Published 8 March 1998 Style Magazine 243rd article
The worse for wear? Oliver Reed and Michael Winner on the set of Parting Shots (Terry O'Neill)
Oliver Reed wanted a hotel in Hampstead. "You know one?" I asked. "No," said Oliver, "but I'd like it near an Indian restaurant." Contrary to popular belief, Mr Reed is frequently sober. I have employed him on seven movies and cannot recall a moment when he was not highly professional, word-perfect and a much-liked member of the group. In the evenings be could occasionally be unrestrained. But I wasn't there, so it didn't bother me.
We acquired a list of Hampstead hotels and, on the way to a location in Hertfordshire, were going up Heath Street when I realised we would pass La Gaffe. "Let's take a look," I said to my associate producer, Mr Purdie. "Nowhere to park, sir," observed Mr P. "Just leave it here, what can they do?" I replied in my usual caring manner.
La Gaffe is a bit of a find. It consists of two houses joined together, one of which, in 1734, was a shepherd's cottage. You enter and there's a bar facing you, a restaurant on your left and a coffee bar on your right. It has great individuality and atmosphere. The owner, Bernardo Stella, looks like what you imagine old Hampstead was: artists and writers, somewhat bohemian.
Indeed, Mr Stella has written a number of plays, some of which have been performed at local theatres. He has also written many film scripts and books, although I don't think they've yet reached a wide public.
We had an excellent cappuccino and some cakes, and booked Mr Reed into the bridal suite, one of 18 rooms. Mr and Mrs Reed duly stayed there. After the movie, I was visiting an antique fair nearby and dropped in for some lemon pie and coffee, watching late lunch guests finishing their casserole-baked pheasant in a mushroom, onion and red wine sauce. Mr Stella said it was the oldest restaurant in Hampstead. He had enjoyed Mr Reed, although he did come down rather late one night, without shoes, to eat his dinner.
Hampstead is not a place I know well, although there is a splendid Polish restaurant further down Haverstock Hill called Zamoyski, which is among the best-value meals in London. A bit further east is the Village Bistro in Highgate, which holds a Winner world record.
When I went there during filming, of the four people on my table three got the wrong main course. A Sunday Times writer ordered cod and got liver. That takes some doing. I was the only one to receive what I was expecting. It's a tiny, twee, but nice little place. If you go there, I advise you to order something you absolutely hate, because you won't get it and, who knows, you may like what they bring.
By coincidence, the day after the Sunday where I had sat and chatted with Bernardo, I met Oliver Reed at a funeral. "Could you do a little rerecording for me tomorrow?" I asked Oliver, who was visiting from his castle in Ireland. "We'll have lunch afterwards," I suggested.
I shall take him to The Room at the Halcyon, I thought. Young Martin Hadden is one of my favourite chefs. and they've got a new manager, Jason Phillips, whom I like, too. The only thing that's hateful is the oil paintings. They're for sale and change every so often. It's an extremely posh hotel, so surely they can afford to buy decent wall decoration without having to pull stuff in free from some non-artist trying to flog his or her wares.
The recording was to be done in my private studio at home, so the next day I rang La Gaffe. Oliver wasn't there. "I thought he was staying with you," I said. "He is," said a voice, "but he was arrested last night for being drunk and disorderly." "Oh dear," I responded solicitously, "not in your hotel I hope." "Well, he was a bit disorderly here," the man on the other end informed me, "but he was arrested outside the pub."
I rang the custody officer at Hampstead police station. "I believe you have my friend Mr Reed," I said cheerfully. "He's left," said the policeman "I'm Michael Winner, do you know where he's gone?" I asked. "Oh, Mr Winner, well, sir, he left 20 minutes ago."
I found Oliver back at La Gaffe a bit later, very chastened. He dropped by on the way to the airport for his sound recording. "I hope, Oliver," I said, wishing to be helpful, "that as you didn't use the bed, they gave you a discount on the hotel room." That produced a wry smile. I suppose he was a bit exhausted. poor thing. Even in those circumstances, a discount is not to be sneezed at.
I had to read Michael Winner's review of Les Saveurs (Style, February 15) twice to make sure it was the same restaurant, so sharply did it contrast with my own recent experience. Each year a group of business associates and I meet for a serious lunch, and for the past three years this has been at Les Saveurs. The last outing was the first under the stewardship of Jean Christophe Novelli, and it was a shadow of its former self. In particular, the wines available bore little resemblance to the list, most arrived at the wrong temperature and after the courses they were ordered to accompany. I wish I could say the service was merely terrible - in fact, it was nonexistent.
Bob Wooton, London W1
A James's letter (Style, February 15) about service charges reminds me of a recent meal. When my credit-card slip was returned with a space left for a gratuity, I told the waiter that 12.5% had already been added to my bill. His reply left me speechless: "That was only house service, sir, not personal service."
Peter Southgate, Oxshott, Surrey
Mr Winner should visit the San Carlo restaurant in Bristol, as even he will be amazed at the service. When I refused to pay the service charge I was told it was not discretionary and that it was "not my sort of restaurant".
R Walker, Bristol