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Published 3 April 1994
Style Magazine
40th article

Caring: Carol Emmanuel (nee Walsh) at The French Horn, Sonning (Arnold Crust)

"Go to The Greenhouse in Mayfair," people said to me. I went. I wish I hadn't. At the end of their Sunday lunch I reckoned I hadn't eaten food like that since I was last on British Rail. It's a very posh place, buried in a block of flats, and with far too much glossy cream paint inside. The regular chef, Gary Rhodes, was off. I think the dishwasher stood in.

The poached egg salad with saute potatoes and black pudding I shall spend a long time trying to forget. The deep fried plaice was bland to the point of non-existence and only became interesting when my guest, Dorrit Moussaieff, the international jeweller, tried to dab it with a tissue to take the excess grease off.

Her roast beef looked good, but lacked any known taste, and the so-called chocolate steamed pudding was grossly inferior chocolate gateau with a watery sauce. It reminded me of the George And Dragon Hotel in Baldock, where my parents took me at weekend visits to my school during the war. The same dowdy look and the same nothing food. But the George And Dragon had a wonderful "non-machine" in the hall, upright, laid out as a golf course. You had to spin a coin from side to side, up and down hills, without letting it drop down a hole painted as a bunker. They should get one of those in The Greenhouse. It would be far more entertaining than their food.

Dinner at The Ivy with Diana Rigg, one of my oldest and dearest chums and a historic person. She chose steak tartare, highly suitable following her brilliant, blood-ridden performance in Medea. I had foie gras with lentils and then Cumberland sausages and mash. You can't knock The Ivy, it's one of the most professionally run places in London and the food is quite simply good. It has become, again, a great theatrical hang out. But I was disappointed not to see beef hash on the menu. It's buried in hash brown potatoes. Not the sort of dish you get in most places.

Because the Michelin Guide gave the Malabar in Notting Hill Gate a red M, which means it merits your attention, I attended.

Very ordinary. Heavy naan bread, cloying, sticky samosas and only fair Murg Makhni and accompanying fried pumpkin, and sliced banana cooked in ginger and spices. It read better than it tasted. Not awful, but I wonder if the Michelin-Guide man had had a drink too many or was just feeling generous.

After all this disappointment I was happy to drop into a couple of my old favourites. Cibo, near Olympia, now does a good value two-course set lunch at £12.50 including Vat, ex service. Gino, the increasingly neurotic but still excellent host, serves home-made pasta filled with ricotta cheese and rucola in a tomato and basil sauce as a good starter, and baby scallops au gratin with breadcrumbs, parsley and wine, served with salad as one of the main courses. All that with Fergie at the next table, Brian May of Queen and Anita Dobson at the next and Fay Maschler at the next!

On Sundays they do a three-course lunch with coffee for £17.95. I always like prices that end with 95p, very used-car-dealer language! Jolly.

Finally, on a nice spring weekend I viewed the daffodils and swans at The French Horn in Sonning. I ate the best restaurant duck I've ever had, and that includes the Tour d'Argent in Paris, and lovely fried scampi to start. But ghastly desserts! Carol Walsh was once the princess in charge of Wheeler's in Soho when Francis Bacon, Clement Freud and I sat at the bar each day in the mid 1950s. Now she's maternal and caring, but still a great restaurant hostess.

I seldom drink, but I did have the most marvellous wine ever. Just totally magical. It was Chateau-Margaux 1961 Premier Grand Cru Classe. I won't say what it cost, but you could buy a pretty good car for the same price. I advise you to save for a year, or possibly two. Then go mad and buy some.