Published 14 December 1997 Style Magazine 231st article
Full of eastern promise: Michael Winner, Chris Rea and Edward Hardwicke at the Thai Elephant (Ousama Rawi)
Filming doesn't always start early in the morning. To take advantage of the hours of darkness without working all night, we often go from noon to 11.30pm. Meal breaks are then based on a set number of hours from commencement of the working day. One afternoon at 3.50pm, Chris Rea and I set off for lunch. This had been specially arranged by my location manager at a nearby hostelry, the highly picturesque Drummond Arms in the Surrey village of Albury. They would be ready for us, but we could only have soup, cold meats and salad.
We got there on the dot of 4pm, the agreed time. All the doors were locked. We rang the bell. We peered through the windows. It was like the wreck of the Marie Celeste, but without the half-finished meal. We ventured round the back. There, two or three people were gathered. "We've been waiting for you," they said. How we were supposed to have known that, I could not understand. I decided to remain silent.
We were led into a terrible room with partly exposed bricks, pseudo-Georgian display cases, nasty wooden chairs and awful Muzak. There was no soup (I'd been looking forward to that), but we could have shrimp cocktail. This reminded me of something from the 1950s gone wrong.
We were then given very large plates with tasteless slices of ham, beef, processed cheese and a salad. "Looks like a truck just delivered it onto my plate," said Mr Rea. I thought he was being kind. It was extremely unpleasant. So I called out "Hello?" many times, but nobody appeared. It was like a haunted-house movie - I expected something equally inedible to come through the wall. We walked into the kitchen. It was deserted. The stove was coated with many things from previous periods of cooking. As we could find nobody to communicate with, we left. I had a large portion of ice cream from the film-unit caterer back at base. Mr Rea had nothing.
Luckily, things were not always this glum. The Thai Elephant in Richmond stayed open for us so we could start lunch at 3.30pm. And very excellent it was. There was me, Mr Rea, a marvellous actor called Edward Hardwicke, son of Sir Cedric whose cadaverous features enlivened many major films of my youth, Ron Purdie, my associate producer, and Ossie Rawi, our lighting cameraman.
It was a set meal and the silence that came over us as we ate was a sign of the excellence of the food. Chicken satay, fish cakes, spring rolls and deep-fried prawns in pastry. The prawn crackers were a bit darker in colour than the ones I'm used to. "They've got more flavour, too," said Mr Purdie. This set him to reminiscing about a Chinese restaurant he'd attended in Leamington Spa when making The Locksmith. "One day the police came and raided the place," explained Ron. "They took all the kitchen staff away because they were illegal. We were only on the second course," he added ruefully.
Our second course was chicken curry, more prawns, grilled pork, duck with tamarind sauce, snapper, stir-fried mixed veg and much more.
"What restaurants do you go to, Chris?" I asked Rea. "We have what is commonly known as the best tandoori restaurant in England," he said. "It's called the Cookham Tandoori. It's superb. It spoils you for going to other Indian restaurants." That may be, I thought, but Cookham is some way from Holland Park. I'll stick to the Bombay Brasserie.
Another place I liked on our travels was Liberty's in Teddington High Street. It is owned by a movie art director, so it's done in pleasant brick and old photos and very spacious. I ate a lot of bacon and cheese potato skins, a few hamburgers, and some nice desserts. The staff were exceptionally pleasant. It's a few doors away from the Trattoria Sorrento, an Italian restaurant that I slated. So I was surprised to see my review, beautifully reprinted in two colours, with the Style logo featured, much blown up and displayed in the window.
My location manager, Michael Harvey, said "Have you noticed?" "What?" I asked "They've altered the text," he said. The headline, Not many happy returns, had been changed to Many happy returns. The article itself had been doctored to make it favourable. What should I do? High Court proceedings? A brick through the window?
We settled for my Mr Fraser writing to the local trading-standards officer, who had the piece down in seconds. But I have to admire their cheek. Nice to know they thought people would care what I'd written.
I was amused to see that Mr Winner wouldn't print a photo of himself and the manager of the Pendley Manor Hotel, as he had criticised it. He is invariably pictured beaming with some equally self-satisfied restaurateur or hotel manager whose establishment he has slagged off dreadfully. Is Mr Winner developing a conscience? This could be serious.
Malcolm Sowerby Alnwick, Northumberland
I was surprised that Mr Winner let Peelers Bistro in Lymington off the hook so lightly (Style, November 23). Along with the rest of my yacht's crew we, too, were keen to seek out the "finest-quality fresh food". Having just sailed in from Dartmouth we were hungry and the abysmally small portions (vegetables cost extra) left us all ravenous. Accordingly, we paid what we thought was a hefty bill for a bistro, and scuttled round the corner to a pub for a satisfactory meal.
Mike Bugle Pulborough, W Sussex
What convoluted logic prompts Michael Winner to refer to his car as "a rented Mercedes" (Style, November 23)? Does he believe that being spotted in a mere Merc might alter his road status?
T M Burnham Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Regarding Michael Winner's note on the Sheraton Park Tower (Style, November 16), I felt I must put pen to paper. During a recent trip to London, I enjoyed not only the highest standards of housekeeping, as Mr Winner pointed out, but also the most exquisite Breton food. I can't wait to return.
S Scott Belfast