Published 23 March 1997 Style Magazine 194th article
Game for anything: Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry at Scotts (Charlotte Jesperson)
Mount Street, Mayfair, is where I had my first job on leaving Cambridge, as a theatrical agent for a wonderfully boisterous American, Al Parker. Mr P had been an important director of silent films and some talkies, making many of the Douglas Fairbanks Sr actioners. I got £10 a week and my secretary got £12.50. During my brief employment I smashed up my lovely blue Sunbeam Alpine at the junction with Park Street, and years later drove my equally lovely blue Mercedes sports into a Porsche outside the Connaught. From time to time I would visit Scotts, recently bought and redone.
I read two terrible reviews of it, one by the doyenne Fay Maschler, the other by your very own Mr Gill, who was once my gardener. He was, really! He worked for a firm that "did" for me. "Never forget all those bloody leaves," he recalled at an elegant reception.
I telephoned and booked for 8.15. "Would you come at 8.30pm?" said a rude lady.
"Can't I come at 8.15?" I asked.
"No," she said, "And can I have your phone number?"
"What on earth for?" I asked. "It's 6.30 now."
"We like phone numbers," she answered.
"I'll see you at 8.30," I replied.
"You're not staying in a hotel, then?" said the lady.
I turned up, not at 8.30, not at 8.15, but at 7.45. A dark-haired receptionist seemed unconcerned, as well she might: the place was more or less empty. A blonde lady showed us to a dreadful table. Small, where one person sits on a bench, back to the wall, and the other faces them. The people on left and right are very close indeed.
"Any chance of a better table?" I asked quietly. Some management staff rushed over. "Would you like a round table, Mr Winner?" they said, indicating a nice table for four. "That's very kind of you," I said, settling in.
The decor is suburban hotel-style. "Just awful," said Vanessa. Purple carpet, bilious yellow chairs, wood pillars and many mirrors hanging on the walls. The wine waiter appeared with admirable promptness and brought two buck's fizz very quickly. He recommended the Barossa Valley Shiraz 1994. Not harmful is the best I could say.
Four bread rolls were offered on a plate. I chose one, not good, not bad. "Bland," said Vanessa. She started with a salad of warm English goat's cheese, marinated with apple in a sage dressing. She pronounced it excellent. I had Mr Scotts game pie with wild rabbit and boar, served with a watercress salad, which wasn't. It would have been all right in a pub; no particular taste, the crust rubbery. I was getting aggravated by spots of dirt on the carpet. One about 2in long and 1/8in wide lay by the serving table. "Forgive me," I said to a waiter, "I keep looking at that bit of white dirt on the floor. Could someone remove it, please?"
The room was filling up with people who looked like they came from hotels. "Have they bunged receptionists all over London?" I thought as endless men entered, hands in pockets. Our main courses were pretty dire. I had Cornish cod deep-fried with chips and mushy peas. The mushy peas were the best ever! The chips all right, the cod tired, no body, no freshness of taste. I left most of it. Vanessa's was roast fillet of sea bass with noodles and lemon butter sauce. She thought the sauce sickly sweet and left nearly everything. Her dessert, sherry-soaked dried fruit and nuts with mead ice cream and cinnamon basket, she called "actively revolting". I tried the ice cream, it tasted of smoke. I had tarte tatin, described as something else. It was overcooked, poor, but I ate it. The staff, however, were all very nice indeed.
Scotts is owned by a group that has, among others, Cafe Fish, which I hated to death and so wrote on this page, and Chutney Mary where I once attended a freebie party and we grumbled: "If this is the food they serve at a special event, what must it be like normally?" I never went back to find out. The group is called Chez Gerard according to their note-paper, Chez Gerrard according to the bill. I note on the financial pages, they recently "posted lacklustre results forcing the shares down 11p". If they don't know how to spell their own name, I'm not surprised. The food's not up to much, either.
I think it is so funny that readers go beserk about Michael Winner's behaviour in restaurants. Why do they take it so seriously? He doesn't seem to. I wish that I had the nerve to go about things as he does, instead of suffering in silence. Anyway, it all seems to be done tongue in cheek. It certainly makes for exciting reading, which is perhaps why some letter writers get so overexcited. Please let Michael Winner carry on being impossible - who wants to read about people being ordinary?
Jacqueline Brassey, Heswall, Wirral.
I always enjoy reading Michael Winner's elegant prose but I was fascinated to learn on March 2 that Bagan had a "biblical landscape dotted with endless Buddhist temples". I look forward to seeing the sets when he does his blockbuster film of Jesus of Nazareth.
Ken Bates, London SW6.
Michael Winner seemed to enjoy his cruise in Burma. Of course, from his luxury cabin it would have been hard to see the thousands of children being used as forced labour to improve the country's tourist infrastructure. Many companies are pulling out of this country in protest at the dictatorship's appalling human-rights record, and in the light of this Winner's article came across as callous.
David Ljunggren, London W1.
I used to be amazed at how much Michael Winner manages to spend in Barbados but recently I was the guest of a friend at the Tiawina hotel in St Barts for two weeks. For four people half-board in three suites and car hire, the bill came to $162,500. Is this a record?
Piers Birtwhistle, London SW1.
"I care not what it costs," wrote Michael Winner (March 2). How wonderful to be able to realise that statement. There is no point whatsoever in having money if you do not allow it to buy you the best. I was surprised when I saw Michael Winner on the Mrs Merton Show (BBC1, February 23). He is a lot handsomer than his photos and much taller.
Diana Collins, Sheffield.