Published 9 August 1998 Style Magazine 265th article
Republican party: left to right, Michael Winner, Tom Dimarzo and Robert Earl
I was outraged when my vegetarian ex-girlfriend, Jenny Seagrove, received a gold card to get her ahead of the queue at the Hard Rock Cafe - and I didn't. A bit later, I was on the beach at the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados, when someone told me the man on a nearby sunbed was the proprietor. I walked over. "Do you own the Hard Rock Cafe?" I asked. Thus disturbed, Robert Earl announced to those in earshot: "You see? He hasn't said a word to me for years; now he thinks I own the Hard Rock, he talks to me."
"I only came to complain, Robert," I said. Mr Earl promised to send me a queue-barging card. Strolling past a week later, I murmured: "Do you do bathrobes?" "I'll have two sent at once," Robert said. Thus love blossomed to the point where Mr Earl co-financed and was producer of my film Dirty Weekend. He even got all his money back. Then he went on to greater things, rushing up the Sunday Times' richest-ever list, opening Planet Hollywoods all over and heaven knows what else.
His latest enterprise is Sound Republic in Leicester Square. Robert, bravely, thought I should go and give my views. Although it's not my usual type of dining room - large and bedecked with videos of rock concerts and music, which, mercifully, is not ear-splitting - I had considerable confidence in it all. This was because the "concept chef" is Tom Dimarzo, who had opened London's Vong restaurant quite superbly. The last time I parked the Phantom Rolls in the Leicester Square area damage was done, so Robert sent a black tinted-windowed "people carrier", and bulky security men met it to walk me through the crowds to the entrance.
Two big ramps lead you down to a subterranean area. I understand these will have photos of rock stars travelling on rope pulleys, but they hadn't reached their destination when I went. Down below, the tables were large and well spaced apart The booths were very big and comfortable. There is a stage which on my visit remained unused.
"I'm going to tell you the components," said Robert, helpfully. "An 800-capacity live venue that we'll open in October, a 400-seat restaurant, an outside terrace restaurant and a TV studio that MTV broadcasts from daily." I waited for further information. But Robert was temporarily exhausted. It seemed as good a time as any to bring on the food. Robert came to and ordered all nine starters. Before you could say pan-fried pork dumplings, £4.95. Tom Dimarzo, a former musician from New York, joined us. I had been sorry when he fell out with Vong, but he's found a good home with Robert and will travel the world opening Sound Republics.
Please do not think that friendship influences my opinion: all the starters were excellent. Not Nico Ladenis excellent, not Marco Pierre White excellent, but very tasty, the sort of food I'd be quite happy to eat on a daily basis.
I don't know how many main courses we had, but the table was full. I homed in on bacon, egg, "fresh-cut" chips and tomato. Superb. I grabbed some grilled steak ramen, prawn fried rice, an incredible mushroom risotto and probably a lot more, too - by now, I was getting food-confused. Not that I failed to recognise the historic sticky toffee pudding, with two layers of toffee contained in the light sponge and a lot more around. The apple and blackberry crumble with creme anglaise would have passed muster in a two-star Michelin place, the home-made ice cream sampler included a memorable banana ice cream. The Spice Girls were in concert on the TV screens, replaced by Tori Amos and then Noel Gallagher.
The only thing I hated to death was the rock concert simulation that occurs every 40 minutes; then all the lights go down and the noise level increases. But luckily it's very short. "Baby Face is our creative director," said Robert, as if I was meant to know who that was.
Then an extremely difficult and unhelpful photographer from Rex Features appeared and refused to photograph us from above eye level, so when I saw them, I threw all his photos away. The next night, that great comic movie star Jim Belushi was there. Being a Hollywood cognoscente, Jim well knew the value of photographing people from eye level or above, so he took the pictures. Please note: this week's photo credit indicates the skill of a $10m-a-movie star. You can't say I don't give value for money. So does Sound Republic. Forget that you hate themed restaurants. Try it.
I was surprised and horrified to see, in a feature on the Hotel Cipriani in Venice in another publication, that Michael Winner's name was missing from a list of the hotel's most famous guests. I assume that he will be taking action to correct this quite obvious insult to his reputation.
George M Sinclair, Colchester, Essex
Would Michael Winner care to do a review of the Lygon Arms in Broadway? My daughter and her husband decided to spend two "luxury" nights there for their honeymoon. The whole thing was a total disaster. They were treated with utter contempt by the staff, felt they were overlooked, and at times completely ignored. At breakfast, for instance, their order was forgotten, and when they reminded the waitress, they heard her swear under her breath. After complaining to the manager, they were not charged for the meal, but the whole experience spoilt what should have been a lovely honeymoon.
Pauline Robinson, Northwich, Cheshire
It was comforting to see that Llangoed Hall (Style, July 5) treats everyone the same, whatever their class of transport. Arriving by humble car two years ago, I had the same chilly reception from the porter. I was then refused tea because I hadn't booked. The dinner was an ordeal of pomposity, arrogant waiters, delay (40 minutes between courses) and mediocre food. When I complained about the gristle in the pate, I was haughtily informed that the chef insisted that all his food be as natural as possible.
Geoff Dismorr, London N1