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Dame and blast

Published 21 December 1997
Style Magazine
232nd article

Happy eaters: Michael Winner and Diana Rigg 'share a joke' before their meal

For years, driving through George Street, Marylebone, I have admired the clean, white facade and the myriad hanging baskets of geraniums that make the exterior of Durrants Hotel so attractive. As we were filming at the Wallace Collection, Durrants was the nearest place for lunch. Sadly, it illustrated-the old saying "You can't judge a book by its cover".

"The dining room was pseudo, and the food of a type that I thought had disappeared from London decades ago. I started with mozzarella and tomato, difficult to mess up, but Durrants succeeded. It was soggy and of no known taste.

At this point Oliver Reed ordered a lager - one. His reputation for excess was - certainly not evident on my project. I turned to the trolley: slices were cut from a little piece of pork that were tasteless and spoke of the deep freeze. A couple of bits of crackling were given separately; they lacked oomph. The vegetables were overcooked and boring. For dessert, I chose some sort of pastry with cream and strawberries. I have pigged my way through many of the worst puddings ever. I left most of this. At least the service was excellent.

Another pretty place is the Chequers Inn at Fingest, in Oxfordshire. My mob visited on a location recce for Sunday lunch. The dining room is pink with oak beams, dried hops and wheelback chairs with padded seats. Mine squeaked. The view of the garden is tarnished by cars parked at the bottom. Many of them belong to hikers, who do whatever hikers do in the nearby countryside and then recover in the garden.

I chose the honeydew melon gondola, which had a 1950s look - sliced with a bit of orange bent over a stick topped by a glace cherry. It was okay. My assistant art director, Mr Still, ordered roast duckling from the a la carte. He was told in no uncertain terms to have the set lunch, so he switched to roast chicken. Mr Purdie, my associate producer, said he used to come a lot when he lived in Henley. "It's changed," he said, looking round. "How?" I asked. "The wine racks used to be somewhere else," said Mr Purdie, giving up on other alterations.

The soup was pea and mint. "Is it made here?" I asked. "Of course," said Laureno, the Spanish waiter. "How is it, Ron?" I said. "Well, it's certainly minty," he replied. "It's like posh mushy peas," observed the man who'd wanted duck. The beef and Yorkshire pud came swimming in gravy, the carrots and beans were overdone. It's a nice enough place; not a high rating on the Sunday lunch score, but not a disaster.

I was pleasantly surprised with Michel's Brasserie in Chiswick. It's sort of French with Caribbean music playing. I went a couple of times with the marvellous Diana Rigg. It's one of those places you think is owned by Michel, then you learn it's a small chain of restaurants bearing that name and the real Michel sold out anyway. It's now owned by a company called Oceanwide.

The soup came within seconds. Being highly expert, I can't remember what it was. "Delicious," said Diana, then added: "It needs a bit of salt. Lovely basil on the top." It was a nice, dark-yellow colour.

We had nouvelle duck, sliced up. Diana said she liked it greatly; as did Chris Rea. I gave the lemon cheesecake very high marks indeed. Robbie Hamilton, the waitress from Adelaide, said it was made there by Tim Butler, the chef. As long as he stays, it's worth a visit.

Sadly, we had a disaster with my Leica camera. If you turn it on incorrectly, instead of shooting on automatic focus, you hit the manual focus - usually on infinity. So quite a few remarkable restaurant shots, some even taken by Terry O'Neill, have been lost to the world. Thus I present a photo of Dame Diana and me "sharing a joke" - a caption normally dragged out for two of the glummest people ever - shortly before we went to Michel's.

This could be a revolutionary idea. Instead of odd watercolours of restaurant bits and pieces that would disgrace a school art show, or even stranger photos of restaurant furniture, we could have pictures of people before they got to the dinner table: Lord Lloyd-Webber in his bath prior to nipping along to La Capanna da Baci, A A Gill putting on one of those terribly smart outfits before lunch at Pizza Hut. I am warming to this idea. I shall work on it on the beach in Barbados. When I come back, I shall have a full presentation and seek an audience with the editor. Who says the year doesn't end with a bang?


What is your opinion of restaurants that bring a bottle of mineral water to the table already unsealed and without the cap? I always have visions of these overpriced bottles being filled with water from the kitchen tap. My husband insists that I am too fussy about this, but I think a bottle of water should be given the same "rite" as a bottle of expensive wine.
Edna Weiss London NW11.

Am I alone in loathing the current restaurant fad for piling food up on the plate like some edible house of cards? The practice has now reached the most ludicrous extremes. Recently, I was served a Sunday roast in a London restaurant in which slices of beef - usually, you will agree, the most traditional of repasts - tottered like a comestible wigwam on a mound of potato galettes. Call me old-fashioned, but in my view this isn't food, but a GCSE art class.
P Baistow, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

Last month, Michael Winner passed by the Gun Inn at Keyhaven in favour of Peeler's Bistro (Style, November 23). Had he chosen to lunch at the Gun, he might finally have met his match: the landlord could be Basil Fawlty's elder brother. I implore Mr Winner to return - I would pay dearly for a ring-side seat.
Claire Rawcliffe, Aldbury, Herts.

I am appalled that Mr Winner promotes the habit of being given olive oil with your bread in restaurants (Style, November 30). What's wrong with butter?
M Stevens, London SW11