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A price worth paying

Published 30 January 1994
Style Magazine
31st article

Last year I went to Luxembourg to play a role for Steven Berkoff in the film of his riveting stage play, Decadence. My reward for that day and two half-days of travelling was £300, which remarkably shrank to £240 because of the magic words "withholding tax". The film opened in London a few days ago and I await $10m offers. In the meantime I ruminate on the economics of acting.

I took my fellow three thespians to lunch at the Cafe Phoenix, just off the main square. It was a bit like dining in Esher but the food was better. Price £110. During the afternoon the actor, Edward Duke, was thumbing through the Michelin Guide. "There's a two-star restaurant here," he announced. "I shall take you all there to dinner," I stated. Thus we found ourselves, four artistes du cinema, sitting in the extremely lovely setting of a 16th-century castle. The restaurant is called Saint-Michel and had recently been taken over by a German chef-proprietaire, Jorg Glauben. The food was more than excellent.

We discussed the day's filming, stuffing ourselves on lobster salad with mango and avocat, a fine foie gras d'oie maison, an exceptional ravioli of langoustines, pigeon stuffed with foie gras, a turbot with fine sliced potatoes and sauce persillee, a very good wine and tip-top desserts. If you feel an urge to rush off to Luxembourg, you should definitely visit the Saint-Michel. Even though my bill came, with tip rounding it off, to £600! When I reckoned up the meals I'd paid for, and a few bits and pieces I'd laid out, my day of acting had cost me more than £500!

One Sunday a few weeks later I found myself eating the robust food at the Twickenham Film Studios Restaurant. I sat with Phil Collins, Richard E Grant and others, making, for free, a student film, Calliope. Richard Grant murmured aloud, wondering why he was giving up his one day off from the theatre to act for nothing. "I'm doing very well," I said. "On my last acting job I lost more than £500. For me, nothing is a profit!"

Another highly unprofitable experience is paying money to enter a restaurant in order to pay yet more money. To cough up £250 joining fee and £500 a year for the honour of eating in the vastly uncomfortable and over-crowded Harry's Bar in Mayfair, I find ridiculous. Especially as the prices are unbelievably high anyway. But it's the most "in" place in town. Mark Birley has a wondrous way with the super-rich because they also pay the same amounts to dine and dance in Annabel's and to eat in his clubby-type restaurant, Mark's Club. I was once persuaded to join Mark's. But after I'd paid my fees they kept writing to me and asking me to pay my fees! They claimed they'd never received them, even weeks after their bank and mine showed they had! So I asked for my money back and left. But Mark's Club has some of the best food in town, if you feel like paying through the nose for it.

I joined the discotheque Tramp in July 1970, shortly after it opened. There the food, simple and well-done, is served among the amazing cacophony of old-fashioned dolly birds, not infrequent major movie stars and even a well-known newspaper editor. The bangers and mash, smoked salmon, hamburgers et al are all as good as you could ask for. But as I so seldom go, I asked the host, Johnny Gold, "Am I still paying you annually on a banker's order?" It seemed I was. But not the £300 per year it costs now. "You pay all of £10.50," Johnny said. "We keep our membership fees down to the amount when you joined." Even I didn't have the heart to cancel that!


Having read the letter from Ian Shirley (Style & Travel, January 2), in which he describes a confrontation with Marco Pierre White following a meal at the Hyde Park hotel, I felt I must write with an account of a similar confrontation of my own, but which had a quite different outcome. Three years ago, my husband and I ate at Harvey's in Wandsworth, which was then owned by Marco Pierre White. My husband's meal included oysters, and he was really quite sick that night. The following day I telephoned Harvey's and had a 30-minute conversation with Marco Pierre White. I explained what had happened; he was initially rather antagonistic and defensive, but after discussing the situation fully, he offered us another meal at his expense, provided we paid for the wine. I thought this was very fair. I would also like to say that we have never eaten as well anywhere else.
Jane Shortt, London SW20

Samantha Simson's disappointing meal at Brown's hotel (Restaurant Watch, January 23) replicates my own experience at this once-renowned establishment. After being served dried-up cardboard kipper fillets, probably frozen, for breakfast at the Grosvenor House hotel when I was anticipating a tasty Scotch kipper, I have now decided that I will put myself to a great deal of inconvenience and make some long detours to avoid subjecting my digestion and temper to the mediocrity which the Forte organisation seems to impose on every up-market establishment it acquires. My recurring nightmare is that one day they will finally obtain control of Claridge's, where, at present, I know I will always get good food, impeccable service, and unfailing courtesy.
D B Pallis, Tunbridge Wells, Kent