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On another planet

Published 20 November 1994
Style Magazine
73rd article

Michael Winner with Mohammed Yusuf, left, and his staff (Vanessa Perry)

Shakira Caine leaned over our table at the Canteen. She was looking extraordinarily beautiful, her dusky features exquisitely chiselled, her mouth luscious, her face was close to mine. Her lips parted and she whispered in that husky voice: "Have you been to Planet Poppadom, Michael?" "What?!" I responded. "It's in the King's Road," Shakira continued. "It's rather good." Oh well, anything to keep the minorities happy. I suppose I can write that, being a minority-member myself? I'll go along, I thought.

After all, it is London's first balti house and they were introduced to us southerners by a letter on this very page which I forwarded for publication when a man from Solihull told me baltis were popular in Birmingham. He described them as a curry-style meal, only drier and spicier and served in a wok-like dish.

When I phoned, Planet Poppadom assured me I could easily get a table for four for two people. "It's Saturday," said Mohammed Yusuf, the co-owner. "You'll probably have the whole place to yourself." Planet Poppadom is unprepossessing and that's putting it mildly. Mr Yusuf said he got some carpenter friends to knock it up, and it looks like it. It was, as he had prophesied, empty. So I sat down for lunch with a splendid view of a bus stop and my Bentley parked opposite on double yellow lines. The poppadoms were disappointing, too spicy and knobbly. I like old-fashioned, plain poppadoms, myself. But there were three sauces to eat with them and I got so carried away I made the most awful mess and kept nicking the beautifully laid-out paper napkins from other tables to clean up. The actual food comes in the little bowl it is cooked in. While I waited (rather a long time, I thought), Mr Yusuf regaled me with stories of how he marketed unusual inventions in the Far East. One was an umbrella with a cloth-covered hole in it which prevents the wind blowing it inside out. Although I was shown a coloured brochure, I still couldn't understand how the rain didn't come through. Luckily, the food arrived before I looked too stupid.

There was a very tasty Balti Bengan at £6.95, fish cooked in tomatoes and onions, the fish being ayr from India. In spite of the long journey, it was fine. Then there were dishes of chicken and chickpeas, meat and spinach and lots of rice. I won't be making a reservation for New Year's Eve, but the lunch was perfectly adequate. They intend to open in Los Angeles and all over. I wish them luck.

A lot of readers write inviting me to their restaurants, their hotels and to all sorts of wonderful places. Peter Hauser, the owner of Stock Hill House, even told me he'd had many requests from ladies wanting to be in the bed I'd slept in! My goodness! Quite a few people offer to cook meals for me at their homes. Two Indian girls from Leicester, Rachel, 10, and Regina, 8, wrote a particularly charming letter asking to meet me. They were, they said, great fans. I've never done this before, but I asked them down, paying for all travel of course. They duly arrived with dad Ranjit Manh and mother Reece. I laid on a special tea, which, being done by my enthusiastic cook, Edith, was enough for an entire subcontinent. The girls brought me a stuffed monkey (they'd read I had soft toys!) and a poster of Bambi, which they'd read was my favourite film. Mum and dad brought an engraved, initialled bookmarker. Considering Mr Manh was out of work, and even if he wasn't, I thought all this extremely kind. I gave the girls a rare old children's book illustrated by Hugh Thompson with a white vellum and gilt-tooled cover.

I was struck with how much the Manh family knew about me! I am revealing more than I should in these little jottings. The girls wanted to be photographed by the Ferrari and the Bentley and around the house and garden, and Reece offered to cook me the most marvellous curry if I was ever in Leicester.

How nice to meet some real people for a change instead of all the effete morons who litter the restaurant business in Britain! I suppose the lunatic chefs et al will write another lot of stupid letters! Who cares?