed justifiable. I wrote to Ian McDonald, but four weeks later I have not had a reply. What intrigues me is that our dinner was on a Saturday night when most good restaurants are full. There were several empty tables at L'Epicurean and I would have thought that McDonald would have encouraged new customers rather than make them feel that they were an inconvenience.
Valerie Greenberg, Ab Lench, Worcestershire
Long time, we brothers feed Cardiff. Soon now, we open best ristorante in London, maybe best in world. So how much we pay you not to tell Signor Winner where?
Beppo and Sergio, Cardiff