Published 20 March 1994 Style Magazine 38th article
Room with a future (George Jaworskyj)
In 1987 I put a number of major American stars I was employing into the newly opened Halcyon Hotel, a massively tarted up row of Victorian houses near my residence in Holland Park. As a result I got a 40% discount in their restaurant.
So awful was the food and service that I closed the account, but not before sending them a letter saying how sad it was that a good hotel had such a ghastly restaurant. Among the politer things I wrote was that the staff would be better off at the Berni Inn, Slough, the food was horrible and the head waiter declined to interrupt a long personal call on the phone because something as inconvenient as customers turned up.
A few years later I went there again and things had not improved. An American lady was now running the room. She walked up and down eating with her mouth open. I was served the worst dish I have ever tasted, supposedly warm duck salad, which was dried up, tough bits of duck, almost certainly from the day before, and some limp leaves.
When I was told they now had a new young chef who was very good I naturally viewed the news with total doubt. So I went to the pompously renamed Room At The Halcyon looking for trouble and it was soon available. It started when an extremely surly man answered the phone to take my booking. When I said I'd like to come between eight and eight-thirty he said: "Would you come at 8.30." I did as told, and was greeted by a restaurant with only four tables occupied. So why couldn't I have come earlier? At the desk where I had previously encountered rude restaurant managers there was no one at all. I greeted some friends sitting nearby and eventually a smartly dressed young lady turned up. "Ah," I said. "There is someone in charge." She ignored that pretty well and showed me to a disgusting corner harbouring the sort of tiny table where you face your guest and the next people are too close by far.
"Not for me," I said, and turned to go. "It's the second-best table," said the manageress desperately. "Simon Gray's at our best one, he comes in every night." Indeed the excellent playwright was in the other corner at a nice round table, and deservedly too.
On the way out I passed a round table I found acceptable. "How about this?" The manageress breathed a sigh of relief and Mrs Lagoudakos, my receptionist and a former Miss Great Britain, and I settled down. It is almost with regret I have to report that from then on things improved greatly.
There is a lengthy menu with a three-course set dinner at a bargain £17 per person, excluding service. I settled for that. Mrs Lagoudakos comes from the Wirral so she rightly likes to take advantage of a night out. She chose everything a la carte.
Some very good oysters in cheese sauce came as the starter-freebie, followed by, for me, some langoustine cream soup which was very good but not hot. Mrs L had langoustine with fresh noodles and a ginger and spring onion butter, I nicked some and could not complain. The delay that followed before the main course was a bit too much. I had rabbit confit with noodles and mustard sauce, done as well as you could hope for. Mrs L had brochette of salmon on a bed of cabbage cooked in sesame oil, ginger and chilli, served with crispy wonton and plum puree. At first she thought there were too many flavours, but at the end she decided it was all terrific. By now even the manageress was improving, being charming and efficiently attentive.
The desserts blueberry delice on the set menu, banana pancake with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream on the other were close to historic. I had no option but to call for the 24-year-old chef, Martin Hadden, and congratulate him. Pity really, I was hoping to murder the place for all the rotten times they'd given me in the past.
Having read Michael Winner's review of The Fifth Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols, I am left wondering quite what he expects of a restaurant. I have visited this restaurant on a number of occasions and have had nothing but outstanding service and delicious food. A recent Monday evening was no exception. The food was spot-on, with perfectly cooked noisettes of lamb on an onion and mint confit, and a creme brulee that was so good that we almost ended up fighting over it. Chocolates were even produced in abundance by a waitress who could not stop smiling.
Dr WJB Dennes, London NW6
I should like to draw readers' attention to one of England's best-kept secrets. While thesping in Exeter over the past two months, I stumbled upon the Nobody Inn in the village of Doddiscombsleigh. This 16th-century coaching inn is heaven: unspoilt, an excellent wine list, and the largest selection of whiskies I have ever seen outside Scotland. But the food is the main attraction. The Nobody pate was exquisite, the chicken and apricot pie was moist and these are just the bar snacks. They have a posh menu too. There is life outside the great metropolis.
Fiona Fullerton, London SW3
Recently, a friend and I had a great evening in the Garrick Wine Bar in Garrick Street, London WC2. There are so many positive things about this bar good food and wine, friendly service, lively atmosphere that it is a shame that the service charge which is added to your bill does not go directly to the waiting staff. When restaurants do this, they should tell the customer so that they can choose (maybe) to leave a separate tip as well.
Louise Graham, London W14
I arranged a 40th birthday party celebration dinner for my wife at the the Mill restaurant in Alvechurch. The food, service, cake and flowers were absolutely perfect, as good as you can get anywhere that I've eaten at what I consider to be reasonable prices: dinner with wine and coffee, about £20.
Rob Whittle, Moseley, Birmingham