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Notting hillbillies

Published 11 July 1999
Style Magazine
313th article

Market leads: Michael Winner with Lesley Burton and Didier Milinaire in the Portobello Road (Vanessa Perry)

My grandfathers naturalisation papers were personally signed by Winston Churchill. Grandpa was described as a trimming and hosiery merchant living in Portobello Road in the County of London. Davis Winner had been here since the 1890s, but it was on May 20, 1910 that Winston S Churchill, one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, signed his "Memorial praying for a certificate of naturalisation". My auntie Gwen has the original of this document and she lives in Brighton. I keep meaning to acquire it by fair means or foul, but I've never mounted sufficient interest.

On the pavement on the west side of Portobello Road was a mosaic sign in Edwardian script, running in front of two shop fronts, that read "Winner's". This is where grandpa hung out. Above it was a blue plaque naming it as the site of the first antiques arcade in Portobello Road. I have a photo of myself sitting on the mosaic. I always meant to buy it from the Kensington council. But when I returned recently, chequebook at the ready, the mosaic had been cemented over and the blue plaque had vanished. The only memento I have of my family as shopkeepers is a wooden clothes hanger embossed with the address of two Winner's shops, one in Edgware Road and one in Lime Grove, close to the old Gainsborough Film Studios where the young Alfred Hitchcock plied his trade. For many years, grips and electricians would come to me on the set and tell me they bought shirts and suits from my family.

When I visited Portobello Road one Saturday a few weeks before the release of the movie Notting Hill, things were already changing for the worse. I went into a restaurant called the Wine Factory, a narrow buzzy place offering Lurex-bright pictures of ships and castles for sale. There I spotted my friend Didier Milinaire, son of the Duchess of Bedford, for whom I used to work when she was a movie producer. With him was his girlfriend, Lesley Burton. who owns the adjacent antiques arcade. They live above it.

"The restaurant's full," I said, looking round. "Who can I pay to leave?" I was introduced to Dee Bliss, the manageress. "Tell that man," I said, pointing to a couple next to Didler, "that if he leaves in five minutes his meal is free." "You can't do that to people," said Dee. "I do it all the time," I replied. A slight exaggeration, although it usually works. This man looked ferocious, so I decided to wait.

Didier offered us a piece of his garlic bread as we squashed in beside him, Lesley and their two friends. "Trouble is the package tours," said Didier. "They have an all-in deal - from food to hotel. They get dropped at the top of Portobello Road. They have no money to spend. It's all trinkets and tourist stuff now. Nobody's buying. The Arabs have disappeared, the Far East have disappeared, the Japanese have disappeared and the English haven't got any money. For the Americans, the pound is too strong and the antiques programmes on television are encouraging people to keep what they've got or ask too much money for it. All the fashion shops have moved in around here, forcing the rents up. All the antiques shops are becoming fashion shops." Didier should know. He has been a Portobello Road antiques seller for 30 years.

I would have felt sorrier for him if I had my own table to sit at and could order lunch. This was definitely my main preoccupation. "Did you enjoy your meal?" I asked the man at the table I was waiting to go to. I'm sure he was hanging on just to annoy me. "Yes, relatively," he said. Then he said "relatively" again. Then, thank God, he left. I ordered a four seasons pizza. A gentleman was taking away a funghi pizza. He offered me some. "That's a seven, isn't it?" he said. "No, it's not," I replied. But it was very nice.

I was given grilled vegetables with what had been described as a hot chilli sauce. It was so strong that, after one mouthful, I was dying. I gulped water. Vanessa said her caesar salad was all right. The pizza was pretty good and my hot toffee cake perfectly pleasant. Lesley said to Vanessa: "You make Michael look handsome. That's remarkable. You have to be some photographer to do that." So saying, we ventured into Portobello Road to have our photo taken. We decided my grandfather's shop might have been number 153. Vanessa did her best to make me look good. I tried to exude handsome. So I failed. You think you look any better?


Like G Levy (Style, June 27), I also had a bad experience at Casale Franco in Islington. As we sat down, bread was brought to the table and I asked for some side plates. At this request the waiter muttered some abuse in Italian and banged them down on our table. While waiting to order, I asked for a glass of water. The waiter looked back at us, laughed and just walked away. We then walked out. This used to be an excellent restaurant and always had queues outside. Now it certainly deserves to be empty.
R Gromb, London

Three cheers for G Levy for writing about the sad state at Casale Franco. I thought I was alone in my views. This has the distinction of being the only restaurant in London, and possibly the world, where I purposely gave no tip.
T Byer, London

Recently, on my birthday, I went for lunch with a friend at the Eagle in Farringdon Road, London EC1. After ordering food and drink at the bar, we sat outside in the sun. Some 10 minutes later, the dish I ordered arrived, while my friend was brought a completely different dish from the one he thought he had requested. We explained this to a waitress, who looked confused and disappeared inside with the dish. A minute later, a man (who turned out to be the owner) stormed out to our table and asked angrily: "And what is the matter?" I can only assume he was having a bad day. Embarrassed by the unnecessary commotion, we quietly explained that we had not been given the correct dish. At this point, just when we thought he couldn't get any ruder, the man started shouting that the dish we believed we had ordered was not on the blackboard and that we had made a mistake. I am amazed that the Eagle has the decent reputation it does when the man in charge is so obnoxious.
Amanda Hussain, London

The statement "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen" as used by John Tham, the managing director of Cliveden, is the well-known slogan of the American Ritz-Carlton group. Is Cliveden under new management, or is this yet another example of its lack of originality?
Gary Mason, Dubai, UAE

"Pass the sickbag," you say, after quoting a letter from the managing director of Cliveden, and yet your constant bitterness about Cliveden is itself quite revolting. Nothing in this world is black and white. As they used to say in The Sweeney: "Shut it!
Don Tierney, London