Published 8 October 1995 Style Magazine 118th article
How sweet it is: Michael Winner and Vincent Danil with trays of baklava at Crackers
The neighbourhood restaurant may not be as glamorous as going out on the town, but it's useful and it's there. If you're lucky enough to live near me, and property values have risen on far less, then you've got some smashing restaurants. I moved to a famous Norman Shaw house, the home and studio of Sir Luke Fildes, 50 years ago. And if you don't know who Norman Shaw and Sir Luke Fildes are, look 'em up! It's adjacent to Holland Park and during the second world war I played in the preserved, untouched grounds of the slightly bombed Jacobean masterpiece mansion, which, with typical Kensington council fervour, was pulled down the minute the hostilities ended. Turn right outside my place and you pass another Norman Shaw house, where the film director Michael Powell lived. Turn left and there's the house where I saw Moira Shearer, star of Powell's The Red Shoes, set off in white to marry Ludovic Kennedy. Jump over my back garden wall and you end up in what was the garden of David Lean. Carry on down to Kensington High Street, turn left, and you come to Crackers. This is an Arab ministore. I drop in there to "nick" a few of their baklavas, which are unbelievably fresh and delicious. Vincent Danil, a Palestinian from Jaffa, runs Crackers. He has four types of baklava: pastry and syrup with pistachio if it's the original; finger-shaped called asabie; in baskets called bouaj; and roundish called kol woshkor, which means "eat and thank God" in Arabic.
Danil works among the pitta bread, olives, Turkish jams and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I also nick (with permission) Turkish delight sweets. I pay for the ice cream. Usually a week or so late! Il Portico, on the other side of the road, is a typical local eating place, it is time-warped in the 1960s, but the food has stayed fresh. It's uncomfortable, very family run by Pino Chiavarini and his wife, and I'm a terrible nuisance there! I am only prepared to sit in one of the booths and then I insist the next one is kept empty. Once, when they gave me salt on strawberries, I screamed so loud I could be heard in Copenhagen. But it's a terrific place and we all remain good friends. I recommended it to Don Black, famed songwriter and lyricist to Andrew Lloyd Webber, when he moved in opposite me and he's been at devotee ever since. So has John Wells, actor and hobby food-writer.
Turn right as you come out of Il Portico and you pass Abingdon Road, where rests one of London's great, poorly used premises. It houses Trattoo, an Italian place not to go to, but dying to be taken over to become a star. Cross the High Street and there's Bill Wyman's Sticky Fingers, gloomy decor except for the wonderful old posters, but superb hamburgers, hot dogs and milk shakes. Proceed northwest, into the environs of Shepherd's Bush, and you get two of the best restaurants in London. Chez Moi in Addison Avenue, another 1960s time warp but posh, run by the world's most pleasant restaurateur, Colin Smith. And hidden further away, Chinon, where chef Jonathon Hayes at his best is unsurpassable. His girlfriend. Barbara Deane, is a wonder. Rude as anything, with letters of complaint pouring into this page about her, all correct but all nonsense, because she's wonderful! Also within walking distance of my house you've got The Room At The Halcyon, consistently excellent and seeming to have a new head waiter and second-in-command every two days; Orsino, cheap. cheerful and exquisitely designed; and Hiroko, Japanese run by an Egyptian, in Holland Park Avenue. Drop down Holland Road to High Street Ken and there's another brilliant but ill-used space. I hate to say this because Renato Cierlo, the owner of Gallo D'Oro, is a good friend. But he's let his place get stuck in nowhereland. It's just ticking over. Take your finger out, Renato, get a first-rate chef in and I'll help you make a fortune! I make that eight excellent places and two could-bes within non-athlete walking distance of my residence. Oh, and I forgot another one, the closest, Johnny Gold's Belvedere in Holland Park. That's the alternative Saturday lunch place for Johnny, Terry O'Neill and me. The other half being a Jewish deli in St John's Wood! Glad I remembered the Belvedere, otherwise I'd be drummed out of the club. Okay, that's my area. Yours has the disadvantage of not harbouring me. What has it got?
I read in The Times the other day that a man "was arrested after running amok with a machete at a restaurant in Swindon when waiters told him there was a problem with his booking for dinner". I was surprised to discover it wasn't Michael Winner.
M Consterdine, Woking, Surrey
I have a little piece of advice to pass on to Mr Winner. Simply give the maitre d' a handsome note and your waiter or waitress a good tip. The secret is in the upfront approach! Plus, and most importantly, smile and have a kind word. I realise this might make Mr Winner's articles full of praise. But then, why not? Vanessa's and my stomach juices will cease suffering and his will know there has been a revolution!
Peter G Lawrence, Nutley, East Sussex
Recently, I was entertaining two women, one of whom was from New York, and thought I would like to give them a really super lunch in congenial surroundings. I had lunched at the fashionable Daphne's once before three of us had been squashed on to a table just about adequate for two so, taking a leaf from Mr Winner's book, I was specific about the sort of table I wanted. I thought that my American colleague might be impressed by what is considered to be one of the most fashionable restaurants in town. I was told when I made my booking that I could not be seated before 2pm. Two of us arrived at 2pm to be told that we would have to wait five minutes. We stood for half an hour (in which time more than 15 people were greeted and shown to their tables), after which we were seated, having explained that our colleague was delayed, but we would order for her. The head waiter (a woman) then approached us and said we had been seated in error at a regular's table. I thought we were being placed at another table and was horrified to be put back in the reception area. By this time, our companion had arrived and it was 2.45pm. We had been offered nothing to eat or drink. Eventually a waiter took pity and offered us a free glass of champagne. Although it was kind (and unlike his superior, who was rude and patronising), I said that I would prefer a table. At 3pm we left and went to Scalini's, where, as usual, we were made to feel very welcome and the food was, as ever, delicious. I suppose that what I want to say is, you never know whom you are insulting and, while we are young women, one of us is a successful New York journalist who will not be recommending her readers to go to Daphne's.
Candis Peters, London, SW6
I wonder whether Mr Winner could do the users of Heathrow's Terminal 4 a favour. Next time he is flying, perhaps he could briefly divert from the first class lounge and visit Garfunkel's restaurant. He will regret it. Recently, we had the misfortune to try it before we caught our 9pm flight. First, we rugby tackled a waiter for some cold beer, which, eventually, arrived. The woman at the adjoining table sent her pasta back and the toasted sandwich, which replaced it, also remained uneaten. Several rugby tackles, and several beers later, our food arrived. My vegetable cannelloni tasted as if it had been microwaved, the pasta tubes were inedible and the sauce crispy. My daughter's chips were undercooked. My husband had ordered fillet steak, but even that simple fare looked like a lump of shrivelled leather. We weren't expecting a gourmet meal. We were just expecting to refuel reasonably well, especially since, above the till, there was a large, reassuring sign saying the restaurant was recommended by Egon Ronay for quality and service. What excuse can there be for such an understaffed place, and such awful food? Garfunkel's is guaranteed custom, since weary travellers are trapped in the departure lounge with few other places to go.
Felicity Fitzgerald, Gaborone, Botswana