Published 16 June 1996 Style Magazine 154th article
Hotshots: Michael Winner with Donald and Marla Trump at Claridge's (Alan Davidson)
I drink a lot of still water. I'm an expert, I can tell one type from another. So when Evian invited me to the Degas exhibition at the National Gallery, I joined a motley group.
When I'm the best-dressed person there (I'd put on a tie), you'd better believe standards aren't up to much. After I'd whizzed round the exhibition and Vanessa was still studying a bronze of a chubby ballerina, I found myself back in the drinks area. See one dancer bending down and you've seen them all, I say. He's a nice fellow, Degas, but Van Gogh he isn't.
I spotted a table with a tray of drinks. "There isn't any Evian water!" I said to a passing waiter.
"I haven't seen much about," he replied.
"But this is an Evian party . . . I"
"I'll go and find some," said the waiter. I tried a canape by Alison Price. Revolting.
I went back into the exhibition to look at yet another group of women combing their hair. A little Frenchman came over. "I'm Marc Mathieu, the managing director of Evian," he said. "Who are you?" That I love! "Michael Winner, and why aren't you serving Evian?" I asked. "We are," said M Mathieu. "Wanna bet?" I asked. "Come," said Marc.
We returned to the drinks area, by which time my waiter was coming forward with a glass of water. "Be sure to get your free Evian bottle with a Degas painting on it as you go," said M Mathieu, wandering off to greet some other guest he'd never heard of. Luckily for me, the lovely Susannah York turned up and I drank my Evian with her.
I went on to dine at Wiltons, this being the reason I was wearing a tie.
You'll remember Mr Rupert Hambro, Wiltons' supremo, cut short my 50 years of non-tie wearing and said from now on it was "Tie, or else!" To soften my humiliation, he said they were making their own tie and I would be the first to receive one.
After nearly a year, I got it. Mr Hambro wrote to say that he was sorry, but they'd had it made by Turnbull & Asser, "and things do not go at great speed at that particular emporium".
Right there, Rupert. T & A think standing still is breaking the sound barrier.
Mr Hambro also enclosed a postcard of a red-spotted tie issued as a gag by Lucky Strike cigarettes. "Should you forget to wear our tie, enclosed is something you can wear instead," he wrote. That is something I look forward to.
That night, I was wearing a lovely tie from the eccentric Marisa Anastasio, who runs my favourite shop at the hotel Splendido in Portofino. I strolled elegantly to my booth, then took a swig of mineral water, which Wiltons always leave for me in a silver tankard with ice and lemon. The taste was horrific! I choked and called over the ever-suave Alberto Alberici, restaurant manager to the aristocracy.
"What is this?" I demanded. "Mineral water," said Albert, tactfully. "It is not my usual Malvern water," I said, my voice rising. Two people at the next table half turned, listening acutely.
"Er, no sir," said Albert. "It's a new water we're using called Blenheim." "Got it on the cheap, got a freebie, did you?" I asked. The woman at the next table giggled.
"This is revolting, Albert. Change back to Malvern. If it's good enough for Her Majesty, it's good enough for this lot."
"I think," said Albert reluctantly, "Mr Hambro is friendly with the Blenheim family."
"You mean blood is thicker than water?" I muttered. "It shouldn't be, not this water." Albert was in a tough situation. He's retiring soon, so I let him off the hook.
I had some excellent crab salad followed by fried plaice. Vanessa ordered smoked salmon and asparagus. Then wasn't sure. "Never mind," said Albert, now back on form, "at Wiltons you always have a choice."
"Not with the mineral water, you don't," I said tartly.
The next night I went to Claridge's. It has cleaned up its dodgy-doorman act, so when I glided up to Donald and Marla Trump's party, the Rolls's door was opened immaculately. The canapes were excellent.
But the room! Overheated to a nauseating degree. Come on, Claridge's. I'm a great supporter. You mustn't put your friends in the oven and turn up the heat. I know it was a hot night, but when the main topic of conversation is that everyone's sweltering, you're doing something wrong.
This must have been particularly embarrassing for Mr Trump and our American cousins. Air conditioning has always been their country's greatest achievement.
With reference to Roger Musgrave's letter in last week's Restaurant Watch, I, too, have an ashtray from the Gillieru. This is, or was, in the St Paul's Bay area of Malta, and was primarily a fish restaurant, situated on a jetty. I visited it, with my wife and son, on a holiday to the island in 1970, and the ashtray was presented to us on leaving the restaurant. It is blue, green and white, with the name "Gillieru" and the Maltese cross in the centre.
George Hill, Daventry
I am a great fan of Mr Winner. He is so pleasantly unpleasant. Long ago, he mentioned that he had forgotten how to prepare steak tartare. So here is a recipe from a Russian/German Baltic cookbook, printed in 1903.
1/2lb best fillet of beef
1 sardelle (anchovy will do)
2 small sour/sweet cucumbers
2 slices of white bread
Pepper and salt
Beat beef to soften, then scrape with a very fine, sharp knife. Mix with raw egg, and add salt and pepper. Shape into two rounds, and decorate with sardelles and cucumbers. Serve on toasted bread.Many years ago I was told it was very good for a hangover.
Mrs I Skippard, London SW19