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A dark day indeed

Published 29 January 1995
Style Magazine
82nd article

Making the effort: Michael Winner with Stephen Boyden (Vanessa Perry)

My receptionist, Mrs Lagoudakos, has a friend called Gilda with whom she used to share a modest flat opposite Olympia. Gilda has shown an entrepreneurial spirit par excellence and from humble beginnings has built up a large lighting company. Gone are the days when the only decision was whether you bought a 60-watt or a 40-watt bulb. Now it's fibre optics with one bulb servicing 50 lighting outlets with no heat engendered. I studied this and other wonders on Gilda's stand at a lighting exhibition in Islington. And then went off to a local restaurant, Frederick's. I had been there once before with Steven Berkoff after watching his excellent play Kvetch at the King's Head nearby, but I had no lingering opinion of it. Anyway, I made a reservation for three, Mrs Lagoudakos, Vanessa and humble me.

People often say, "You must get special attention when you tum up." To which I reply, "I certainly hope so." In fact l am always amazed that places don't have the sense to check what I'm getting. I still remember with horror the burnt fish cakes I was given at Snow's On The Green. My reception at Frederick's further proved that not always is any particular effort made.

"Do you have a reservation?" said a surly girl at the door. I stayed silent. "What's your name?" she persisted. I told her.

"Table 52," she called out, as if a train was to be shunted into a loading bay.

We were shown through into a gloomy room with glass walls and ceiling, and there was table 52, in an almost empty restaurant, next to a table with eight men in shirtsleeves having a noisy evening out. The waiter indicating the table (not, I noticed, the restaurant manager) stood as I surveyed the room for rescue.

"As I didn't come off a tourist bus from the North," I said, "I'd rather sit. . ."

Some other tables were offered up and we settled.

Another waiter came and said, "Would you like to order a drink?" Mrs Lagoudakos said, "I'll have wine with the meal." The waiter walked off. I called him hack. "Excuse me," I said. “You may not have noticed but there are three of us." The waiter condescended to hear if anyone else wanted a drink.

Vanessa ordered an apple juice. "We don't have any," said the waiter. She switched to pineapple. After a long delay the wine waiter came over. "Would you like to order drinks?" he asked.

"We have," I said. "We ordered some still water and a pineapple juice."

“We don't have pineapple juice," said the wine waiter. "Then why didn't the other chap tell us?" I asked.

"I think he's out getting some apple juice," was the reply.

Eventually I called a waiter over to take the food order. I noticed that both the manager (in red) and his under-manager were successfully avoiding our table at all costs.

Then came the food. There is a wonderful line in the play Kean when Edmund Kean has to see an audition by an aspiring actress.

"Was I awful?" she asks. "My dear, you were, worse than awful, you were quite good," Kean replies.

Thus was the food at Frederick's.

The crudites were tired. My soup was bland but not nasty, Vanessa's hot asparagus wasn't hot, my liver and onions were okay but fairly tasteless, Vanessa's dover sole was a bit rubbery, Mrs Lagoudakos couldn't eat the sauce with her scallops.

I ordered an apple tart and if I'd been blindfolded I'd have had difficulty saying what it was. The service remained slow to awful. The restaurant manager crept about looking as if a smile to him would be like a silver cross to a vampire. He did come over, eventually, for a second, and then crept away.

Another group of men in shirtsleeves arrived and started laughing loudly. The dark night outside the glass walls and room was sombre, the roomwas dim to the point of oblivion, and the lighting on a few palms and wall-pots of ivy didn't help much. They should get Gilda in here quick, I thought, to give them a lighting design.

It was draughty. The only efficient member of staff was the wine waiter, who ended up clearing-the table and taking orders and generally filling in. He had some charm. He was the only point of contact with humanity in the room. His name is Stephen Boyden. He couldn't save a ghastly experience, but at least he tried.


Two friends and I recently had a dinner at the Garrick Wine Bar and Restaurant in Covent Garden in London. The food and the general service were both acceptable, but we felt that the practice of clearing away the plates of those customers who have finished their meal while another member of the party is still eating is at best inconsiderate, and at worst downright rude. I asked to speak to the manager who, after a 10-minute interval, came to speak to me. When I asked her why this practice went on, she told it was because their tables were so small, and customers preferred it. I explained that these particular customers did not, and that it would provide better service to ask the customers before removing their plates. I do hope that, should we eat in the Garrick Wine Bar again, their restaurant practices will have been modified.
Barbara Taylor, Twickenham, Middlesex

I find it quite nauseating of Michael Winner to flaunt before your readers the cost of his stay at Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados. This is not the first occasion that he has indulged himself in this manner and I assume that he likes to feel he is impressing your readers with his spending capacity. However, it does seem somewhat offensive when so many people are unemployed and/or struggling to make ends meet at the present time.
HA Mustard, North Berwick

In order to avoiding offending myself and millions like me, could any future Restaurant Watch not contain any reference to the choosing of, the eating of, or the purchase of veal. I find it upsetting, to say the least, to read of people who are still prepared to condone the production of such a contentious product. If the only way to stop people eating veal is to make them social pariahs, then so be it.
Jennifer Robb, Manchester