Published 25 August 1996 Style Magazine 164th article
Four settings and a rendezvous: clockwise from top left, Jacqui Crichton, Debbie Carne, Sinead Armstrong, Michael Winner and Alisha Wade (Michael Guest)
There was a lighting shop in Kensington High Street which had a "Closing Down" sale for three years. Opposite was a furniture shop which had an "All stock must be sold, closing down" sale for 15 years! The furniture shop eventually became a party shop and the lighting one Cafe Pasta, a chain restaurant with six other venues. A few years ago, when it first opened, I cased the joint. Anything within range of my house gets a "Winner inspection". It looked well decorated and friendly. A number of diners greeted me. I asked one elderly man: "What do you think of the pasta?" "Not much," he replied. So I didn't eat there until last week.
Cafe Pasta still looked good. Spacious, flowers on each table, a greenhouse effect at the end, bright. Nice. I went with a ﬁlm producer, Mr Guest. We plonked ourselves at a round table for three near the back. I noticed the manager, in a red and pink checked shin, being tipped off I was there by a blonde lady. He noticeably failed to come over. He greeted every other table, studiously avoided me! I got Hadham still mineral Water. Poor to very poor. A sign in the street outside read: "Enthusiastic waiting staff and cooks required, apply within." Not a good omen. Who was running the store? Actually a pleasant South African waiter, Chris, did pretty Well. He brought a French roll and some garlic bread. The garlic bread was quite edible, the French roll soft and nasty. I had the special, tagliatelle with fresh asparagus and cream, £5.95! To be fair, Cafe Pasta is not run for the likes of me. It was full of energised shoppers and secretaries - they probably thought the tagliatelle was fine. I found it totally resistible. No taste, no texture, asparagus could have been anything, cream bland to the point of extinction. Mr Guest had mozzarella and tomato salad with crudites, french or italian dressing, also £5.95. He said it was boring. "All tastes of water, just thrown down and left," he added. It had taken us half an hour to get our main course, which I noted was feeble. The manager was still pretending I wasn't there.
When Chris cleared the main course, he took my paper napkin! I reached to the table behind and nicked one from there. Then he returned and took the dessert order - rum and raisin ice cream "made for us by outside caterers, sir". So saying, Chris removed the napkin I had recently acquired! I took the other napkin from the same table. The ice cream was uninteresting. When Chris cleared it away and took the coffee order, he grabbed my paper napkin for the third time! Luckily the table behind had been replenished so I nicked one from there again! I drank a rather insipid cappuccino, thinking what photo would illustrate this outing. "Think?!" I hear you say, "You always have a photo of yourself, vanity is all!" Very true, but in what setting? What gem could sum up Cafe Pasta for Sunday Times aficionados? I noticed a table opposite with four lively girls, probably locals. The manager, Colin Muldoon from Co Kerry had, at last, come to me during ice cream time. I called him over. "Would you tell that girl," I said pointing, "Michael Winner would like her to come to this table." He went to the prettiest one. There was some giggling, touching of hair, a variety of souped-up body language and the girl rose from her seat. Then sat down again! After a few moments I called a waitress over. "Tell that girl Mr Winner will compromise, he'll meet her at the yellow pillar," I said, pointing to something halfway between us. More laughter and the waitress returned. "She'd like you to go to her," she said. Another blow for feminism! Good for her. I rose to go over and the girl, Alisha as it turned out, got up to meet me about one foot from the pillar. In the perception of social phenomena, these are matters of note. The girls worked a few doors away for Carne Martin qualitative market research. Ms Carne herself was at the table. Yes, they liked it, they came often. Very nice people. One had a diamond pin in her nose. I asked: "What have you researched recently?" "Sainsbury's packaging," said Ms Carne. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
PS. On my way out I gave Mr Muldoon money to pay for the girls' lunch. He told me they served 4,000 people a week! I worked it out. Four thousand people at four napkins each! I now have an ambition. How do I get the serviette concession!
On a recent visit to Loch Lomond, we stopped for an evening meal at the Buttery of the Tarbet Hotel. After 20 minutes the sole waiter (smart waistcoat, black trousers, trainers and impenetrable accent) took our order. "Everything's off - you'd better have the chicken," he proclaimed, poking my husband playfully (and painfully) in the shoulder. Drinks had to be fetched from the nearby bar and mineral water was not available. We ate our strange little pieces of chicken and watery sprouts to the accompaniment of the crashing sound of plates being hurled into a sink and the hysterical laughter of a party of Americans who could not believe the scene was for real. We tried to order desserts from the mangled piece of illegibly photocopied paper that passed for a menu. Needless to say, there were none. "You can go into the lounge for the cabaret," suggested our genial host. "No thanks, we've already seen the cabaret," we replied, heartily, and departed.
Mrs B Foreman, Edgware, Middlesex.
Top marks to Jackie and Steve of the Buffalo Grill (12-14 Chapel Street, Edinburgh) for ensuring we had good food and excellent service despite not prebooking a table on a busy Friday night during the Edinburgh Festival. We were instructed to adjourn to a nearby bar while a table was found and our bottle of Rioja Gran Reserva was uncorked and allowed to breathe. Although we were told we would need to vacate our table within 45-60 minutes, this suited us perfectly as we were going on to a Fringe show. Our shrimp tempura and steak diane were served promptly and with panache, and at no time were we made to feel hurried, although the restaurant was clearly bursting at the seams. The BYOB policy also ensured an inexpensive meal.
Fiona Baskett, Stanton St Quintin, Wilts.
As a reasonably well-off girl from Willesden I, too, have ended up in Knightsbridge's "fashionable Italian places" (Restaurant Watch, August 18). Sandrini on Brompton Road is one of them - it seemed the perfect choice for my mother's 83rd birthday lunch. The food was delicious, some of the service friendly, some less so, but we enjoyed a happy and relaxed lunch. On calling for the bill, I asked the waiter if he would like me to write two cheques so that each would be covered by my cheque guarantee card. The owner was summoned and to my amazement - I expected him to accept one cheque for the £100.65 plus service and take a note of my name and address - he stated that under no circumstances would he accept two cheques and that the balance would have to be paid by credit card or in cash. Not wishing to embarrass my mother, I duly gave him one cheque for £50 and the balance in cash. (Mum had to chip in to make up the difference!) Needless to say, the payment I made added up to £100.65 exactly, and I have booked at Toto for her next birthday.
Elaine Simons, London.