Published 25 April 1999 Style Magazine 302nd article
Having a ball: Fiona Leslie, Mike Gooley and Michael Winner
I was in a very bad mood. I'd walked from my place, maybe as much as half a mile, to Stafford Terrace to look over a doctor's surgery location for my film Parting Shots. The house number I'd written down had no doctor. A passer-by came up. "You telephoned me once," he said. "I've got a restaurant near here." This is all I need, I thought. Some civilian talking rubbish while I'm looking for a location. "Mind you, I don't think we're quite ready for you yet," the civilian continued. He followed me as I walked home. "Why did I phone you?" I asked irritably. "I'm Mike Gooley, the chairman of Trailfinders," he replied. "You were considering moving your account."
My attitude changed. This man I greatly admire. I'd seen him start in tiny premises in the Earls Court Road. I'd watch them get bigger and bigger, taking over large slabs of Kensington High Street. Trailfinders is a famous cut-price travel operation. He gave me his card, which I promptly lost.
Some time later, one of my staff said they'd had a nice meal at Goolies, a bar and restaurant in nearby Abingdon Road. I decided I'd treat my long-serving associate Mr Fraser (50 years and still counting) to lunch there on the cook's day off. I phoned Trailfinders. No answer. I tried the long-haul number and the European flight number. I got music and announcements. But no human being. How on earth does this fellow pay the rent, I thought? How can he sell tickets if nobody answers the phone?
When I finally got to the restaurant, Mr Gooley had come in specially. He'd brought his PR lady, Susan Moscow. "She'll give you a glimpse behind the scenes," he said. "What scenes?" I asked. "All the people at the telephone centre," said Mike. "You mean the people who never answer the phone to me," I muttered. Goolies is a pleasant, narrow bar with tables on one side you can eat at and a raised level with more tables. Mike was in the SAS for eight years and looks like it. I expected him to come crashing through the plate-glass window on the end of a rope, pausing only to slit the throat of the head waiter. Alternatively, as in the television ad, he might have delivered chocolates to his girlfriend, Fiona Leslie. She informed me she was a "cart tart" or "trolley dolly" for Virgin Airlines, which means an air hostess. She met Mike in this very restaurant-bar.
I ordered roast rump of kangaroo, roast sweet potatoes and beetroot pesto. "When we first had kangaroo, we had it with bitter chocolate as a main course. It went down very well," said Fiona. Sounds like my kind of dish.
For a starter I had white crab cake with apple sauce. It was a very pleasing crab cake. Extremely large. The kangaroo was all right. A bit chewy. It's not going on my regular eating list. The service was slow. Mr Fraser liked his pan-fried tiger prawns with ginger and garlic dressing and coconut basmati rice. For dessert, I had vanilla cheesecake. Fiona asked: "How was it?" I said: "Very nice." "Very nice!" said Fiona, highly insulted. "Well, darling, it's not exactly three-star Michelin, is it?" I added. "Point taken, point taken," said Fiona.
I later asked Mr Fraser his overall view. "They go in for that artistically arranged food," he said. It is rather good, but I think a sparse bar-type place should go back to basics. Fish and chips. Hamburgers. Irish stew. Lancashire hotpot. Hot dogs. Where can you get a good hot dog today? And waffles - they're a thing of the past. Forget trying to be posh. There are already too many restaurants drowning in plate decoration. Good fresh ingredients and simplicity are the best. I'd be a regular then. Not necessarily something desirable.
Goolies is a nice local hang-out. It has a certain personality, but I'm not quite sure what. Mike bought it from its previous owners who used it as a social centre for their dating agency. On the way there I passed a small paved courtyard in front of an office building. It housed an Aston Martin with the numberplate TF1. Mike bought it two years ago for his 60th birthday. "Are they good cars?" I asked. "Beautiful to look at. Fun to drive I wouldn't say," said Mike. "They're made in small numbers. I think you get a few little teething problems." When a man with a genuine top-of-the-range car says that, you know it's a disaster. My Ferrari was hopeless for years. It seems to have settled down with old age. Would I could do the same.
Is your name Whiner? Tea at Le Manoir (Style, April 11) was all set up to delight you, yet you just fired off about tissues and shampoo. Surely tolerance is better than blood pressure?
Roy Tummon, Easter Compton, Bristol
When I saw that Michael Winner had reviewed La Gazelle d'Or (Style, April 4) my heart sank in fear of him massacring one of my fondest memories. I was fortunate enough to stay there with my late companion in 1997 and we had a spectacular time. We also had incredible food. On our last evening we were treated to spit-roasted baby lamb. I was relieved that the review did not desecrate my memories.
Dr R A Fernley, London EC1
You may not remember the incident when I so rudely interrupted your Sunday lunch at the Grill Room in the Dorchester. I told you that I felt you had deprived yourself of one of the great culinary delights of Europe by not visiting my favourite restaurant. The establishment, Pere Bise, is regarded as one of the top four in France and is found at a lakeside village called Talloires, near Annecy. I wrote the address down for you, but perhaps your LearJet pilot is unfamiliar with Annecy airport. You don't know what you are missing.
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France