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Oh, bistro!

Published 23 November 1997
Style Magazine
228th article

Chipping away: Michael Winner with Steve Smith and Duncan Angus at Peelers Bistro (Vanessa Perry)

The Bon Bon in Milford on Sea, Hampshire, looked quite good. I circled it twice, but as nobody was eating there, I felt discouraged, so I drove on. I was on a dinner expedition in an area I knew nothing about. Down a tiny lane in Keyhaven, ending a few yards from the sea, was the Gun Inn. "You wait, I'll investigate," I said to Vanessa. I walked through to the kitchen. Jackie was there. I asked how fresh the fish was. "It comes in frozen," she replied. "We have boneless salmon." I never trust fish without bones, so I hopped back to the rented Mercedes and roared off.

In London I am deeply conservative. In all the main rooms at home and in all my cars I retain a list of 37 restaurants with the owners, the maitre d's, the best tables and the phone numbers. I seldom go anywhere else. On my little trips, I make rare journeys into the unknown. I cruised through Lymington. Next to Forest Cycle Tours (the New Forest, not Sherwood) was Peelers Bistro. It also did B&B, but I reckoned dinner would suffice. We'd travelled a bit and it was getting cold, so this would have to be it.

The menu declared "Finest quality fresh food served in a relaxed and fun atmosphere - what more could you ask for?" I could happily have asked for the old-fashioned, unmelodious jazz Muzak to be turned off. The relaxed and fun atmosphere was decidedly muted. Wooden floors, wooden chairs, painted beams, pink walls, candles and an overpowering air of quiet, good behaviour. I'll soon put a stop to that, I thought.

I sauntered, unannounced, into the kitchen. The chef, Duncan Angus, looked concerned. He assured me, most charmingly, that his fish was very fresh indeed. "It comes from the man who delivers to Chewton Glen," he said, proudly showing me a delivery note from C J Woodward of Brixham. I was staying at Chewton Glen and their fish was fine; I trusted Mr Woodward.

Duncan told me his chips were normally bought in.

"Can't you make chips yourself?" I asked.

Duncan, looking very glum, said "We can do that for you, sir. Yes."

In the dining room, I chose supreme of turbot served with white wine and prawn sauce, £17.95 excluding service. With service, that's £20 for a main course. Not cheap.

The owner, Steve David Smith, came in wearing a Benetton Formula One Racing Team sweater. He's from Inverness. He soon peeled off the sweater.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I thought Duncan might need a hand in the kitchen," he said, rightly taking no chances.

I got some mushy, overripe melon. Vanessa had gazpacho. "Rather thick," she said, then upped it to "fine".

There followed a very long wait indeed for the main course, possibly a world record. The specially made chips were a considerable letdown. Not crisp, rather soggy. Vanessa pronounced her tomato salad and goat's cheese "very good" - and she's not easy to please. My turbot had a pink sauce in front and a yellow sauce at the back. It was perfectly pleasant.

I'd been told there was an illustrated trade card from the manufacturer describing the bought-in desserts." "Can I see it?" I asked. When it came, it was pictureless, with small verbal descriptions that meant nothing to me. The list came from Delafields handmade desserts, Baking Industry Awards 1995, medal winners 1996. They were located in the Woolsbridge Industrial Park, Wimborne, in Dorset.

Intrepidly, I chose a hazelnut bavarois. "It's one we've just got in," said Sharon, the waitress. "We're trying it out."

Boy, did they choose the wrong customer for that. It was exceptionally feeble. It tasted as if it came from a trading estate - 1995 was obviously a disastrous year for the Baking Industry Awards. Vanessa had an ice cream that was homemade. I've not always found that to be a good thing. She gave it 7½, then reduced it to 7. "It's a bit too sweet," she explained.

As I was leaving, an old man wandered up. "I'm not coming to a restaurant with you again," he said pleasantly. "You've ruined the service tonight; They didn't have the right potatoes for the chips and they were desperately trying to please you. The service was very slow."

I said: "Well, mine was, too."

The man persisted. "Does this happen wherever you go?"

"Yes," I said, exaggerating somewhat.

I wondered why Steve wasn't there to say goodbye. "Where is he?" I asked Sharon.

"He's gone upstairs," she replied.

"Watching TV?" I suggested.

"No," said Sharon. "The last time I saw him, he was by the fax machine."

That put me in my place.


We had the most terrific lunch at the Trattoria San Marco in Venice thanks to Michael Winner's article (Style, November 2). We have, however, one question for Michael Winner. Why, when we mentioned his name, did the four sisters burst out laughing?
Mr and Mrs S Alexander, Altrincham, Cheshire.

What is Michael Winner's reaction to Marco Pierre White's suggestion of a "diner's contract"? Personally, I would add a few additional terms. I would expect a 1% discount for every minute I had to wait for my bill. I would expect an excellent table, and an appropriate discount if it was not good enough. I would also want an optional service charge and a description of what the restaurant deemed to be excellent service, so that I could compare their expectations with reality. It appears that the more inflated the price of the food, the more arrogantly the diner is treated.
Alan York, Burgess Hill, West Sussex

I recently visited Berties Fish and Chips in Highcliffe, Dorset (Style, July 13), announcing myself as Michael Winner's father. Remarkably, I still got served.
Len Cox, Southampton.

Every week I read about Michael Winner's expensive meals in the south of England. Here in Whitby we have Trenchers, a very good restaurant with very good service where you can get a meal for under a tenner. Michael Caine enjoyed it. Perhaps Mr Winner should give it a go.
R J Walters, Whitby.