Published 10 May 1998 Style Magazine 252nd article
In the wings: Teatro chef Stuart Gillies and some of his staff with Michael Winner (Anita Land)
Peter Mandelson thought I'd written something rude about him. "Never!" I said to my friend Robert Earl. "I am a great admirer of Mr M. I was highly complimentary." "You'd better bring it along," said Robert. Mr Earl was host to myself, Peter Mandelson and others that night at Teatro, a newish place in Shaftesbury Avenue. Another of those ever-so-chics that seem to open every day. With the name "Theatre" and in a street of theatres, I remembered Gerry's Club, a real theatrical eating-place that used to live in a basement on Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1950s. It was run by an actor called Gerald Campion, who played Billy Bunter on TV. There was another actors' club, the Buxton, near the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. They were nice places, much used by the profession. As pubs closed at 10.30pm, they permitted after-theatre types to get a drink. Steak and jacket potatoes was the standard fare, but they were genuinely matey.
Teatro is not for actors, even though an actress is one of the owners. It's very grand and seriously designed. You go up metallic stairs to a rather dark members' lounge. I was endeared to it when an arrogant French waiter told a member of our party, a lady who was something very important in Camelot, to stop speaking on her cellular phone. She declined and the waiter became almost violent. Cellular phones have to be left at reception. An idea that should be widely adopted.
The restaurant is approached down a long, narrow corridor. It is fairly minimalist, inhabited by uninteresting people. Except for us. I had duly brought one of my political masterpieces, which appear in another News International journal. I had photocopied a section that read: "The trouble with the Millennium Project is it doesn't have a dictator. It needs a near genius at the helm in total control. Peter Mandelson is a part-time dictator. He has his day job as Minister without Portfolio keeping the Labour party afloat because he seems to be the only one who realises how to do it." A little ungracious, I thought, on re-reading it. Tony Blair does pretty well, too.
Peter Mandelson perused this carefully. "If you were a play you could use that quote as a good review," I said. Mr M appeared unconvinced, but was charming nevertheless.
I started with duck foie gras served over poached rhubarb. This was extremely good. Then I had roast breast of squab glazed with fresh dates served with root vegetables. I had great difficulty finding any vegetables. It was a bit tough, not bad, nice gravy, but they'd failed to give me any mashed potatoes, so Michael Grade's sister Anita Land, sitting next to me, gave me some of hers. Robert Earl was eating rack of lamb. "They do it like that at Marks & Spencer," Anita said. I wouldn't know. They all seemed to like their food very much. I thought the service was slow. I noticed many tables had only men sitting at them.
Then Peter Mandelson came back from the lavatory. "I was very confused," he said. "There were two sinks, one somewhat higher than the other." It seems Mr Mandelson was about to relieve himself in one of the sinks when he realised it was the one in which you should wash your hands. I specially went to the Gents' after dinner to check this out. By that time Peter had left to vote on the Education Standards Bill. It is true that the sinks were similar. Robert Earl even took a photo of me in front of them. But it was quite clear which one was for which. Never mind, it made a good dinner-time tale and Peter told it very well.
At this point Anita's husband Brook, a legendary lawyer, produced a printed note from a Hilton hotel he had stayed at in Akron, Ohio. It started "Dear valued guest"; it was headed "Conserve", and pointed out that millions of gallons of water were used every day to wash hotel items that had only been used once. It gave guests a chance to save the planet. They could tick separate boxes asking for their towels and bed linen not to be washed. "The staff appreciate any and all conservation efforts you so desire." It was amazing. Peter Mandelson's lavatory tale paled into insignificance by comparison.
Then I turned to my treacle tart, which was not treacly enough, altogether too refined. I tried the lady from Camelot's lemon tart special, which was pretty good. Then she had to leave early to go home to Penn in Buckinghamshire. It was that sort of an evening.
The Sunday Times list of Britain's Richest 1,000 has made a serious omission. As a regular reader of Michael Winner's column, I would have placed him in the top 250 at least. Poor Mr Winner, he must be furious.
P S Scarborough, London SW7
I am a senior citizen, 91 years of age, and in my younger and more affluent days, I lunched at Claridge's, the Connaught, Le Gavroche, the former Casanova Club and the Dorchester Grill. I recently stumbled into a restaurant called Oceana on Wigmore Street in London, and I was surprised by the standard of the menu, the prices, the food and the presentation. My son drew my attention to a book called Square Meal, which said the chef is "worth watching". You may find it quite intriguing.
Edward L Erdman, London W1
A month ago, I wrote about having been charged £8.30 for a dry martini and a Kaliber at the Compleat Angler in Marlow (Style, April 5). I followed up my visit with a letter of complaint. The management wrote back to apologise, saying that I had indeed been overcharged; the price should have been a mere £6.30. I telephoned the restaurant and queried why they had not enclosed the extra £2 with their letter. They suggested that, if ever I was passing, I should simply drop in for a free drink. For the uninitiated, Marlow is an inconveniently placed town on a dogleg road to the Thames in Buckinghamshire. Nice as it is, one is never likely to be just passing. Why could they not do the correct thing and send me the entire £8.30?
John Cole, Portsmouth