Published 28 March 1999 Style Magazine 297th article
Home alone: Michael Winner with his Room Service meal from Luna Nuova (Arnold Crust)
I'm a dab hand in the kitchen. I can knock up scrambled eggs and royal beluga caviare as expertly as Marco, Nico or Groucho - Marx, not Club. Take four eggs, add much milk, energise with an electric whisk, get butter sizzling in a frying pan. When the eggs are peak-frothy, bung them into the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until they reach your preferred texture. Then slop them on a plate, add 100g of royal beluga, preferably from W G. White, prepare some earl grey tea and voila - a masterpiece. My adorable friend Ava Gardner told me that was how Frank Sinatra did his scrambled eggs, although I created my way separately.
I was about to produce this gem, then thought: "Not caviare again." I remembered a booklet that came unsolicited advertising restaurants from which food was delivered. I'd never done this. Facing an evening with my favourite person - me - I decided to give us both a treat from Room Service Deliveries. I selected Havana, a restaurant in Mayfair. You order by numbers, so I carefully marked those pertaining to food I wanted. I telephoned at six minutes to seven. I was asked to hold on. When I was allowed to order, I learnt Havana wasn't with them any more. Nor were my next two restaurant choices. My book was out of date.
We settled on Luna Nuova in Covent Garden. I ordered No 117, sardines on a mixed tomato, black olive and red onion salad with oregano dressing. But that was off. So was the poached veal, so was the stuffed breast of guinea fowl. I settled for No 326, char-grilled veal escalope and tomato salad with basil dressing, plus 605, char-grilled bananas with toffee sauce. I threw in five other things to ensure I had lots to judge. I put the phone down from giving my order at 7.02pm plus 30 seconds.
I laid out my cockerel mats from Fortnum & Mason; it wasn't a special enough event to use the super-posh mats I make as a hobby. I put some plates in the warmer, arranged my "nicked" hotel, restaurant and airline cutlery and watched a television programme about how to light cities. It was now over an hour from my order and I wished I'd done baked beans on toast.
Then, at precisely 8.10pm, the bell rang. At the door was a man in evening dress, slightly diminished by a zip-up outer coat, carrying large plastic hampers with "Room Service" written on them. "We recommend the pizzas from Luna Nuova," he said as he laid my goodies on a kitchen surface. I opened a cardboard box: there was a garlic pizza. "Have it while it's hot," advised my delivery chap, Michael Bell. I took some: it was cold, rubbery, awful.
After he left I went straight for the veal escalope. In tipping it onto the plate some went on the ﬂoor. I was overexcited. So much so I'd forgotten to open one of my half-bottles of Petrus 1981. The veal came with potatoes and beans. It was no gastronomic thrill, but it wasn't bad. I had great difficulty opening the stuff in plastic containers. It included antipasti, a lot of very poor salami, some ham, cheese and tomato. I cut the corners of the packets off with scissors to get at the interior. Little bits of plastic flew onto the floor. I'd set up my Leica Summarit camera on a tripod and, using Ilford HP5 black-and-white film at two metres - I know you like technical details - I took a number of photos of myself throughout this unique, if tragicomic, experience.
The cold stuff was pretty dire. The char-grilled banana looked absolutely dreadful. It had its skin on, which had gone blotchy. It was like someone with a serious disease. But the banana came out of it quite easily as it was sliced down the middle. I was very pleasantly surprised with the sauce and banana quality. It was after I'd eaten as much as I could stand that I saw on the bill: "Driver gratuities are appreciated as a reward for efficient service." Oh well, Mr Bell had the pleasure of meeting me: that would have to suffice.
I pushed 75% of what I'd bought down the waste disposal and clogged it up. I had to bring out a metal pole with two prongs and fight to get it going again. The kitchen looked horrid with so many plastic containers around. Acting like an ordinary member of the public is ridiculous. It's back to caviare for me next time. And the time after that. And for ever.
Michael Winner may not like it revealed that there are ignorant people who read his column. But, please, what in the world is "ventreche" bacon (Style, March 14)?
Edna Weiss, London NW11
Following your article some months ago, I took my wife and son to dinner at Midsummer House in Cambridge. To be more precise, I took them for a drink and a bread roll. Having waited 15 minutes for a menu and then a further 15 for someone to take our order, I asked whether this was the usual standard of service. They replied that they offer "a more relaxed" style of service, at which I decided to make a "relaxed" exit.
S C Silvester, South Croydon, Surrey
We had booked six weeks in advance for Saturday lunch at Marco Pierre White's Titanic restaurant in London to celebrate my daughter's birthday, but arrived to be told that it was now closed on Saturday lunchtimes. Frankly, we were upset. However, White appeared from nowhere, apologised and organised a table for us at his Criterion restaurant, with the offer of a free meal at Titanic the next time we were in town. Later, a dozen red roses arrived for my daughter. Marco Pierre White, the enfant terrible of British cooking? Never.
N W Gibbs, Stowmarket, Suffolk
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