Published 14 January 1996 Style Magazine 132nd article
Tearing strips off the opposition: Enzo Cecconi, left, and Michael Winner (Rebekah Wade)
I was going to do some negotiating, so I chose Cecconi's in Mayfair. My haggling was to be with a very beautiful young redhead. In case you're getting the wrong impression. the redhead is called Rebekah Wade and she's the super deputy editor of the News of the World. How dare he mention those four words in The Sunday Times, I hear you gasp in
amazement. Well, I can, so tough luck. I write a political column in that paper and the time had come for a little chat about a raise in my recompense. What should I ask, I thought, as I dressed up a bit more than usual for my outing.
Enzo Cecconi has been running his place for nearly 20 years. It's a restaurant I used to go to a lot, but I hadn't been for a while. Led stupidly by fashion, I've been to newer places, but really they're not as good. Enzo used to be general manager of one of my favourite hotels, the Cipriani in Venice, so he knows a thing or two about Italian food. I noticed he'd put a lot more dining tables about the place. They now ﬁll the bar area, so when I sat on one of the only three bar stools available, a howling, freezing gale from the street door attacked me every time anyone came in. I mused, while waiting for Miss Wade (she was on time, I was early!), how it is that all these new restaurants keep opening up, all seating more and more people, and still they seem to be full. Are people eating out twice as much as before? Or are there a load of empty restaurants that used to be popular which have become deserted to balance the act? Certainly Cecconi's was full.
I also don't understand how people hear of these new restaurants so easily. I went to Coast in Albermarle Street recently, a few days after it opened. It was packed. The chef is Stephen Tenty, who, you may remember, grew up in a pram donated to his mother by my father because she was dad's secretary and he was very generous. I'd supported him at the Canteen, he'd cooked in my house and I had to turn up to keep it all in the family. The place was indescribably noisy, decorated in a nihilistic style of non-decor, but the food was fine. Except for the dessert, which was a number of rock-hard chocolate balls. "Be careful," the waiter said. "they may shoot off the plate." They did. So
why serve them? As I was leaving, an Essex-type man at a table of six beckoned me over. He's going to mention how much he loves my column, I thought. I shall be gracious. "Is that Vanessa?" was all he said, indicating my friend. "Bloody cheek," I said as I rejoined her. "You're more famous than me."
But to return to Cecconi's. I had first a bellini, which are only really good at Harry's Bar in Venice, are okay at La Reserve de Beaulieu and hideous everywhere else. Cecconi's did a rather fine one. Enzo recommended a lobster salad - they cut the lobster in half in front of you and sort of chop it up - followed by tagliolini verdi gratinati, which I remembered as being exquisite. They were both very good. By now both Rebekah and I were getting into serious ﬁnancial talk. We were trying to work out the percentage increase in my salary that was on the table, as it were. I even went into the restaurant office to use their calculating machine. "Nonsense," said Rebekah, looking at the result. "Who was last at school, you or me?" That was obvious. So Rebekah took a pen and paper and started an amazing display of figures and signs. Numbers above numbers with funny codes. It looked like seriously advanced physics. Sadly, the result was both wrong and vastly in my favour, so she hastily scrunched up the bit of paper and ordered a millefeuille and a raspberry tart. I had them, too. Both extremely good, particularly the millefeuille, which was crisp (unlike at the Four Seasons), flaky and with delicious cream. I decided Cecconi's tore strips off the newer, so-called good Italian restaurants. But Enzo had retired for the night so I couldn't tell him. I finished with far too much espresso and couldn't sleep, even when I turned on Melody Radio, which usually sends me off at once!
PS Negotiations ended in a compromise, which means both sides did rather well?
I was intrigued by Mr Winner's recent report on Richoux in Piccadilly. He was luckier than I was! A friend and I had tea there recently. The teapots were brought to the table, allowed to brew, and when we poured we had two cups of hot water! Complaining to the waitress, we received two tea bags some five minutes later, when the water was only warm. The quality of the tea was appalling. A further complaint to the waiter who had now taken her place resulted in a shrug and a "I've only just come on duty". We did complain again and the cost was removed, but we still would have liked to have had a refreshing cup of tea.
Jennifer Hale, Epping, Essex
As a "southerner" who has known and appreciated Betty's of York and Harrogate for more than 35 years, I can assure Michael Winner that there is "life north of Watford" (Winner's Dinners, December 31), and that the above establishments are noted for being "high-class places for tea".
Derek H Holmes, Harrogate, N Yorks
There we were, sitting in the main restaurant in the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados, over Christmas, enjoying the view and listening to the State Police Band, when the maitre d' escorted a couple to the next table. It was Michael Winner and Vanessa. Coincidently, I had said only a couple of days previously, when eating in the Italian restaurant, that we should ask Michael Winner to come and evaluate the place he would have a field day! This was after my husband had fought his way through a "quail" that resembled a rubber duck and then had had coffee poured down his beige trousers by the waitress. Very inadequate compensation of free desserts was offered, especially as our bill was about £150. We felt insulted we must have been paying for the beautiful setting, and not the culinary expertise. During our dinner alongside Mr Winner we received good and friendly service, as did he. However, our assessment of the table d'hote meal was mediocre, despite a similar price to the above meal.
Penny Fischer, Berlin, Germany