Published 5 October 1997 Style Magazine 221st article
Sandwich filled: Bessie and Caroline Seyffert with Michael Winner at the White Horse Inn (Crispian Sallis)
Shere is a picture-postcard village in Surrey. It has a village green - small, manageable - and a lovely church, with two rows of quaint houses and shops peeking at it. On the other side of the triangle is a historic old building called the White Horse Inn. Outside it are wooden benches, tables and some stocks where I once photographed Marlon Brando, his head through the centre, his hands in the holes left and right. I wanted to use the inn in my new movie, but this wasn't possible as it was being restored, gone over, full of builders when we needed it. We had other locations in the area, so I asked Miss Tareth Eastwood, the fiancee of the landlord, to keep us a table for six.
It was full of tourists when we arrived at 1pm. We were placed by an old open fireplace in a room with small windows that would have overlooked the green and the church were it not for a bus from King's Ferry of Gillingharn blocking a great deal of the view. Why they let it park, wiping out the beauty of the place, I do not know.
I changed my high-backed, padded chair for a more solid Windsor chair, and we ordered. "It's a good time," said Tareth, "the kitchen's not busy." It still took an extraordinarily long time for our food to arrive, even though we'd explained we were in a hurry.
I wandered over to the window to see what I could of a wedding at the church. On my way back, I asked an old lady and a girl what they thought of the food. "Okay," they said, rather unenthusiastically. "The vegetables are too raw," the old lady added. "That's all the fashion today," I said, moving on.
Eventually, our food arrived. My Thai-spiced chicken breast came with McCain-type chips, a salad and some hot red sauce. It was quite dreadful. Crispian Sallis had the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I nicked a bit of the pud; it was chewy and tasteless. "It's a bit pedestrian," said Crispian, eating some. The beef he described as "pretty boring". Tom, down the table, said his Yorkshire pudding "tastes like it was microwaved, very spongy and elastic". My
location recce crew were not happy bunnies. A waitress came into the room with two plates, calling: "Order for Mannering." She waited a bit, then left. "Mannering has fled," said Michael Harvey.
I decided to take a vote. "Who says the vegetables should be more cooked?" I asked. My group shook their heads and said: "No." Mr Purdie described them as "satisfactory", but as he had no vegetables his opinion wasn't particularly valuable.
Tom asked if I came to Shere a lot. "I bring American film stars here," I replied. "I used to come with my ex-girlfriend," said Tom. "Perhaps that's why she's ex," I said. "She loved it here, and Godalming as well," continued Tom. "If she liked Godalming, it's just as well you're parted from her," I stated.
I went to look out of the window again and an old man in glasses with blight green frames said: "Mention the service, it's agreeable." It was also slow. Not really Tareth's fault - obviously the kitchen couldn't handle it and there weren't enough staff. We ordered our desserts. Then I saw some sandwiches going by. As my meal had been so ghastly, I waited a second, then got up and went to a table of six at the window and put down some money.
"Can I buy one of your sandwiches for a fiver?" I asked, grabbing a quartet of a lady's sandwich before anyone could answer. "I'm sure we couldn't stop you, Mr Winner," said a man pleasantly. "What is it?" I asked. "It's basil, mozzarella and tomato," said the lady I'd nicked it from. Then the man said: "Can I introduce our friends from Canada?" They looked totally mystified by the procedure.
The sandwich certainly resembled a sandwich more than my meal had resembled food. We waited endlessly for desserts. "You missed the horse pulling away," said Ron as he looked at the wedding, adding: "It's a top-hat job."
It was all so slow we got the bill and fled without getting our desserts at all. I paused only to grab my sandwich lady and her daughter, Caroline. "She's 19," mum volunteered. I took them outside for a photo. "Here, I can sue you," said her husband, giving me a posh lawyer's card from Ontario. He was "Rodney Seyffert, barristers and solicitors and patent trademark agents". Never mind all that. The question is: did he ever get his pudding? I'd left by then, so I'll never know.
Enticed by Mr Winner's review of The Greyhound in Aldbury (Style, September 14), we travelled across three counties to be greeted warmly and then fed well. The only drawback was to be seated at a table close to a couple claiming to be friends of Mr Winner and complaining bitterly and loudly throughout their meal. "Scampi," they told the proprietor, Mr Roberts, "should be dry." A while later, they asked Mr Roberts why their plaice fillets were not of identical size. A gentleman to the end, Mr Roberts refused to charge them for their lunch. Does Mr Winner know this secret missile living in Harpenden?
David Capey, Long Stratton, Norfolk
A few weeks ago, I booked a table for four at the Pomme d'Amour on Holland Park Avenue in London. I explained that it was for my husband's 82nd birthday and I was promised a nice table. We arrived on the dot to find the place shut and other people who had booked also arriving. There was no word of explanation on the door. I telephoned the next day to ask for an apology and left my number on the answering machine, which said something about kitchen problems. When I telephoned again the following day, the answering machine was taking bookings, so I feel certain they got my message. Surely this sort of treatment should not go unnoticed?
Philippa Hunt-Taylor, London W8
Should Mr Winner ever find himself in the vicinity of London's Shepherd Market, I would strongly advise against popping into a promising looking establishment by the name of Le Boudin Blanc. We went one sunny lunchtime because we had read about a great set lunch for under a tenner. There was no set menu in evidence, so we had to ask for it. "To start, mushroom soup," informed our waiter grimly. It wasn't a day for soup, so we asked if there was anything else. "Mushroom pate." How about main courses? "Sausages." Is that it? "Yes, madame." We chose from the a la carte - overspiced gazpacho and then a selection of starters including roasted veg drowned in oil, an unappetising crottin of goat's cheese, and a salad of scallops garnished with unwelcome beetroot in vinegar. We ended up paying far more than we had intended and the service was taciturn, to say the least.
Lucy Tracy, London NW3
I have been reading Michael Winner's column for several years and have formed the opinion that he is a bit of a trencherman. He likes good food, but, just as important, he likes lots of it. This is not meant as a criticism. In fact, I see myself as something of a kindred spirit. Like Mr Winner, my dining experiences can be marred by the sad demise of the man-size portion. Only if a restaurant has a substantial number of Michelin stars under its belt does quality truly make up for quantity - and sadly, even in these culinarily enlightened times, Michelin quality is not the norm. Eating is as much about nourishment as epicurianism. Let's have bigger portions all round.
F T Cartwright, London SW6
Would Michael Winner please settle a family argument? My son-in-law is adamant that all other European countries mix their wine with water. However, my daughter, who drinks gallons of sancerre, says it would be sacrilege to mix this, or any such wine, in this way. Who is right?
F Drury, Tadcaster