Published 25 October 1998 Style Magazine 276th article
Minister of fun: Michael Winner and Tony Banks at Langan's Coq d'Or (Tara Palmer-Tomkinson)
I have always been an admirer, though not a fan, of Langan's in Mayfair. I appreciate its professionalism, its continued popularity. I like the room, the staff, the party catering upstairs, but I've never been crazy about the food. One of my most awful nights was when I took Charles Bronson and his dear late wife, Jill Ireland, there. Peter Langan, bless him, joined the table and spat at us, the tablecloth and anything else in sight for nearly three hours. I was all for asking him to leave, drunk as he was. But Jill had decided to save him from the evils of alcohol, so Charlie and I put up with it as graciously as two Scorpios are able to. After that, other than when Michael Caine gave a dinner, I seldom went back.
So when my friend, the highly superior movie executive Bill Tennant, suggested we go to Langan's Coq d'Or in Brompton Road for lunch, I was not enthusiastic. Although on the phone I'd been told only assistant managers were on duty, when I arrived the excellently familiar Peter Malva, now grandly titled group manager, was there to greet me. The room itself is extremely attractive. Sort of fake 1900 with nice brass hanging lights from the George V in Paris, pleasing oil paintings, photos of regulars to the "old" Langan's, which of course don't include me, pink and yellow flowers and one odd thing - layers of paper cloths on top of a real tablecloth on the tables.
The room was pretty empty, but one of my favourite MPs, Tony Banks, was at one table, and the always delightfully up-and-jolly Tara Palmer-Tomkinson appeared at another with the UK boss of TAG Heuer watches, Neil Duckworth. He'd paid a great deal at a charity auction to be in one of my films, ending up in Parting Shots at a pub in Fulham with a parrot and Joanna Lumley. He acquitted himself superbly. Apparently that nice-looking brunette lady ahead on my right, lunching with a gossip colunmist, was Tara's sister Santa. A table away sat a baroness from Brussels whom I like, but whose name I forget. A pleasing group.
I noted they had Langan's bangers and mash with white onion sauce on the menu. They're always very good. Bill ordered crab and ginger dumplings to start. I nicked some when they arrived; they were most pleasing. I asked for gravadlax with mustard sauce. "That's adventurous," said Bill, meaning it wasn't. Safe it may have been, but it was first-rate.
The bread was all right, not overexciting. Bill declared his main course, grilled tuna, to be superb, I rated it good. I'd decided to forego the sausages for beef bourguignonne: it lacked that extra something.
By now the paper tablecloths were becoming a real bore. They kept rising every time I brought my arms up with my cutlery. Peter Malva explained they were meant to give a brasserie look. I ended up eating my apple strudel dessert with one hand, while holding the paper cloth down with the other. This is something new in my vast experience; and not necessarily a plus.
I thought the strudel presentable. Bill didn't like his lemon cheesecake. "Try it," he said. "There's no hint of cheese." Indeed it was a very light lemon mousse on a pastrylike base. As I prefer lemon mousse to cheesecake, I had no complaints.
I'd rate this a pleasant meal in very nice surroundings. I even made a note of the table number of my corner setting, which means I'd be happy to go back. Peter pointed to the other corner. "That's Lord Archer's table," he said, as if his restaurant had thus achieved the apex of distinction. I found that totally bizarre.
There's been a transformation at another restaurant near my house. The Belvedere in Holland Park has undergone a superb face-lift. There are new chairs, changes in the decor, a bit of money's been splashed about to good effect and the waiters no longer look as if they came from a student tour and were eager to go back to it. A rather dour general manager, Dean Malouf, has taken over, but there's a terriﬁc new team in the kitchen headed by Marc Brown. I had some very good soup and rabbit and a dessert that fell short of excellent but was serviceable. In the transformation, the only celebrity photo to be nicked was mine. I had to ﬁnd another, just as I had to replace one stolen from the Hotel Splendido in Portofino.
Somewhere there is a thief collecting Winner portraits. If you come across him, direct him speedily to the nearest mental institution.
Driving through Nice recently while on holiday, my husband and I saw a fast-food restaurant in rue Arson bearing your name: "Le Winner". Unfortunately, the establishment was closed, so we are unable to report on the size of the tables offered or the quality of the menu. However, the discovery has answered a query we have had for some time about your frequent trips to Portofino in Italy. You obviously nip over the border to pursue your double life as a fast-food proprietor.
Anne Curtis, Fetcham, Surrey
May I add a feather to the cap of Harry's Bar in Venice? Arriving by water taxi from the airport on a dark, wet evening, I offered to take my party to Harry's Bar to cheer them all up. There were 15 of us, 12 of them my sixth-form art students, so I went in first to ask. To their eternal credit, we were allowed in - wet, in raincoats and anoraks - and crowded round the small bar to watch 15 bellinis being constructed. The place was full of diners in evening dress, not one of whom showed any concern at the invasion, the drinks were exquisite, and the staff behind the bar charming. And no, I didn't mention your name.
Brian Beasley, Brockenhurst, Hants
You must be the most photographed man in publishing history. It seems that every journal, newspaper and magazine has your "phizzog" in it somewhere. Is there no end to your hankering to be snapped?
T Gwillym, Enfield, Middex
In the unlikely event that you find yourself in Co Galway, Eire, I thoroughly recommend the Erriseask House Hotel. It is so isolated that only real foodies will take the trouble to go there, and so remote that they might not even have heard of you - which may or may not be a disadvantage.
Reg Williamson, Kidsgrove, Staffs