Published 9 March 1997 Style Magazine 192nd article
Wholehearted: Michael Winner with James and Gillian Cooper (Vanessa Perry)
For 12 years, I attended a vegetarian Quaker school in Hertfordshire. Nut roasts, rusks, potato-cheese, salads in varying degrees of awfulness, these were my staple foods, aggrandised during the war years by visits to the Corner Post Office, where we would buy meat or fish paste and eat it by sticking our fingers into the little glass jars and scooping it out.
I recall with immense pleasure sausages and chips at a tearoom in Letchworth, with a fine brown gravy sloshing about. I thought this was the ultimate in taste. When I grew up, I would eat nothing else. In 1952 either I dumped the school or they dumped me (opinions differ) and I attended Miss K M Hobbs, a tutorial establishment in Buckingham Gate, London. At last I was being truly educated. Next door was a lovely, grown-up sandwich bar where we would go for lunch.
Within a year, aged 17, I was up at Cambridge studying something or other. There was a Greek restaurant near Downing College where chips again figured heavily, and various Indian places for special occasions. Thus do we look back on our formative years. Long after all this happened to me, Vanessa lived in Fulham, while dancing at various establishments around the capital. She ate regularly at a vegetarian restaurant in the Fulham Road, at a westerly point, which I have only stopped at once. That was to go to the Blue Elephant, a very average Thai restaurant. My car was clamped.
It therefore took some persuading to get me to return to the area, but Vanessa was adamant. The Windmill Whole Food Restaurant is not everyone's idea of haute cuisine. It is near bus stops and other unsavoury sights. Inside, it is pleasant in a frugal way. Nice wood-polished tables spaced well apart, fresh flowers, a red-tiled floor, comfortable wooden-cane chairs and white-washed brick walls. I ordered an Organic Golden Promise Bitter Sweet ale that tasted of dishwater, and a Fentiman's Ginger Brew, which was delicious; I shall get some in the house. It's ginger beer. Vanessa bravely tried a half bottle of white elderflower wine 1995. She decided it tasted like Aqua Libra, so asked for Chateau Falfas 1995. After a sip, she then reckoned she'd been spoilt on the wine I usually give her.
The place is excellently run by a nice-looking young couple, Gillian and James Cooper, Gillian being quick to point out she is the owner and James is an artist. Indeed, his paintings are on the walls. Very decorative, a cross between Matisse and a Russian icon. I tried leek, potato and spring onion strudel with a dijon mustard cream sauce and roasted potato fans for my main course. It alone had no price attached. "It must be priceless," I remarked to James. "Yes, it is priceless," he said, "that's why so many people are ordering it tonight."
That and my first course of deep-fried mozzarella and fruit were both very pleasant, but I'm not booking for New Year's Eve. Vanessa totally loved it all. Her stuff included tofu, fresh ginger, coriander, a pine nut roulade and a lot more too difficult for me to recall.
My rhubarb crumble was somewhere between school and Claridge's, Vanessa's banana yoghurt creme runny but tasty. It is all near the junction of Fulham Road and North End Road. As I walked off, a man in a car yelled: "This is good, you should try it!" He was eating something from a nearby Lebanese takeaway. Then two men, one white, one black, accosted me. "Where are you going, Michael?" asked the black man cheerfully. "I'm going to this lady's car in the Safeway car park." I replied. "I promise not to tell anyone," said the black man. The white one said: "Go into the George" - he indicated a nearby pub. "The Twilight Zone has nothing on it." I peered. "Don't go in," said Vanessa ﬁrmly. It looked perfectly pleasant to me.
A full moon was rising over a Victorian block of flats housing Savvas Gents' hairdressing. When we got into Vanessa's sports car, at some lights a man said: "I'll clean your windscreen for free 'cos you're such lovely people." I fished in my pocket. All I could find was a tenner. "Your lucky night," I said, handing it over.
"Well," I said, "at least they're out working instead of sitting in the pub." When I got home, I read the Holistic London Guide I'd picked up in the veggie place. There was one article headed The Value of Depression and another by Uri Geller, saying: "When I bend a spoon I just stroke it gently and talk to it. Bend, bend - and it bends!" I can think of people I'd like to do that to.
I find Michael Winner's self-importance totally unreasonable. His review of the St James's restaurant in Fortnum & Mason (Letters, February 23) indicates his shortcomings in both behaviour and taste. What gives him the right to take another person's table, a practice even he admits he would not tolerate? As to the meal, it was obviously not to his liking, but for the impartial reader I would like to assure them that the quality and value of the food is usually excellent. Should I ever arrive at a restaurant and find Mr Winner occupying a table I have reserved, I shall take great delight in asking him to move.
Jeffrey Everett Beckenham, Kent
Like Mr Thomas (Letters, February 23), we booked a superior room at Reid's hotel in Madeira last year. Unlike him, we were delighted. We were greeted with flowers and wine and did not notice any darned pillowcases or cracked tiles. Service was excellent, and we were so pleased we returned a few months later.
W Leadbetter Rugeley, Staffs