Published 1 February 1998 Style Magazine 238th article
Winging it: Michael Winner with cabin services director Graham Shaw and air hostesses Naomi Hack, left, and Frederica Pick
My excitement knew no bounds. There, in front of me, on the Concorde to Barbados, was a sight as rare as the bony-crested
red-winged eagle: caviare on a British Airways flight. Old men tell their grandsons of the time they last saw caviare in such circumstances, but there it was. Not much of it, nestling in a small pastry shell, but caviare none the less. And at breakfast, too.
I always enjoy reading Concorde menus, even if I don't understand them. This one promised us tropical fruit including physalis. The gentleman over the aisle from me, who owns the Rolls-Royce dealership H R Owen, had no idea what it was, nor did Naomi, the stewardess. She went, asked and came back, saying rather grandly that it was pronounced physarllis. It looked like a gooseberry, but was orange.
We were then offered a mixed grill, including Porkinson sausage. I didn't know what that was either, nor did Mr H R Owen. I asked Graham, the steward. He said: "I have no idea, but it looks absolutely delicious." Then he said that in any case Ricky, another air hostess, recommended the fishcakes, but if I was lucky I could have a Porkinson sausage with them. It seemed like an odd combination to me.
I later learned that a Porkinson sausage was pork sausage with herbs, rather like a Lincolnshire sausage. Considering it was reheated, I thought the mixed grill with scrambled eggs was pretty good. I wanted still Malvern water, but they only had still Evian and fizzy Malvern. Apart from that, the meal seemed to have improved. Maybe because British Airways catering out of Heathrow has recently been taken over by a Swiss company called Gate Gourmet
On the way back from Barbardos, the Concorde catering was by Barbardos Flight Kitchens. Nobody else will give you inside information like this. Now we had - wait for it - a jar of caviare. Not large, but a jar nevertheless. It was Osetrova Caspian, distributed by W G White of River Gardens in Feltham, Middlesex. I managed to wheedle two portions out of them. "Do you know how many grams are in each jar?" I asked Brenda, the air hostess. "I don't work in grams, I work in ounces," she said. "I'm old-fashioned." "How many ounces then?" I said. "I don't know," replied Brenda.
They gave us little plastic spoons to eat the caviare with. I was surprised to see a very distinguished member of the House of Lords opposite me wrapping two of them up and putting them in his briefcase. "They're mother of pearl," he announced. The hostess gave him permission for this. I had to make do with a teaspoon and fork.
There was then some confusion with the water. The menu clearly announced that we would get my favourite: Malvern. But Brenda told me they only had still Evian or sparkling Highland Spring. Then she gave me still Highland Spring. Then it turned out there was no Evian water anyway. Pity - that's my second choice.
The lunch menu proper started with a trio of smoked salmon. Three different types - surprisingly good, for an airline. As there was a delay in producing my main course, I ate the dessert, which was a caramelised lime tart on a coconut and lemon mousse. Not had, considering. Then came "freshly made ravioli filled with spinach, ricotta cheese and parmesan, served with ratatouille". I took a bit and thought it all right; her Ladyship next door said, "Very good"; the man on my right said, "Very rubbery".
The red wine was claret: Chateau La Lagune £982 Grand Cru Classe, described on the menu as "Rarely has such a great vintage been such a delight to drink so young." I found it a bit iffy, but then I'm the wine snob of all time. I only drink Petrus or a good 1961 vintage at home. The man next to me opined: "It's okay, but my tastebuds are appalling at this height. I really can't tell." He still had two more glasses of it, so his tastebuds must have cleared up no end. I was then very disappointed to find that a yellow napkin thing on my side plate, wrapped in a green ribbon, was not a chocolate but a piece of lime that I'd neglected to put on my smoked salmon. Shame, I would have liked that.
It was very cold. I asked for the air conditioning to be set warmer - another lord asked four times - and only when I got a tiny bit ratty did they do anything about it. I then had three cheeses, which I also thought were better than usual. A nice flight really, except that we landed at Shannon instead of London and stayed the night, unexpectedly, in an Irish castle. But that is next week's story.
I don't care what anyone says. I love Michael Winner's column. It is so deliciously insulting and almost certainly true. Should he ever come within 10 miles of chez moi, he is most welcome to pop in - and I'd be interested to know if he's found anywhere half decent in my area that didn't cost an arm and a leg.
Maureen Eccles Lang Melrand, Brittany
I usually dread the rounds of Christmas dinners and wasn't looking forward to another blowout until I was told we were going to Richard's in Hove, West Sussex. This had recently expanded, and I was curious to know whether they would cope. I went for lamb with mustard and honey, and I've never had lamb like it - it just melted in the mouth. This was the best meal I've had in the Brighton area for months. Mr Winner should go there. If he doesn't agree with me, I'll eat his knife and fork.
Christine King Brighton, W Sussex
The "poor boy from Willesden" recently mentioned his difficulty in getting through to the Oxo Tower to make a reservation. We all know that Michael is neither poor nor a boy. That he hails from the Gateway to the Brent Reservoir I am not in a position to dispute. But let me reassure him that there is life in the Tower. I telephoned to book a table for my daughter's 21st birthday and was answered promptly by a charming receptionist. When we arrived we were giving a table by the window as requested. Not only was the food excellent, but the overall value was terrific. The key to the success of the occasion, however, was the friendly and extremely efficient service. I recommend that Michael demonstrate some of his famous Winner tenacity and hangs on. It's well worth it.
Martin Leggett Aldworth, Berks