Published 18 February 1996 Style Magazine 137th article
Perfect shape: Michael Winner and Tom Dimarzo (Vanessa Perry)
"You're being unfair to me," said Orson Welles. "Me, sir . . . ?" "Yes," said Orson. "Whenever I eat, everyone laughs. The whole crew stuff themselves all day . . ." "I shall explain to them, sir, this is unacceptable behaviour," I responded. "You personally are being unfair," continued Orson. Before I could bluster, he went on: "The way you're photographing me makes me look fat." I was flabbergasted. Orson was one of the nicest men in the history of the world, we stayed friends until he died, he was legendary for many things. Being thin was not one of them. "You're always photographing me from low," said Orson. "It puts on pounds. I want eye-level shots." "Absolutely, Orson," I said. "You shall have them." "My eye level not yours," said Orson, and he laughed those great rolls of mirth that came from deep within, his face crinkled and his whole body shook. Orson was right. If overweight people are photographed from a camera held above their eyes, pounds drop off - and vice versa. Thus, when I went into the kitchen of Vong, a new and sensational restaurant in Knightsbridge, to be photographed with the American chef, Tom Dimarzo, I kept saying to him: "Down." And we went up and down as if we were on springs while Vanessa snapped away. Dimarzo was very obliging. He just kept bending his knees when asked, there being no time to explain to him that Vanessa is shorter than me and this was all a desperate attempt to make me look thinner.
Vong has one of those large, glass windows showing Dimarzo at work, so what the customers thought of us bobbing up and down I cannot imagine and nor do I much care. I should think they were so delighted at the food, nothing else mattered. Because Vong is an absolutely terrific place. It serves a unique mix of Asian-influenced European food, or is it the other way round? Either way, it's miles from the becoming-tiresomely-uniform taste of new English restaurants. I dropped in to Vong one evening without booking, something I seldom do. The girl behind the cloakroom bar was unbelievably charming. I wish I'd got her name. They found me a table, although I later heard it was the new "in" place and you had to book well ahead. I was on my way back from a do at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and I had lobster and daikon roll, rosemary ginger dip, then spiced cod and curried artichokes, and then warm Valrhona chocolate cake and a caramel sesame ice cream. The cake was soft in the middle like a souffle and ended a meal consisting of taste sensations that took me by storm! I was with a very important television producer and, as the place got full, the noise became horrific. Vong is headed by someone so important he's called only Jean-Georges in the brochure they gave me. He may have no last name (he does really, but I can't be bothered to tell you what it is), but he should know people like to talk when eating, if only to say: "The crispy squab on egg-noodle pancakes is amazing!"
When I returned with Vanessa, she had 27 vegetables simmered in their own juices as a starter and counted "1-2-3-" up to 24, but agreed she'd probably missed three. She pronounced it historic. I had sauteed skate, Chinese sausage, cabbage and mango as my main course. Stupendous! Dimarzo worked with J-G in New York, where they also have a Vong. He first came here as a rock musician to play the Hammersmith Odeon in 1976! He's not only a very good chef (to put it mildly), but he's jolly. You can't imagine his place running with staff blood as on the television show with a hidden camera in the kitchens because (a) he's so pleasant and (b) there's that glass window to the restaurant that would reveal everything.
Vong is decorated like a posh cafe. Too many hard surfaces for sound-deadening, but pleasant to look at. The clientele seemed to me like unsuccessful antiques dealers. But, as the evening wore on, they looked more successful. On my second visit, I thought another girl at the desk lacked charm. It's terribly important, isn't it, the way you're greeted as you enter a restaurant? My friend Bill Goldman, legendary screenwriter, wit and human being, was saying that only the other evening. He's a regular reader of this column, so he must be right. Even though he lives in New York, Vong did not ring bells for him. He's a man of taste. I shall take him when he next comes over.
I appreciate that Mr Winner's meal at the George and Dragon in Baldock (Winner's Dinners, February 4) was terrible and that he is right to take the owners to task, but I do not feel that it also grants him the privilege of making extremely rude personal comments about people's dress sense. The gentleman in question has obviously just taken over and is trying hard to make it work. He needs a quiet, helpful word as to where he is going wrong. He does not need a snakebite from a character who is too mean to admit that a town he loved from childhood has failed to live up to his memories. If you have a conscience, Mr Winner, I suggest you examine it closely. Otherwise, keep up the good reviews of past issues.
Helen J O'Flaherty, Allerthorpe, N Yorks
I was surprised to read Mr Carroll's comments (February 11) about British Airways having stopped serving caviar. As the person responsible for ordering the airline's caviar, I can assure readers that we serve more and more every year. In 1995, our passengers ate more than four tonnes of it. We have just placed one of the world's largest orders for premier-grade Iranian, which will keep our passengers pampered well into the next century. This month, we opened the first true "restaurant in the sky" in our new-style first class. Of the huge choice of dishes, one of the most popular is baked potato topped with a large dollop of caviar (which is, incidentally, the best way to enjoy it).
David Gillham,British Airways Catering