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In his aliment

Published 14 August 1994
Style Magazine
59th article

Happily incarcerated in quality: Michael Winner at Claridge's (Terry O'Neill)

Far and away the greatest value in London is Sunday lunch at Claridge's for £26, including Vat and service. Please don't go there, I can't stand crowds. The room is fantastic, like a vast, 1930s ocean liner. The service is first-rate to historic. Only once did it fail and thus I invented the Winner napkin-wave.

The atmosphere is of another time and place. I started with grilled Pacific prawns with tomato that was blanched, peeled and baked with olive oil, garlic and herbs, and fennel braised with olive oil, Pernod, garlic and seasoning. This was a taste experience. More than I got at The Waterside Inn, which has three stars to Claridge's none. Indeed, it's very fashionable to knock Claridge's.

You could have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a lesson in how to do them well; or their chicken pie, which is exceptional. I went off the set menu and had veal escalope Holstein with fried egg and anchovies difficult to do, unavailable in most places, and superb. Then I had the best pommes souffle I've ever eaten, deliciously crisp little "paper-bags" of potatoes, and a wonderfully smooth spinach puree. I grabbed a bit of Vanessa's specially roasted chicken mmmm! The desserts are masterful. They used to have two dessert trolleys, elegantly propelled by dark-suited waiters, one for fruit and one for cakes and mousses. Then they trimmed them down to one. I was dining with Sir Hugh Wontner, then top man at Claridge's, at the Lord Mayor's house (Oh, how I used to get around!) and I complained bitterly. Sir Hugh reinstated the two trolleys, but he went and they've reduced them to one again. However, my strawberry millefeuille was mind-blowing; the tiramisu surprisingly magnificent and the petits fours delicious. This place gets hardly any praise and it is extraordinary. Real food that looks and tastes like real food; that's rare. And on weekdays you get a Hungarian string quartet playing in knee breeches. As long as Claridge's remains unchanged, one area of the world is incarcerated in quality.

The Cartier Polo with its lunch and tea is a bit of a throwback, now glittered up with pop stars and what have you. I complained bitterly about the tea last year, but Anton Mosimann has bucked it up. This time it was more like a classical English tea, the scones were edible and the cakes not tiptop but good. But why, still, no sandwiches or swiss rolls? The English do few things to perfection, but tea is one of them. We don't need it "nouvelling up" at all, thank you. But what about the Cartier map you got to show you how to get there? Everyone was rightly hysterical about it! The worst. I have never seen such a ludicrous map in years of doing them for film locations and general travel. If Cartier made their jewellery the way they made their map they'd be out of business in 38 seconds. They do a lovely day out, but please fire the cartographer.

I'm definitely getting odder. I not only walk around restaurants endlessly deciding which table I shall sit at, but now, if I don't like the exact position, I pick the table up and move it! I did this to the amazement of staff at the Chinese restaurant Kai Of Mayfair the other night. A party of 10 at the next table had not yet arrived, nor could they by the time I'd finished, they had to go elsewhere! They've poshed up Kai a bit too much, and what is an English harpist doing plonking away in a Chinese restaurant? Couldn't they have Chinese plonking? But the food is very good indeed.

A place that thankfully stays the same is Chez Moi in Kensington. I move tables there, too. It's a 1950s atmosphere but chic in an old-fashioned way. You expect to see the young Princess Margaret at the next table. They have a dessert called a Final D'or. It's a pancake filled with Philadelphia cheese, yoghurt, almond liqueur from Portugal, lemon peel and orange peel, with a maple syrup sauce around it. Sounds absolutely revolting, doesn't it? But it's one of my all-time favourites. A psychiatrist could make something of that.