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Getting on famously

Published 13 August 1995
Style Magazine
110th article



Langan lunch: Michaels Caine and Winner, Shakira Caine and Richard Shepherd (Marjie Perenchio)

I'm not a regular at Langan's. I know it's very chic an' all that, but somehow it's passed me by. Where it scores miraculously is at private parties in the rather strange Venetian room upstairs with its mural by Patrick Proctor. The catering is exemplary. Stars stand in line dutifully to pick up really excellent smoked salmon, shrimp, boiled salmon, roast beef, sausages and mash to die for, goujons of sole. Very well done and fresh, with superb canapes and desserts. I only once saw someone, an actress well known for not much, crash the queue at one of these glittering events. I thought: "What a cow!" But, like everyone else, I said nothing.

Downstairs in the large painting-filled room with fans overhead I have had some strange meals. Once I took OJ Simpson and his late wife, Nicole, very good friends of mine both, after we'd been to see Cats. That was a nice evening. Another time I was with Judy Mazel, who wrote The Beverly Hills Diet, a book devoted to eating pineapples that produced great medical angst and gave people mouth ulcers. My then girlfriend had bought a raincoat at Aquascutum and was very proud of it. "I had one like that, I threw it away," said Judy bitchily. Another time I went with Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland on our only day off in the week from filming. Peter Langan sat at our table within seconds and slurped, spat and dribbled all over us for three hours; Charlie was far too polite to tell him to go. Perhaps all that has combined to give me mixed emotions about the downstairs restaurant. Sometimes I've liked things, sometimes I haven't. But with or without me, it is one of the enduring, successes of London and that is to be much commended.

My friend Michael Caine recently asked me there to lunch with him and Shakira. We had a lovely table by the window (well, if you're with the owner you're hardly likely to be by the men's toilet, are you?) and the service was attentive to perfection. Michael directed me to the melon and the roast free-range chicken, thyme and parsley stuffing, bacon and bread sauce. They were both extremely fine. "People think good chicken's easy," said Michael. "Well, I can tell them it isn't." I nodded agreeably. Shakira had a plate of vegetables, which accounts in part for her glowing youthfulness. "The best I've eaten anywhere in the world," she said slowly enough for me to write it down. But they did look terrific. An enormously rich American lady, rather nice, too, had a spinach souffle. "One of our biggest sellers," obliged Michael.

For a dessert, Shakira suggested we share a treacle tart with custard. I liked that. I took the bigger half. Richard Shepherd, the co-owner, came and sat with us. He looks healthily fat, if that's possible. I always think restaurant owners should be fat. If they're not it means they don't like their own food enough to eat it. Marco's got fat, I thought to myself , Nico's fat, Mosimann could put on a bit . . . those are the sort of things I muse on from time to time.

Thinking of Mosimann reminded me of the Cartier Polo a few weeks back. I thought he catered it rather well. Everyone kept asking what caille was, it's quail, this time served with stuffing: not bad for 400. And the coffee-cream dessert was exceptional. Furthermore, he has improved the tea no end. I moaned like mad at the first one I had there, mucked-about nouvelle cuisine rubbish it was. The English tea is one of our great contributions to world culture and it's best left exactly as it is. This year, after a transitional period in 1994, Anton got it right. Scones, little cakes with icing, egg mayonnaise mini-rolls and other goodies. My complaint this time was at lunch. They only put fizzy water on the table. Carbonated anything is not good for you. "Do you have any still water?" I asked the waiter. "No," he said. So I grabbed some passing supervisor dressed for a funeral. "Are you telling me," I said in my most imperious watch out sort of voice, "that you don't have still mineral water?" "Of course we do," he said, and filled the table with it. A little while later a waiter poured fizzy into my still-water glass. It's the sort of thing that happens quite a lot. Waiters just pour without checking. I find it most irritating. But then I'm easily upset. It comes from being basically noble.



Letters

Michael Winner's account of his visit to Ston Easton Park (August 6) accurately described the splendid surroundings and quality of service which makes the place so special, but I fear his rather inadequate comments on dinner only showed how much he had pigged out on the afternoon tea. I can only say that having eaten there about 40 times, I have never had a duff dish. Okay, the cuisine is not to the standard of the Roux brothers (nor is the price), but it is on a par with, say, Gidleigh Park in Devon, and much above the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. What really distinguishes Ston Easton from the rest is that it manages to be consistently good. The service is always spot-on, never overdone, and this somehow gives one the feeling of being a valued guest in a private house rather than an impersonal hotel. As for the conversation from other tables, I am quite sure that restaurateurs would love to be able to select their clientele, Mr Winner clearly being a case in point.
Peter B Malcolm, Lewdown, Devon

My wife and I visit Hampstead three times a year to savour the Heath, the pubs and ... the Cafe des Arts. One recent Thursday we entered the restaurant and found that there were no familiar faces, the charming greeter had left and the menu looked more formal. Was it the end of our love affair with this most innovative of cafes? There was no need to worry; the flair was still there. How about braised tandoori octopus, salmon ceviche, lamb sausage with mash, or seared tuna? We settled for grilled polenta, aubergine salsa and mozzarella for starters. I had field mushroom stroganoff (in a heavenly piquant sauce) served with spinach risotto. My wife chose seared scallops, chilli, lemon grass and blackened broccoli, full of subtle flavours. We shared a stunning rhubarb mascarpone brulee and a smooth bottle of Rose de Saignee, plus coffee: £47, and worth every penny. Trendy? Nouveau? Maybe, but beautifully presented food in decent portions, served by willing, happy staff in a stylish laid-back ambience.
John Cole, Milton, Hants