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Eating with the enemy

Published 30 August 1998
Style Magazine
268th article



Polish polish: Michael Winner and Matthew Norman, front, with Patio owners Kaz and Ewa Michalik

I'm usually amused by journalists' descriptions of me. One of my favourites was Peter McKay in the Evening Standard. He said I "looked like a homicidal grandmother who has just been released into the community after a lifetime weaving baskets in a high security Mid-West prison". Craig Brown, the restaurant critic of The Sunday Telegraph, wrote about me so often that I feared for his sanity. By amazing coincidence, one evening we were both in Hunstrete House, a restaurant near Bristol. Sadly Mr Brown never introduced himself, but I enjoyed his observation of me as "a pantomime version of Lady Bracknell, aided by his use of a pince-nez on the end of a stick to peruse the menu". They're called lorgnettes. actually Craig, but not to worry.

One of the most rampantly offensive, but usually very funny Winner "aficionados" is Matthew Norman, who writes The Guardian diary and a column in the Evening Standard. He once referred to my "minimal sperm count" as "God's idea of damage limitation". Matthew was always very grand. He never phoned himself, but a charming girl called Emily Barr would speak on his behalf and, later a young man named Simon Bowers.

It was Simon who said, "Matthew would like to take you to lunch". I considered this briefly and agreed. All three of them turned up at my house, I drove them to Assaggi, and it turned out to be a very nice event indeed; warm, funny, friendly and greatly enjoyable. Matthew, standing in for Fay Maschler, wrote a glowing review of the place in his tale of our meeting. Then his father came to my house, a lovely chap who collects classic cars. I bought a carriage clock from him with Matthew's name on the dial, to present to my Mr Fraser in recognition of 50 years' service. Dad used to manufacture them. Later, Matthew's mum sent me a plate of the most delicious chopped liver I've ever eaten and kindly wrote the recipe down for my Thai cook. The first words were "render the schmaltz". I felt that might be a little advanced for a lady used to Far Eastern cooking, but one day I shall get it set out in more detail. I look forward to the result with interest.

As I'd paid the bill at Assaggi, Matthew wanted to reciprocate and recommended a restaurant near where I live called Patio, just past Shepherd's Bush Green. I'd heard of this because my friend Alan Rickman often suggested we go. But Matthew, who when reviewing it said one of the advantages was that he'd never seen me there, provided my first visit. On this occasion he was accompanied by his highly intelligent wife Rebecca, ex-editor of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine and now a columnist therein.

The set menu at Patio is three courses, all terriļ¬c and with a glass of vodka, for the amazing sum of £9.90 ex service. It's all in the most unremarkable street, close to the southern end of the Shepherd's Bush Shopping Market - which I used to own in my days as a landlord.

Patio is comfortable, old-fashioned and Polish. It has a spick and span look with white tablecloths. Ewa Michalik and her husband Kaz, who own it, have the air of well turned-out eastern Europeans who really care. The food demonstrates this. I had herrings with sour cream, red borscht and a sausage called cabarnos for starters; then veal a la cracova, a rump of veal with a wine-cream sauce.

When I turn up in restaurants the owners tend, kindly, to fill the table with everything, so there were also present, at one time or another, Polish mushrooms, pickled cucumber (startlingly good), Polish lager, Czech Budweiser, Polish cabbage with herbs, apple and beans, cauliflower with breadcrumbs, red beetroot and horseradish, and Matthew said the potatoes were sauteed in goose fat. For dessert I had nice fluffy cheesecake and a pancake filled with vanilla and rum. The bill for three, including vodka, was £34.70 ex service. Incredible.

I asked Ewa when she last put the prices up. She thought carefully and said, "seven years ago". "Don't you think it's time to strike out again?" I ventured. Ewa said, "I'm afraid of the competition", adding something about pizza parlours. The customers were like I used to see in Hampstead: intellectuals, quiet, nice-looking. Ewa had worked as a chemist, her husband was a trumpet player and later restaurant manager at the London Hilton.

Matthew had shaved his beard off since our Assaggi outing. "Owing to David Beckham," said Rebecca. "Thank you David Beckham," she added. All this was completely beyond me, so I paid the bill. Again. But that's okay, we can have a rerun.



Letters

I was amused and appalled to read of Michael Winner's tribulations at Henllys Hall in Snowdonia (Style, August 16). Cold earl grey, "seedy" bedrooms containing the previous guests' rubbish, "cheap" soap in the bathrooms, "rubber" duck breast on the table and a level of service that would make most people gawp...I can't help feeling that the whole thing was a huge practical joke. Could it be that with his kind offer of a free helicopter ride to Wales, John Rodger was taking the Michael in more ways than one?
James Hampton, Melton Mowbray

Why don't you come and visit us at Grove House in Skibbereen? You may not have heard of it, but it's very handy for your film pals Jeremy Irons and David Puttnam who live up the road. And Seamus Crowley might even let you land your helicopter in the field adjoining our house. If you don't think my wife's dinner is the " cojones de los perros ", as they say in Madrid, we'll refund the £12. Can't say better than that, old chap.
Peter Warburton, Skibbereen, Eire

A recent meal at my local curry house was ruined by the antics of a group of drunken students, who took refuge at our table to prevent the staff from ejecting them. Having finally been escorted from the restaurant, they proceeded to stand in the street turning people away and loudly urging them to sign a petition on a napkin. Given Michael Winner's well-documented links with the Police Federation, could he not persuade them to deal more harshly with those who become inebriated in restaurants?
Zoe Winterson, Swansea