Published 29 September 1996 Style Magazine 169th article
'I told them not to let you in': Mogens Tholstrup with Michael Winner at the Collection (Vanessa Perry)
There are places wild horses could not drag me back to. High on the list is the Collection, the fashionable restaurant in Brompton Road. It is just as well - they didn't want to let me in anyway! I telephoned at three in the afternoon. "This is Michael Winner, I'd like a table for two at 8.30 please." "We're full," said the girl. I repeated, patiently: This is Michael Winner, could I please have a table for two at 8.30?" "Not a chance at that time," she said. Yet again I said: "Could I please have a table for two at 8.30?" "Is that your preferred time?" asked the girl. "Of course it is," I said with deadly quiet, "that's why I've mentioned it three times already." "We're very busy . . ." "Do you know who I am?" I asked the dreaded question. "No," she said. "I'm new here." "Well, could you please be so kind as to telephone Mogens Tholstrup [the owner] and tell him Michael Winner would like a table for two at 8.30." "Are you a friend of Mr Tholstrup's, Mr Withers?" asked the girl. "Winner," I said slowly. "W-I-N-N-E-R. Now here's my phone number, please call me back." "There's no need if you're a friend of Mr Tholstrup's," said the girl. "You can come at 8.30."
An hour later, the phone rang. An immensely charming lady, Laura Anderson, said: "Welcome to the Collection, Mr Winner, we're looking forward to seeing you at 8.30." "No, you're not," I responded. "You didn't want to let me in." I've had trouble getting in there before. I was not one of Mogens's 500 nearest and dearest, so I was not asked to the opening night. I never go to restaurant openings, it's the principle! If I'd been Tamara Beckwith I'd have been high on the first-night list. If I'd been having an affair with Tamara Beckwith I'd have been higher. If I'd spent the night with Jack Nicholson at the Dorchester I'd have been the guest of honour. Being only a poor boy from you-know-where, I was out!
On the night of my dinner I was at a party near the Collection. A guest told me there was a man with a clipboard at the door and you could be held up for minutes while they checked you out. "A tenth of a second and I'm gone," I thought, as the Rolls drew up. Three people, one with clipboard, stood at the unsigned entrance. One was a young lady who showed us in. The room itself is immensely impressive. A great brick barn with steel supports and wooden floors, a long bar on the left with a lot of people drinking, tables on the ground floor and more on a large raised balcony. Very New York. I was shown to the balcony. Within seconds, I knew why I'd never return. It is terribly noisy: the people drinking below, some screaming/singing half-hidden by voice-noise, the animated diners upstairs. Result: you have great difficulty in talking even to someone close to you. I understand that's what it's all about today: big noisy restaurants where you are swept away (or in my case swept aside) by the cacophony and spirit of others enjoying themselves. But not for me.
The food was far less good than Mogens's other place a few yards away, Daphne's. There everything is pleasant. At the Collection we both left a lot of everything, from crispy duck with yaki soba noodles and plum sauce to noodle soup with shi'take, galangal and water chestnuts and spring roll. Even my dessert of iced nougat with chocolate was unfinished. A bit like airline food, I thought. Laura, the manageress, strode to and fro on long legs with a toothy grin, coping with aplomb. Strangely, I admired it all greatly. Mogens is the rich man's Terence Conran. He has great style. He has put his ﬁnger on what his public want and, like a finely crafted Schwarzenegger movie, he is giving it to them. That it's not for me is totally irrelevant. Mogens himself appeared to greet us. "I told them not to let you in," he smiled. "You just can't get the staff these days, can you?" I replied. Vanessa wondered how all the people at the bar, without reservations and there only to drink, got past the clipboard fuhrer at the door. "They say they're friends of Michael Winner's," said Mogens. When I got the bill, it was a rare moment. I had cash with me. I laid my notes on the table. Unfortunately, the bill was £113.50. I had £40. They had to send it on. Personally, I shall stick to the calm and charm of Daphne's. I wasn't asked to the opening of that either!
The trouble with Michael Winner is that he tends to head for five-star hotels and two-Michelin rosette restaurants, and then is disappointed that one or more details of an otherwise impeccable service are not up to standard. The Juana in Juan-les-Pins (Style, September 22) is a fine hotel, albeit fronting a busy road, but had Mr Winner ventured 50yd around the corner into the rue de l'Oratoire, he would have found a small hotel called the Juan Beach where Gaby and Anique Moreau dispense their superb Provencal cuisine in a peaceful garden restaurant for less than a third the price of a meal at the Juana. Gaby goes to the market in Antibes each morning at six to choose ingredients for his soupe de poisson, rouget grille, civet de lapin, poulet saute and salade nicoise ; for his incredible cheeseboard, fresh peaches and grapes and his wicked tarte fraise; all to be accompanied by his own-label bourgogne wines. Michael Winner should sometimes abandon his five-star obsessions and look around the corner for the superb food and attentive service that can be found at a fraction of the price of the grander establishments - and without the disappointments that stem from minor failures in such an expensive service.
Brian Lingard St Peter Port, Guernsey
My wife and I have happily visited a restaurant in Hatch End called Hatchets for more than 12 years. Its owners, Tass and Maureen, have recently been joined by their son, Angelo, as head chef, thereby ensuring continuity. Their customers are treated as friends and, indeed, many become just that. The menu is creative, delicious and sensibly priced, and the atmosphere is always warm and friendly. We have never had a bad meal or experience.
Michael Austin Pinner, Middlesex
Recently, I booked a table at Zoe's restaurant in central London for a dinner party for seven, prompted by Antony Worrall Thompson's reputation and the restaurant's entry in the Good Food Guide. It was a great disappointment. Chicken was served in place of duck. The potatoes were rock hard and replaced by ones even more undercooked. The staff seemed unable to cope if anything went wrong. One wine was poured on top of a quite different one. With the main course, a new wine choice was made and overpoured, so that only five of us received any. We had to reallocate quantities across the table! The food presentation is good but some of the ingredients substandard, such as exceptionally salty prosciutto. Perhaps Mr Worrall Thompson's beady eye should be more in evidence.
Conal Gregory London, SW1