Published 6 November 1994 Style Magazine 71st article
On to a winner: Herschel Havakuk, seated, with the gamblers (Vanessa Perry)
Personally I find everything and everybody north of Hyde Park highly suspect. Until you get to St Albans that is, and I'm not sure about them either. But I do like Harry Morgan's Jewish restaurant in St John's Wood High Street. I remember one delightful Saturday lunch there with my ex, Miss Seagrove. We were at right angles to a Jewish couple two tables away. The man sat in front of his lockshen soup, his eyes riveted on the movement of his spoon from bowl to mouth. His wife looked around.
"Look," she said, her eyes alighting on me, and nudging her husband. "It's him!" "Who?" muttered the husband in between mouthfuls of soup. "Y'know, that director, the director, Winner. It's Winner." Her husband seemed deeply unimpressed. He kept working at the soup without even a glance. The woman had a go at her soup. Then she turned again to us and back to her husband. "He's with the shiksa," she said. At this point I must explain to those who do not know that "shiksa" is a Yiddish word for a gentile woman, and fairly derogatory. It can also be used as "the shiksa", meaning the maid or domestic. The husband remained totally disinterested, shiksa or no shiksa. His wife continued to scrutinise Miss Seagrove. "You know," she said, nudging her husband, "the actress, you know her name." Since the husband's eyes remained on the soup, he was unable to provide much help in identification. The wife gave up and returned to her meal. Miss Seagrove and I carried on with ours.
After that I didn't visit Harry Morgan's for quite a while. But I was seduced back by my friends John Gold and Terry O'Neill. Johnny and Terry are an unlikely couple to lunch regularly on Saturday at Harry Morgan's or Herschel's as they call it in honour of the owner, Herschel Havakuk, an Israeli. Terry is a nice Roman Catholic from somewhere in Ireland, and Johnny, Jewish, is the owner of Tramp discotheque, the Belvedere Restaurant in Holland Park and a few more. He is always putting money on the horses, following magnificent inside tips which, in my experience with him, are a near-total disaster.
One recent Saturday lunch we assembled at 1 o'clock on the red imitation leather banquettes, in front of the shiny tables and ordered variously salt beef, gefilta fish, chopped herring, mixed chicken noodle, kneidlach and kreplach soup, some latkes, and a display of pickled cucumbers. All of this is totally delicious. In fact I have never had anything at Herschel's that was not delicious except for one Saturday when I asked for hot fried fish and he obviously didn't have any, and warmed up some cold fried fish and it tasted ghastly.
This particular morning we were surrounded by the usual Damon Runyonesque characters. As Johnny studied the racing form, one of them, called Monty Marks, offered up a tip. Johnny phoned his bookmaker and asked me what I wanted. I shook. I have joined Johnny on his hot tips at the Belvedere and Herschel's and I don't think I've ever won. So keen is Johnny that I should join his money-making schemes that he actually opened an account for me with a bookmaker, something it took me 57 years to achieve. After all, my mother lost £6m at the Cannes Casino, so I gave already. Wearily, I looked at the "selections". I don't remember the name of the horse, but I do know it was Monty's tip, which, I guessed, had to be better than Johnny's. Having placed our bets, Johnny then listened to the race on the phone from the bookie's. When it was over, amazing and miraculous, I had won! My, or rather Monty's horse had come home for a change without a clear view of the rear of eight other horses and jockeys. I was so excited I ordered an apple strudel. Then I left Herschel's £300 richer! The next time I was in, Monty was nowhere to be seen. As I knocked back some chopped liver, Johnny looked up from the paper. "Carranita for the 2.10 at Doncaster," he said. I pretended not to hear. It's the best thing, I assure you.
I recently entertained friends at the Dorchester for afternoon tea. Unfortunately, this was not a very successful or enjoyable experience. We sat in the large reception hall on sofas with tiny, very low tables. This in itself was very uncomfortable, but worse was to follow when we found that the small tables were not adequate to cope with cups, saucers, plates and teapots for four people. We were obliged to balance our plates on our knees and even place some of the porcelain under our chairs. I wrote to the Dorchester pointing out these facts, but they did not give me the courtesy of a response. By way of contrast, I recently had an extremely pleasant experience at the Regent hotel in Marylebone. The setting was exquisite and the service 100%, and everything else absolutely faultless.
Margaret Bochen-Haack, Gillingham, Kent
After three columns' worth of Michael Winner's problems with his upmarket credit cards and his purchase of photo frames for £360 in Venice, he finally gets around to reviewing Buckland Manor, a beautiful Cotswold country house hotel (October 23). Before remarking that the food was "not bad really", he rather patronisingly lets slip that the owner was involved in airport car parks terribly infra dig. Mr Winner devotes a few brief lines to his meal but, sadly, only the red cabbage seems to have met with his approval. I suppose poached pasta parcels of Scottish langoustine and rolled fillets of dover sole filled with Cornish crab must seem somewhat mundane to the jaded palate. I am lucky enough to live very close to Buckland Manor and have always enjoyed superb food in what has to be one of the most picturesque settings in the country.
J V Harvie, Broadway, Worcestershire
We would like to draw your attention to Reflections in Ashton-under-Lyne, part way between the industrial and commercial heartland of Manchester and the foothills of the Pennines. The food is excellent, the service attentive, the atmosphere welcoming and the value is superb. This is all the more encouraging since Reflections is the training restaurant at the Tameside College of Technology. It is heartening that future cooks and waiters trained here will be able to meet even the most exacting standards of Mr Winner.
H and L Boots, Manchester