Published 1 January 1995 Style Magazine 78th article
Michael Winner and Alexander Riahi at Thomas Goode (Vanessa Perry)
I will ignore New Year's Day. Its my 59th, so I can't get overexcited about it. I shall tell you about a fairly new restaurant in one of London's poshest shops, Thomas Goode, in South Audley Street, W1. This has a delightfully Dickensian exterior with the words T Goode & Co 1876 and various royal warrants, none of which was achieved for food.
I got their number from directory enquiries, but they didn't answer. I re-checked with directory enquiries and rang again. After 11 minutes the phone was answered. "We don't have a telephonist on Saturdays," was the explanation. I made a booking anyway.
Then l tried to phone them back. The first time their phone rang 18 minutes and wasn't answered. The second time, calling from my car on the way there, it rang for 12 minutes - no answer! I was not in a good mood when I walked past the vastly expensive items on display.
"Good afternoon," said a young lady near the restaurant.
And when I got to the restaurant a young man said, "Good afternoon."
I waited. Another man came up and said, "Good afternoon."
"Do you have my table, or do we spend the rest of the day saying good afternoon?" I muttered rather icily. I was shown a corner table for four, which I didn't like. One person would face their partner and the wall, the other would look out to the room.
"I'd like that table, please," I said pointing to a nice round table with good views of the room and the shop beyond. The waiter looked petrified. "That's our only table for three," he said.
"Why can't these three people, if they turn up, go to the table for four I've just left?" I asked. That required a whispered conference with the manager before I was allowed to sit down.
The bread was utterly dreary, but I had to admit the place settings were exceptionally good, probably because it's largely a china shop. The restaurant itself was pleasant, an Oriental oil painting here, some silk curtains there, long tassels on the armchair seats, a white tiled floor. In the-shop, a girl on her knees sprayed the grey carpet and brushed it clean. She'd be invaluable at the Sheraton Park Tower, I thought. Carpets there are indescribable.
The owner of Thomas Goode, Mr Alexander Riahi, an Iranian, came over. He was dressed like a bit player in My Fair Lady. I told him about the unanswered phones. "The number of phone calls we get on a Saturday is strictly limited, so a switchboard operator is a waste of money," said Mr Riahi, and he laughed. He seemed extremely jolly, and that's always disarming. He and his partner had bought the shop from the Goode family in 1993 and turned it round to make in excess of £1m proﬁt last year, he said. How much profit does he need before they employ a switchboard operator, I thought.
But my attention was suddenly diverted by the sight of a large, gleaming chrome thing on my right labelled "Chubb water fire extinguisher" with an enormous servicing label on it. I was reading this when the food came, and it was, thankfully, excellent, all of it!
Posh snack, but beautifully done. I had artichoke salad with poached quail's eggs and saffron dressing, followed by paupiettes of salmon and sole with spiced rice and lobster butter. I nicked a bit of Vanessa's pumpkin soup and her gremolata-crusted sea bass with fennel, saffron potatoes and aioli cream. The desserts, too, were superlative.
Alexander Riahi stayed chatting about his days in Iran as a pipeline contractor. He didn't even seem to mind when I told him I'd bought two dinky picture frames at Thomas Goode a few months earlier only to find them 30% cheaper in Hedges and Butler. "We're not a discount shop," he laughed. He laughed again when I told him that since he came in, my account with a 15% discount had vanished. "I closed all the accounts," he said dismissively. Then he took us on a tour of the shop, pointing out all the 19th-century features, from columns to murals to stained glass, which he had uncovered and restored. I was very impressed.
"Well," said Mr Riahi, "what do you think?"
"Great place, marvellous food, phone service stinks," I said. Mr Riahi laughed again. I laughed with him.
It's really most refreshing to find somebody who doesn't give a damn when I complain!
A few nights ago, we had a meal at The Canteen, Chelsea Harbour, London. The person by whom our order was taken was impatient, surly and unhelpful. But, regard being had to Mr M P White's reputation in this connection, we were prepared for this gratuitous and quite unnecessary lack of common courtesy. However, the food was another matter entirely. A few of us ordered lamb prepared with couscous and olives. When the orders arrived, neither couscous nor olives were anywhere to be seen. On enquiring as to their absence, we were told, in a brusque and off hand manner, that the chef had decided to prepare the lamb in a different manner entirely - no hint of an apology, and no offer to replace the dishes concerned with something else. Similarly, one of us ordered the pigeon, only to discover that the chef had decided to cook pheasant! If this is indicative of the way in which Mr White believes a restaurant should be run, it proves that it is indeed possible to fool most of the people, most of the time.
L L Hart, St Clement, Jersey
Last month my wife and I, accompanied by two friends, had dinner at Stephen Bull's Bistro And Bar London, ECI. Since we are all non-meat and non-shellfish-eaters, we rang first and enquired as to what was on the menu that night; we were informed that there are always four fish dishes to be had. The special that evening was sea bass. Since the haddock, also on the menu, could not apparently be served without mussel sauce, we ordered one john dory and three sea bass for our main courses. Minutes later, the waitress informed us that the kitchen had run out of john dory and had only one sea bass left. We were amazed - particularly since the restaurant was not full. We had no choice but to leave.
Stephen A Gold, Edgware, Middlesex