Published 16 April 1995 Style Magazine 93rd article
Kiss and make-up: the drag queens of Le corset (Vanessa Perry)
"Get out!" screamed the publicity man. "You've been a nuisance all day, we will not serve you!" "Oh dear," I thought. "And he's not even shouting at me."
The invective was directed to an American TV director on Channel 4's Eurotrash. We were at the opening of Le Corset restaurant in Paris, which has nicely printed cards offering "Drag queen service". I shall have to play the role of peacemaker, I decided, which, in spite of what you may think, I am rather good at!
I called the publicist over and assured him we were all wonderful people and he would do very well out of our visit. I then told the owner. I smiled and was immensely calm and gracious. I was also a bit confused as it was the TV crew ﬁlming alight bulb being put in above the door that inspired the publicist to yell: "You can't film that!" Ah well, as we all know, you have to get an Honours degree in stupidity to be a publicist. Except for motion picture ones. Some of my best friends are movie publicists.
Le Corset is not everyone's tasse de cafe. As organised by the TV company, Vanessa and I presented ourselves for dinner at 7.30 on opening night when nobody else had arrived. It's a small place near Les Halles with a yellow top bit with a bar and some rather strange cellar rooms downstairs. The decor is almost nonexistent, so it will rely on the drag queens and the customers for the atmosphere I am positive it will achieve. Eventually three drag queens arrived and served dinner with suitably elaborate gestures and facial expressions. There was excellent sliced salmon and sauce, okay steak and chips, and some splendid creme brulee. The drag queens were chirpy and charming, but as by nine o'clock there was no sign of the BIG party I shook hands with everybody, including the straight-attired male chef, and left. As I'd only eaten a token amount that early, we went on to Brasserie Bofinger in La Bastille for dinner. It's a great art deco place where Monsieur Bofinger himself drew the first draught beer ever served in Paris in 1864. Very bustling, tall pillars, artistic marquetry. wonderful onion soup, pot au feu of stewed fish, a choucroute of fish. No sign of drag queens, unless they were incognito, but terrific none the less.
I have decided to be extremely ill-tempered this week and comment on one of the most stupid letters this page has ever printed. It came from Mr Barry C Hill of Old Malton, North Yorkshire. He says if I know anything about classic cuisine I should know that Sole Capri, which I described as pan-fried sole with chutney and fried bananas, was not Sole Capri but Sole Caprice, and any decent chef could tell me so. I asked Marco Pierre White and Nico Ladenis (are they good enough for you and your pals in Old Malton, Mr H?). They both confirmed Mr Hill knew nothing about the matter at all. In my ongoing crusade to educate, I will tell you intensively of Sole Capri and Sole Caprice, a subject which I know is uppermost in your minds at all times.
Sole Capri was served at Wheeler's in the old days and, until recently cancelled by Marco PW, also at Walsh's. It was an invention of Mr Song, a Chinese chef who worked at the original Wheeler's for the founder, Bernard Walsh. I ate Sole Capri there regularly from 1945 to one year ago. Mr Walsh's daughter Carol, who later ran his restaurants, confirmed it consisted of sole dipped in flour and pan-fried, with bananas dipped in flour and also pan-fried. The bananas went on top with a chutney sauce in the middle.
Sole Caprice (attend properly, Mr Hill) per Marco quoting Le Repertoire De Cuisine and per Nico quoting Escoffier - the two bibles of professional chefs - is: grilled (not fried) sole, dipped in butter and crumbs (not ﬂour), dressed in half bananas grilled or cooked in butter (not flour), and it comes with a Roben sauce. This is made of chopped onions cooked in butter without colour, moistened with white wine vinegar and pepper. Then you add half glaze and mustard to finish. Okay, now let's say all together: "I must not be sarcastic and supercilious when I don't know what I'm talking about!"
Last week we printed a reader's letter indicating that Michael Winner stole napkins from Claridge's. We accept that this is not so and that Mr Winner would do no such thing.
I'm missing the South Pacific terribly: does any reader know of a London restaurant that features Fijian, Tongan, Samoan or similar food? Then, leaping to the Caucasus, is there a Georgian restaurant in town? I'd probably kill for their smoked sturgeon, salads and bread, not to mention Georgian wines the world's oldest. Michael Winner's views on these cuisines would be interesting; to enjoy them myself again would be heavenly.
Ken Lake, Thornton Heath
It was with great interest that I read KM Richards's letter of March 26. concerning the Greenhouse restaurant's lack of record of his booking. One recent Saturday my husband and I arrived at Le Caprice in anticipation of a meal to celebrate his birthday, having made a reservation by telephone on March 17. They had no record of our booking and, upon perusal of their diary, found that our reservation had been made for Sunday evening instead. When I made the booking I clearly stated on two occasions that it was to be for Saturday, March 25. Do their staff lack the competence to take a telephone booking correctly? Perhaps the management at Le Caprice could take a leaf out of Quaglino's book and telephone customers two days before their expected visit. Needless to say we shall not bother with Le Caprice again.
Bridget Freeman, London SE23
Please Mr Winner, as you have mellowed over the last few weeks, let Vanessa write the articles and you take the photographs well, at least for one week.
Sean Stringer, Barnet, London
Like George Browning of Banbury, I am an avid reader of Winner's Dinners. If tickets are to be sold, please put me second on the mailing list. This has less to do with his observations, for which I struggle gamely to find application outside his circle of immediate friends. I feel sure he'll be telling us next what coefficient of seat cover friction best accommodates him. No, the reason that sends me excitedly scattering Sections 1-8 of The Sunday Times like bills before a love letter, then nervously rustling through Section 9 with shaking fingers, is that I can't wait for the plot to climax. The story so far: our insufferably arrogant hero, in the dream position of being so stuffed with wads of cash he doesn't worry about anything, roams the country feeding face and friends, goading the cowed gastronomic profession with his outrageous contumely. Weekly, his behaviour becomes more bizarre, his column more esoteric. When will our Caligula of the kitchen have his earhole wanged with a pan? When will some irate Latin shot-put a paella into his lap? The suspense is masterly. I was convinced the last paragraph of Sunday's episode (March 5) would see him getting his egg and not in the middle of his pizza. Instead our hero poses snogging the chef! As Mr Browning suggests, imagine experiencing all this live, with dinner thrown in. Riveting stuff. Power to yours, Michael.
Terry Taylor, Munich
On our one and only visit to Walsh's I ordered Sole Capri it had no resemblance to the Sole Caprice from Wheeler's. I am not at all surprised that Marco Pierre White has removed it from the menu.
Sally Friend, Hampstead NW3
We are a group of Italians living in London, very much suspicious of the "rucola-sun-dried-tomatoes-new-wave-Californian-Anglo-Tuscan" restaurant brigade. After a long consultation, and after discarding all those with the odour of rocket, we decided to go to Cibo to celebrate a special occasion. Such was the excellent treatment we received that we felt it appropriate to write to your column. We were served on a busy Saturday evening no fewer than 18 courses of a quality hard to find the equal of in Italy today. The dishes were of the utmost variety and of perfectly fresh ingredients. We salute the bravura of the chefs at Cibo and we wish them a prosperous career.
E Loi, A and M Pagliarulo, R Zanin, M and J Backhouse, F Pompei, London