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Guess who's coming to lunch

Published 12 May 1996
Style Magazine
149th article



There's no place to eat like home: Michael Winner, his cook, Lily, and Jeremy Langmead (Daniel Luke)

The late, great Jimmy Marks of Wiltons used to say: "This is the best food in the world, except what you make at home!" Few homes did better grub than he did, mine does. I was sitting at lunch the other day with my Mr Fraser. I'd taken a second portion of spinach souffle (made by my inestimable Lily) and was picking at a green salad with tomatoes, oil and vinegar. The phone rang, it was twenty past one. I hate people who call during lunch. "Yes!" I said irritably. A lovely girl, Emma, who works on the Style section, spoke; "Jeremy asked me to say he was in your area. he'll be with you soon." I went onto autopilot. "Thank you," I said. sweetly. Then I thought - WHAT! Jeremy, the editor of Style, the first person I was ever to meet from the section after nearly three years of writing in it - JEREMY is near me! But he's not due for lunch until next week?

I barked at Mr Fraser, who makes all my arrangements (well, most): "When's Langmead coming?" "In seven days' time," said Mr Fraser, seeing trouble and trying to finish off his salad.

Must be gracious, I thought, among other things. Call to the chauffeur in the garage at the other end of the garden: "Get the Bentley out front, now!" There was no time to display the Phantom V Rolls 1966, impressive as it is, which was in our garage a few blocks away and probably needed a bit of a clean. Call to the Halcyon up the road: "My usual table free? Keep it!" So. I'd have to have two lunches. Worse things have happened. I waited. I waited some more. Then I waited even longer. Eventually, the doors bell rang and a young man entered. He looked like a student collecting for university rag week. But no! This was my very own editor! Muttering about the incompetence of drivers. and apologies, he came in and we had a little neat Laphroaig. Extremely nice fellow he was, too. Then off to the Halcyon, but not before I knocked off a photo of JL, me and Lily at my dining room table, even if no food was eaten there. Memories of things that were not to be.

"Saving on doormen, I see!" I shouted at the girl on the desk as we sailed through the lobby of the Halcyon. The doorman had been talking to her, he moved, red-faced, towards the front. "Having a rest, are you?" I asked as he passed me. "Typical Winner entrance," I whispered to Jeremy as a swing door shut behind us. "Very popular restaurant this. You'll like it," I added confidently as we entered the room. It was completely empty. No diners at all! "Business is terrific." I said to Lauren, the girl on duty. "Glad I made a reservation."

The meal was excellent and we had a serious bottle of wine. But not as good as it would have been at my house. Very little is. You may think that people who write about food live anachronistically on beans on toast with at fried egg. I'd like that, but Lily wouldn't hear of it. She does exquisite duck a l'orange, apple sauce, crisp roast potatoes. Her strawberry souffle is to die for. Her banana cake, remarkable. She is the only person l know who can cook pork to perfection. Thick crackling on top, soft as anything below. Her orange pancakes cause a big stir when served. My favourite marchioness nearly passed out with delight at Sunday lunch recently when she tasted them.

Lily has been with me for a number of years. She did leave once after I found her running round the house screaming four-letter words at her friend the maid and threatening to kill her. As she was brandishing a knife at the time, I, for one, took it seriously. "Lily dear," I said, "we simply cannot have blood on the carpet. Please do it in the street on your day off." Things got a bit fractious and Lily left. But, like all human beings, she realised that life without me was not worth living and, a few years later, she returned. Luckily, she had been with a rich Italian, so now she had learned to do wonderful spaghetti, a magnificent pizza and a whole lot more. Pity Jeremy missed it all. She's Filipino, Lily, so her oriental range of food is exceptional, too. Still, Jeremy's a very decent chap, so I'll ask him again. I'll send Fraser to escort him next time. That'll serve him right.



Letters

Having suffered in silence every week at the sight of Michael Winner's countenance, my spirits rose when he was photographed in front of an emergency-exit sign on April 14. Was nobody tempted to open it when the aircraft reached 30,000ft?
W F Leat, Cambridge, Cambs

The next time Mr Winner decides to take out the Ferrari, it may be an idea to visit the White Hart at Nayland, near Colchester, Essex. The chef is Mark Prescott, who produces an excellent short menu. The mushroom risotto is absolutely first class.
Robert Hughes, Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex

I read with interest the letter from Chris Steed (May 5). For many years I have been a regular diner in both the Garden Room and main restaurant at the Cavendish Hotel, Baslow. I have never had to complain about the food or the service. To say that the hotel has a strong tourist trade and therefore need not bother is absolute rubbish. Every hotel welcomes tourists, and here tourists and regulars are treated alike. Why Mrs Stead and her husband need to go to Derbyshire when they have the very fine Michelin-starred Old Beems at Waterhouses in their own county makes me wonder.
J R Gregory, Arkwright, Derbyshire

Recently my husband and I took two guests to the famous Mr Chow in Knightsbridge and, in our opinion, it was the worst meal ever inflicted upon us. It took so long to acquire menus that eventually I had to ask, "Can we have the menus or shall we guess?" The chicken satay looked like roast fanbelt and the sauce appeared to be a stranger to peanuts. When invited to choose a dessert, our guest, Melissa, couldn't restrain herself from replying: "No thanks, we couldn't risk it."
Amanda Mann, London