Published 11 January 1998 Style Magazine 235th article
Gunn lobby: Michael Winner, Giles Cunliffe and Duncan Turner at Willie Gunn
I was making a commercial in Wandsworth, directing one of my favourite people: me. Willie Gunn was recommended for a quick lunch as we had to be back - both of us, actor and director - within the hour. I expected nothing. The restaurant itself was pleasant. Plain wooden floors, tables spaced well apart, not that this was wildly necessary as there were only two other couples there. Maybe Garratt Lane is abuzz with activity come nightfall.
It started remarkably well. I ordered goat's cheese souffle, expecting the worst. It came like a small upside-down pot, nicely crisp on the outside, very tasty indeed on the inside. Vanessa's eggs benedict were on a particularly excellent muffin: very fresh, not soggy. Perhaps this would turn out to be a real find. We were pleasantly served by co-owner Giles Cunliffe, who wore a pink shirt. There was an old slab in the middle of the room and at 1.40pm people appeared and laid masses of cheese on it. Were they expecting the six of us to be heavy on cheese? I saw none of it leave the slab.
My main course was braised oxtail, flageolet beans and mash. It alone could convince anyone that banning meat on the bone was a terriﬁc idea. It was stringy and tasteless. I'd been assured the potatoes were mashed on the premises, but they didn't taste of much either. Vanessa had ravioli; she left most of it. She liked her pot of chocolate for dessert. I hated my steamed apricot pudding with creme anglaise. It was dull suet pud with something orange on the top. When I got back to the studio, one of the unit told me the canteen food had been excellent. Apparently Mr Purdie, now functioning as my assistant director, had thrown a wobbly because the steamed treacle pud ran out "Quite right, too," I said. There are serious things in life worth expressing oneself clearly about. Treacle pud is certainly one of them.
I give Willie Gunn high marks for the charm of its owners, Giles and his partner, Duncan Turner. I could not say the same for an excellent Knightsbridge Italian place, Toto. I went there recently to be greeted by the dreaded words: "Who are you with?" As I was on my own at the time, this seemed a fairly pointless remark. "Nobody," I said. The door official continued. "Who are you with?" he repeated. "Roger Moore," I replied. "It's that table in the corner," I was told gracelessly.
A short time later, Roger himself arrived, fuming. He, too, had been asked who he was with. "I'm Roger Moore," he responded. The man thought for a moment. "Ah, you're with Roger Moore," he said. "That's his table in the corner." This is not what I call a grand start to an evening. I shall not go there again until I am assured there is a sympathetic greeter on the premises.
Charm counts for a lot. You couldn't call the food at Biagio in Charing Cross seriously excellent. But Bekim, from Yugoslavia, was such a jolly waiter, it made up for the bland spaghetti (we couldn't decide if it was vongole or bolognese), the tired salami and mortadella, and the After Eight mints that were so frozen you could double them over and they still didn't snap. The strip lighting was particularly odd. It was heavily smeared in what looked like blood. Didn't really go with the endless hanging Chianti bottles. Nor did it complement the bust of a Victorian lady with what looked like a curtain pulled round her neck, or the album of greatest hits signed by Diana Ross: "Biagio restaurant lovely, thanks for staying open."
My jolly lunchers included Terence O'Neill, photographer, Chris Rea, singer, composer and actor, and Miss Caroline Langrishe, actress of beauty and taste. It was a film lunchtime. Miss Langrishe told me she went to all the "in" places, such as Bluebird and the Oxo Tower. "If you phone, they say you can't have a table for six weeks," she said. "But when you turn up and say have you got a table, they say no. Then they look and say, you can have that one over there." "That may only work if you're blonde and beautiful," I suggested.
I have telephoned the Oxo Tower twice to make a reservation. All I got was classical music. It went on for ever. No human voice did I hear. This is ridiculous - if I want a concert, I'll visit the Albert Hall. I may only be a poor boy from Willesden, but why should I put up with that? I'd rather go somewhere less chic - where they answer the phone. Thank goodness I no longer aspire to be trendy. It makes life so much easier.
I recently had a brief but galling "dining" experience at a well-known restaurant in the West End of London. My wife and I are regulars at the restaurant and had built up an impression of it as providing good food and good service. We arrived for our 8.15pm reservation and were puzzled when the maitre d' could not locate the booking. "What time did you book?" he asked. I told him 3pm that same day, to which he retorted, "There was nobody here at that time," as if I were lying. At our insistance, he eventually sat us down at a table and checked. He returned to explain that he had found our booking after all. We should have left then, but we ordered our meal and wine. Our starters arrived, and halfway through my poached eggs with bacon and onion sauce, I found myself biting on a black, 1/2 cm iron nut. I showed it to the maitre d', who said it wasn't possible as no machinery was used in the kitchen. The insinuation was that I had removed the nut from my pocket and inserted it into my food. With the maitre d' showing no signs of remorse, we threw in the towel and went elsewhere. What would Michael Winner have done?
Robert Wood, London SW12
Surprise, surprise: Michael Winner turns up at a village pub, The Drummond Arms in Albury, an hour after closing time and finds the front door locked (Style, December 14). What hope for the British film industry when its members can't even find their way into a pub?
John Powell, Albury, Surrey