Published 5 March 1995 Style Magazine 87th article
Kiss and make up: Michael Winner and chef Annie Kettle (Vanessa Perry)
It was a while ago and about eleven at night at Orso's in Covent Garden.
"The chef refuses to give you an egg on your pizza," the manageress said tartly. "I always have them," I said. "She wont do it," said the manageress.
Enough of this. I thought. I walked into the kitchen. "Where's the chef?" I asked. "Where is he?"
"It's a she, and she's there," said a kitchen person pointing to a lady, sweaty from a night's work. I went over. "The manageress says you refuse to put an egg on my pizza," I announced.
"She would land me in it," said the chef.
"Why have a drama?" I said. "Take an egg, stick it on the pizza and let's have a quiet life." She did.
The next day I telephoned Mr Richard Polo, the UK man-in charge of Orso's, a group that also owns Joe Allen's next door. I complained about my almost-non-egg.
"We don't have eggs in the restaurant," snapped a very bad-tempered Mr Polo. "Nonsense, I've had
them on my pizzas there for seven years," I replied. "Well, you shouldn't have," said Polo. "We don't have eggs in a service capacity. We don't serve ice cream on pizzas either."
"You mean if I ordered an ice cream and a pizza, which are both on the menu, you'd refuse?" I asked.
"We might let you put the ice cream on the pizza yourself," said Richard, "but putting eggs on pizzas is not something we wish to do."
After that ill-tempered exchange I did not go to Orso for two years. But they opened Orsino's near my house and recently I decided to try it. I impressed on whoever answered the phone the absolute need that I got an excellent table. After a long delay the manager came on. "We've got a French group downstairs," he said, "so we're only serving in the smaller room above. We can give you a nice table if you don't mind sitting next to Richard Polo." "Delighted to," I said. Thus Vanessa and I entered. Mr Polo sat with a group a few inches away and greeted me, I would not say with enthusiasm.
Another chap at his table, who I vaguely know, did a bit better. I ordered from the hearty Italian menu. The food at Orso's was always cheap, cheerful and rather likeable. This was to be no different.
"Could I have an egg on my pizza, please?" I said to the waitress. "We know about you and eggs, Annie hasn't got eggs," she said. "Only the pastry chef." "Is Annie the lady who used to work in Covent Garden?" "Yes," said the waitress, "she met you there." I didn't get an egg. The waitress told me she didn't even dare ask for it. So I put some crushed tomatoes on instead which was nice, but not as good as an egg. I did have some very fresh grilled calamari to start and from time to time Mr Polo and I exchanged further (pleasant) words. Was this to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
That could be saying too much, but Richard did touch my right arm when he left, which I took as a final gesture of reconciliation.
"I must see Annie," I said to the waitress. "Tell her I'm coming into the kitchen to say hello." It was two years later, a sunny Kensington morning, very different. "Annie's waiting downstairs for you," they said as I was leaving. And there she was, bright and beaming. Her full name is Annie Kettle! "Annie," I said, "if you'd been asked to put an egg on my pizza today, would you have done it?" Annie was brimful of tact.
"With this big French party downstairs it would have been difficult," she said. I did not press the point. We kissed (literally) and made up. I've been back quite a lot.
Last time my friends Harold Pinter and Antonia were sitting next to me. I thought of asking Harold to seek an egg for his pizza, but courage failed me. Rupert Murdoch was opposite and I thought of asking him. But we had a nice, general chat instead. So I've given up eggs on pizza there.
It's an okay place regardless, pleasantly decorated, large tables, but the service on a bad day can be so slow you'd think the entire kitchen staff were on holiday in Skegness. It's in an area recently named Clarendon Cross by the estate agents. When I was in property it was just a dreary pan of North Kensington.
But as with Orso's and Orsino's, things are looking up.
One of the pleasures of living in London should be the ability to walk to a pleasant characterful venue for breakfast. My pleasure, however, was abruptly curtailed by the service that both myself and my guest suffered at Troubadour on the Old Brompton Road, London SW5. While the atmosphere and food are acceptable, the presumably out-of-work gothic actress on orders duty requires an intensive course in common courtesy and civility prior to us returning.
Matthew F W Taylor, London SW5
Speaking as a regular visitor to Hampstead, London, from the wastelands of Portsmouth, we always dine at Cafe Des Arts. A classic bistro, run by a consortium of charming ladies, stylish, innovative food in decent portions, a rambling interior with a charismatic ambience and a glorious fire. The quality never varies and at £40 for two it is unbeatable.
John Cole, Milton, Portsmouth
After reading Michael Winner's account of his trip to Chez Nico At Ninety Park Lane (February 26), I feel compelled to comment. It is only if you are Michael Winner or some such obviously famous person that you will receive the attention and service he described. As an "ordinary" person I have only experienced indifferent and aloof service at this restaurant, which has the atmosphere of a Holiday Inn hotel. Nico's food may have star quality but when it comes to giving the public what it wants, he is blinded by stars.
Gail Ingram, London N6
Is there any way that we dedicated readers of Winner's Dinners can be alerted ahead of publication as to which restaurant Michael intends to visit that week? I can imagine no greater entertainment than watching your esteemed critic bawling the house down every time he fails to get full satisfaction, never knowing if this could be the instance that finally erupts into fisticuffs. In fact, I am sure you could sell tickets.
George Browning, Banbury, Oxfordshire
When you fancy a Middle Eastern night on the tiles try the Omar Khayyam in Duke Street, London, W1. Don't get there before 3am and it will be all and more than Mr Winner experienced in Egypt. An added bonus is driving home Parliament Square is heaven at 8am on a Sunday morning.
Gwynneth Hughes, London E9
I am reluctant to write this letter as I do not wish to encourage hordes of southerners to descend upon our restaurants in the north for their wonderful service, food and reasonable prices. However, I have to agree with Raymond Franks of Leeds (February 5) when he expresses his amusement at the way in which southerners put up with bad service and high prices in restaurants. I recently had a business lunch with my wife and a colleague at the Norton Grange Hotel, Castleton, Rochdale. We were welcomed into the restaurant by a pleasant young lady, had a drink at the bar and were offered a choice of either the a la carte menu or the bar snack menu. We chose starters and main courses from both menus. My wife was not too happy with the scallops she had ordered and this was changed happily by the waitress. We washed down our meal with a pleasant bottle of white wine, followed by an enormous selection of cheese and biscuits for three, and coffees. The total cost was £29. Beat that if you can!
Barry Pickup, Preston, Lancs
My wife and I attended the New Year's Eve party organised by the Devonshire Arms Hotel, Bolton Abbey, referred to by Mrs Williamson of Ilkley (February 19). At £65 per head one should not have to complain about poor-quality food from a hotel that has such a good reputation in North Yorkshire. One cannot but admire the hotel for insisting that everybody pays the full cost of £65 one month before New Year's Eve, thus ensuring that they have your money and you have little defence even when complaining. A useful ploy which, in line with the meal, has left a nasty taste in our mouths.
Paul Harris, Ilkley, West Yorkshire