Published 19 October 1997 Style Magazine 223rd article
Done to scale: Crispian Sallis, Conceicao Pereira and Michael Winner at the Fishermen's Hut (Ousama Rawi)
"There's a nice fish restaurant up the road," said Ron Purdie. "Too hot for a meal, sir. Nice fish would do us a power of good." I couldn't quite figure this out, but as Ron was driving, I decided to go with the flow. We were now in Twickenham, Middlesex, having left a location in Teddington. "It's called Pescatore," continued Ron, casing the streets. All we could see was the Tanya Fish Bar, and that was closed. "It's a green awning," said Ron. "There!" But that was a Wine Rack. The Pescatore had gone to fish heaven; it could not be located. "Drive on toward the next location," I ordered, "we'll find something on the way." It was 1.20pm on a Sunday - the chance of getting six people into anywhere worth going was remote.
"There's a place," I said. We had just passed the Fishermen's Hut Organic Food Restaurant in Hampton Road. We doubled back, turning left and left again down Stanley Road, and there it was. At the back, people sat in the open, enjoying an uninterrupted view of the car park. Inside, there was first a bar, then a rather formal eating area, then something done out with fishnets hanging from the ceiling with seashells in them, plain pine walls with pottery fish and two tables in the centre - not the ones we were shown to, which the unit gathered round and moved under my instruction to make a better seating arrangement. Sao, the Portuguese waitress, didn't mind. She said: "The fish is fresh from today; Peter went to Portsmouth to get it."
A printed note on the table announced that my hosts were Mike and Joyce McMahon (both absent) and the chef was Luis Martinho. He was off, too. "We only buy from fishermen who spend no more than 24 hours at sea . . ." and thus it went on, assuring me that all was amazingly fresh and that everything other than the fish was organic.
I had a feeling we'd struck lucky. The drink service was speedy, a very large glass of Coca-Cola with ice and lemon was impeccable. We were given some sundried tomato and olive bread - scrumptious. While waiting for the food, I strolled round the restaurant checking out other customers' plates. A party of five children and four adults were just getting served. Two of the kids, aged five or so, acquired a portion of mixed grilled fish. I stuck my hand in and took two pieces. A lady said indignantly, "It's their lunch!" as well she might. Another voice said: "That'll be a fiver."
I retired, wounded but not deterred. To make up for it, I paid their entire bill which, as it was grandma's birthday and they'd had champagne, came to £187. Mind you, I didn't know that as I swapped my grilled prawns for Crispian's fish soup. The real price of my two pieces of fish was revealed later. The fish soup was all right, although it would have been better served hot. I tried one of the prawns which was nice, not the best ever, but pretty good.
The host, Mike McMahon, then appeared. He'd been summoned from his house where he'd been doing some DIY. I have that effect on people - they leave their homes. He was a jolly, potbellied Irishman. My fish would have arrived at 7pm the night before, he explained. "The chef here thinks that ice burns fish. So, as it's only in the van for an hour, they don't bring it back on ice." Burnt it was not, but I thought my plaice a tiny bit overdone. It was pleasant, not as juicy as the fish at Wiltons, but the whole meal was very good indeed for a quick stopover in Twickenham.
The group, who didn't yet know I'd paid for their lunch, offered us all some of granny's chocolate fudge birthday cake, which had been bought in - ie not made on the premises. It was quite pleasant, old-fashioned goo. It lacked subtlety, but I quite enjoyed it. "It needed a little liqueur and jam on the bottom, perhaps," said Mr Purdie, waving his hand to and fro, left to right, as if smoothing the jam on himself. Then he paused and looked around. "This is a characteristic room," he said. I have no idea to this day what he meant, but he's a nice fellow so I nodded appreciatively.
To get the bill took for ever. "Fell down a bit there," said Mr Purdie. "Otherwise, perfect service." That I agreed with. My group were absolutely delighted: "Superb!" "Excellent!" and other such phrases were uttered. A little lavish I thought, but after the rubbish we usually get on location recces, I admit to being very happy with the Fishermen's whatever, organic carrots and all.
Those of us who, like Paul Leyshon (Style, September 28), are outraged by the exorbitant mark-up restaurants slap on a bottle of water, have a simple solution, which should help to stamp out this practice. Just take along your favourite bottle and ask for some glasses. If the waiter has the temerity to suggest a corkage charge, simply ask: "What cork?"
Chris Handley, Richmond, Surrey
Acting on recommendation rather than impulse, we booked a table for six at Amigos Mexican restaurant in Sawbridgeworth, Herts. Arriving just four minutes late, we were aghast to find our table had been given to another party. Things went downhill from there. When we were eventually seated, we found the food uninspiring, bland, overcooked and consequently overpriced. If this is typical Mexican fare, it's no wonder the American border controls are so overworked.
R J Howard, Hoddesdon, Herts
Michael Winner's smile transports me back to my childhood and a cartoon in the News Chronicle. The drawings were of the Arkubs, a family modelled on Mr and Mrs Noah, Japhet, Selina (a sister) and a few animals. I remember Oswald the tortoise, Adelaide the ostrich, but the connection with Mr Winner is in Happy, the small brown bear. Happy was adorable. The final drawing would feature him smiling, an effect achieved with only a pair of eyebrows. Just like Michael Winner.
Allison Walker-Morecroft, Norwich
Michael Winner complains (Style, October 5): "It took an extraordinarily long time for our food to arrive, even though we'd explained we were in a hurry." He must know as well as I that restaurants are not for people in a hurry. McDonalds awaits for those who are.
Harry Lovelock, Hove, E Sussex
In his review of the White Horse Inn in Shere (Style, October 5), Michael Winner refers to the "stocks" outside the establishment, where he photographed Marlon Brando held by his head and hands. The device he describes is correctly called a pillory (stocks held prisoners by the ankles). Perhaps a few of the restaurateurs who have suffered at his hands could find a use for their left-over vegetables in order to demonstrate the distinction to him.
K A Makins, Romford, Essex
As Michael Winner apparently does not know the difference between the stocks and the pillory, one is forced to ponder irreverently whether he can differentiate between an omelette and a souffle.
Clinton Keeling, Guildford, Surrey
A few weeks ago, Michael Winner, on being asked by a reader to name the best fish and chip places in London, wrote: "I find it increasingly tedious when people ask me for restaurant advice" (Style, September 28). I thought this was the whole point of Winner's Dinners, to give advice on where to go - and where not to go - to enjoy good food and good service.
Dr Anthony Freeman, Swindon
Mr Winner might purposely take a contrary stance to amuse and annoy in equal measure. But I for one appreciate the liveliness of his views - and his restaurant assessments tend to be spot on.
Arnie Brandt, West London