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A good old wine

Published 11 May 1997
Style Magazine
201st article



Farsi eaters: the Janzaminis with Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry

David Eliades of Twickenham wrote to ask the most resoundingly important question ever proferred on these pages. "Does Michael Winner drink wine, we deserve to be told." I am in generous mood, I shall answer. I never used to drink wine much, it all tasted of vinegar. One lunchtime, before I started writing here, I was in a restaurant owned by an old friend. It was my birthday. "Have some wine, Michael," she said. I could tell this was intended as a gift. "You choose," I said, not wishing to impose upon hospitality. A bottle of red appeared, looking to me like any other. But when I drank it, I discovered a new taste amazement. The label read Chateau Margaux 1961, it meant nothing. When my friend was out of the room I called for the wine list. There it was, priced £1,000! This was a world with which I had been unfamiliar. On the way home, I rang Claridge's. They had no Margaux 61; if they had, their price would have been much the same. Bruno Roti, who had been their brilliant maitre d', rang my office the next day, he had heard I was asking about Margaux 61, he knew a wholesaler who had two bottles at £225 each. I bought them. That was the beginning of my addiction.

I now have at wine book where I record my purchases, all at auction or from wholesalers. It is quite a grand collection, not in the Lloyd-Webber class, but pretty good. The prices have risen beyond belief. Forget paintings, shares or furniture. Wine at auction has gone bananas. In restaurants, on average, it costs two and a half times purchase price plus Vat. This has become a problem for me. If I am to drink out what I enjoy at home, the price is ludicrous. So I seldom order wine in restaurants. In most places you pay a 15% service just for them to open the bottle. Recently I found the answer to my prayers: a Persian restaurant that serves no wine but invites you to bring your own.

It is called Alounak. Until recently it resided in a hut in a car park the other side of the railway line to Olympia. They tell me Barratt intends to build houses on that spot, so Alounak moved to nearby premises in Russell Gardens, for years called Oliver's and owned by a nice man, Louis Ferris. Then an Italian who runs a restaurant opposite took over and named it Zuma. That lasted about half an hour. Now the brothers Janzamini have redecorated the place like an Arab cafe.

I entered clutching my half-bottle (a modest imbiber am I) of Chateau Cheval Blanc 1986 1er Grand Cru Classe. You pass a man making bread in an open oven with flaming bricks inside; facing you are various Persian artefacts and jars and a large rather dodgy fake palm tree. Mahmoud, the youngest brother, is the chef. Hamid joined him at my table as I read of things like mirza ghasemi, bourani esfenaj and others, all with clear English explanations underneath. With the caution that Vanessa was a vegetarian, I left it to them. A series of totally fresh, highly likable dishes appeared as well as the newly baked naan bread. There was grilled aubergine with eggs, garlic, tomato and onion, strained yoghurt with wild shallots; and much more. The main course for Vanessa was courgette cashew casselole. This girl is fussy, she loved it. I had marinated lamb, chicken and who knows what. It was all pretty good. The desserts were some sweet honey-type juicy biscuits and an extraordinary bowl of what looked like sorbet but was faloudeh, onto which you pour some of the Persian lime juice that is always on the table. They assured me it had pasta in it.

Tea came in highly decorated glasses with what, to my unexperienced eye, was a picture of a Persian hussar on them for good measure. They also had the extreme good sense to give me, for two of us, a table for six. This is a place to which I shall occasionally return. I do have one serious criticism, however. The napkins are blue paper. Never mind, next time I shall bring both wine and some of my Ritz hotel serviettes.

I will end on wine tips garnered from my friend Duncan McEuen who is terribly important at Christie's. Stand your wine upright for two days before pouring it. My Margaux 61 only needs to be decanted half an hour before drinking, my Chateau Latour 61 (a real biggie wine-wise) should be decanted at least two hours before drinking. What! You haven't got any? Oh well nobody's perfect.



Letters

In all fairness to British Midland (Style, April 20), I have flown with them twice and both times had a good continental breakfast going out to Belfast and good cream and strawberry teas on the way back. And as I am on crutches, the plane waited for me to hobble across the Tarmac.
Mrs J Carter, Melton Mowbray, Leics

It's getting worse weekly. We now get treated to two pictures of the elephantine Michael Winner in each issue and on the same page. Can't he even look normal? When he tries a suit, collar and tie, he appears ridiculous, but in his normal shabby, creased old jeans - outsized tummy bursting out of his shirt - he looks the absolute pits. Thank God for the gorgeous and elegant Vanessa.
N T Young, London WC1

Scouring Style for recommendations of suitable eateries (April 27), I drew a culinary blank. Two restaurants are reviewed under two different headings, the Hyatt Carlton's Rib Room, described as "one of the worst meals I have ever eaten", and Harvey Nichols's Foundation, to which Rachel Cooke recommends a Caramac in preference. I take the point, but how about a word or two on places that they would advise visiting.
Edward Berry, Headcorn, Kent