Published 15 February 1998 Style Magazine 240th article
A star performance: Michael Winner at Les Saveurs with Vanessa Perry, left, and Lady Aliai (Dorritt Moussaleft)
I am not a party animal. I cannot see the point in attending a room full of people in whom it is most likely I will have no interest. If you tell me everyone is interesting and we should make an effort, my reply is: you make the effort, I'll stay home.
So it was rare when I accepted two invitations in one night. The first led me to survey reasonable, but highly resistible canapes at the Dorchester at a do hosted by Andrew Neil for The European magazine. I eventually succumbed to a rather blobby piece of chicken with sauce piquante. Canapes are a true art form when done well, which is very seldom. These were alright. My only excitement was seeing John Redwood, who looked highly uninteresting, and Peter Mandelson, who appeared bright. I couldn't be bothered to flock around them, as did others, to be introduced. Instead, Vanessa and I retired to the Dorchester lobby, chatted to John, who's fairly important in the Grill, and had some Malvern water, which I couldn't pay for because I never carry money.
It was a short drive to Les Saveurs, now coupled with the name Jean-Christophe Novelli, for Sir Rocco Forte's birthday party. Not only is Rocco a very nice man, but he regrouped well after losing the family business and now has the Balmoral in Edinburgh, the Savoy in Florence, the Astoria in St Petersburg, and is doing something clever near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. He's also building in Cardiff. Good - that will give me a chance to visit.
Les Saveurs is a basement opened some time ago by a Japanese company that was bought by Marco Pierre White, who sold it to Rocco, who installed Jean-Christophe. I like J-C's cooking. How would he do with a crowded sitting for 86 people, I wondered. It took me some time to find out. After nearly an hour in the tiny lobby, Aliai Forte, bright and lovely as ever, called us down to the restaurant. I went at once. So did six other people. That left 80 to come and there was no sign of them. I like to eat at 8pm; it was now 9.30. "Go upstairs and get 'em down." I said to a rather nervous restaurant manager. "My staff are up there," he replied. "Yes, but they're underlings," I responded vigorously. "You're the boss - go and do it yourself." He reluctantly obeyed and people started coming down.
I was seated between two ladies I didn't know, opposite another one I didn't know, and just about in contact with Patrick Lichfield, with whom, late in the evening, I discussed our local restaurants, as he lives close by. Sadly, I had no news for him and he none for me. We both knew them all, particularly liked Chinon, hidden south of Shepherd's Bush Green, and that was that. Although I did tell Patrick he had the nicest house in Mustique.
The charming lady on my left said she ate nothing one week in five and this was the week. There was a lot of cooing and ooing, but she insisted she only drank water. She later ate a fair bit of every course put before her. I suppose it was the excitement of sitting next to me.
Luckily, she turned out to be the granddaughter of the late British film director Sidney Gilliat, of St Trinian's and Rake's Progress fame, so we were able to chat enthusiastically about old English film folk, a subject dear to my heart.
The first course was gateau de champignons et brioche. Pasta with mushrooms in it and a tasty surround. The service was pretty snappy once it started. Across the room, Vanessa had a risotto of aubergine, which she loved, and I had canard roti with a few (very few) veggies. The duck was juicy and good; another excellent mark for J-C in the kitchen.
The hot chocolate pud with sauce was close to historic. The editor of The Times reminded me that, some years ago, I told him he looked too young to edit a newspaper. Absurdly, he now looked younger than ever. J P Donleavy made a speech. Sir Rocco gave a display of dancing that would have shamed Rudolph Valentino, and I tried to figure out how Les Saveurs had a Michelin star transferred with Jean-Christophe from his place in Clerkenwell. When I went there it had the rudest staff ever. They should award Michelin stars for the charm of restaurant personnel. That would save us all those interviews with chefs pontificating on their uninteresting lives. Perhaps in the case of Les Saveurs it was awarded for the staff. The food was very pleasant, too.
We recently attended a function at a supposedly four-star hotel in London. Having pre-ordered two vegetarian meals, we were served a ravioli dish, the contents of which bore a strong resemblance to minced pork. A taste test by my husband confirmed it was indeed meat. Having been assured by three different members of staff that the dish was definitely vegetarian, the only way we could get the meals replaced was to offer to bag the food up, have the manager sign for it and take it to be analysed at a laboratory. Not what I would call four-star service. What would Michael Winner have done?
Sue Goodwin, London NW7
A few weeks ago I had Sunday brunch at a branch of Bar Central in London. The food and service were fine. The bill was not. Stamped in large letters across it were the words "Service Not Included". This was patently untrue: a service charge had already been added. We questioned the logic of this with the waiter, who checked with the manager and informed us that this was their policy. I was appalled. I don't usually check bills carefully and could easily have been misled into paying the service charge twice.
A James, London W4
May I enlighten Michael Winner about Porkinson's sausages (Style, February 1). These were the creation of the old court photographer Norman Parkinson, who told me that, while living in Tobago, he gave the recipe to his butcher to make some up. The butcher was so pleased with them he asked if he could make them for sale. After Norman's wife died, he came to London, where he started a company called the Great British Sausage Company. The company grew and, after winning many prizes, the recipe was eventually sold to Bowyers, which produces the sausages to the original recipe today.
J Lovatt, Dulverton, Somerset