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In the affirmative

Published 12 September 1999
Style Magazine
322nd article



Yes men: Michael Winner in Glasgow with Ferrier Richardson (Vanessa Perry)

The Michelin Guide doesn't think much of Glasgow. The best it gets is one restaurant rated "Meals", meaning "Good food at moderate prices". Michelin stars are nowhere. On my meet-the-people tour the film company booked us into Yes, which merely has three black crossed spoons and forks - "Very comfortable". If they had been in red it would have meant "particularly pleasant" as well. So I deduce that Michelin rates Yes as very comfortable but unpleasant. To know what Michelin thinks is not easy. It's the only guide for which you need a starred first-class degree in guide-reading before you can understand it.

Yes is in a basement, People on the pavement above stare down at you. On the left of the dining area is a bar that is full of people who stare at you as well. So you're surrounded by gawkers. It's a noisy, yellow room with pictures on the walls and red and purple banquettes and chairs. The owner is the chef, Ferrier Richardson, who is very pleasant. We were offered bread. "We've got parmesan and sun-dried tomato, which I think is the nicest," the waiter said. Then he poured olive oil into a little bowl instead of butter. "I'll get it on my shirt," I thought. Next to me was a lady in a red blouse who had won a scarf in a Harpers & Queen competition. She goes in for a lot of them, she told me.

"Quite bizarre," I dictated. "They're serving the men first." There was a man in a dark shirt eating melon. His name was Robert Melon. He produced a card with British Energy on it and his photograph to prove he had the same name as what he was eating. The rest of us seemed to be eating pithivier of wild mushrooms, grilled asparagus and madeira essence. "This all right?" I said to the man next to me. "Better than my usual tea," he replied. A lady on my left said: "Something's too salty. I think it's the asparagus." Amy, her striking, dark-haired daughter, did not find the asparagus too salty. "She complains a lot," she said of her mother. "I believe you, Amy," I said. The lady in the red blouse told us she came to Yes at Christmas but they didn't have white creme de menthe. "The Americans have it, but they didn't," she said. Her boyfriend next to her, with very long hair and glasses, kept nodding and repeating, "It's magic," referring to clear creme de menthe. I sometimes find it difficult keeping up with the public.

The meal progressed to fillet of Shetland salmon and scallops with stuffed baby vegetables, lemon and dill. Very nice bit of salmon, the veg cooked perfectly. The lady across the table said: "I made a haggis, but I didn't have the sheep's stomach to put it in, so I put it in greaseproof paper." Things were definitely getting beyond me. The restaurant had terrible piped music. Sort of discotheque music gone wrong. Thank goodness bitter dark chocolate tart with white chocolate ice cream and vanilla sauce appeared. I dictated: "I'm eating this chocolate tart extremely carefully. The chocolate is very good, but the base is a bit how's-your-father." The ice cream was excellent, if a little heavy. A lady called Jean said: "It's finger food." I don't know how ice cream and chocolate tart could be finger food. But to prove her point Jean started eating it with her fingers. I tell you, Scotland's a real laugh. I was just beginning to switch to the necessary mental channel to enjoy everything when the piped music stopped and a pianist turned up. He was extremely unmelodious. There are times when I feel I'm going stark raving mad, and others when I know I am.

So it was consoling when I received a hand written lax from Dinah Jane, wife of the super-chef Nico Ladenis. "You'll be pleased to learn," she wrote, "that at the Catey Awards at Grosvenor House you were voted one of the most influential people in the catering trade." I know I was recently chosen to give the most prestigious catering speech, the Savoy Lecture - but voted for? The Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine does the Catey Awards, "the Oscars of the industry", the deputy editor, Jenny Webster, told me. But my honour was less than it seemed. They had selected 35 people to show on television screens "chosen for the impact they have upon the industry". I was the only food writer among company chiefs, chefs and others too significant to mention. I shall have to wait until you make the forthcoming book of Winner's Dinners No 1 in the charts before I take a course in preening.



Letters

I am overcome with emotion. On a recent trip to Italy, you wrote: "Miki ....know of no better ice cream" (Style, August 22). Have you demoted our beloved Scarborough Harbour Bar to second place? I think we should be told. I am now off to join what I hope is a huge display of support on the pavement.
Eric Russell, by e-mail

Following your glowing recommendation of Frederick's restaurant in Highcliffe (Style, June 27), my husband made a reservation for four people. We arrived from London to find a "closed" sign on the door and a note saying: "Sorry to the customer who booked." No contact number had been asked for at the time of booking. Needless to say, we were not impressed.
Andrea Wyse, London

Your photograph the other week (Style, August 29) raised an important question: do you actually want to look like Dame Barbara Cartland? Time for a haircut, young man.
Barbara Gelsthorpe, by e-mail

Writing on your page a few weeks ago, a Mr Raeburn was impressed that Harry's Bar in Venice, an establishment where dinner for two costs £150, changes the tablecloths halfway through the meal. Our local Chinese in Worcester Park does the same - and it only charges £14 a head for all you can eat.
M Fineam, Great Bookham, Surrey

I'm a journalist from the colony made great by the doctrine of rum, sodomy and the lash. I've recently popped into London as part of my worldwide eating tour, having passed quickly over the USA (with a memorable lump of pigeon at Vong in NYC). While the food scene in Britain has improved dramatically in recent times, I am still disappointed. In Australia, where I chronicled the food revolution of the past decade, we read wondrous stories of the exciting food scene of London. What I've found so far is certainly dynamic and there is some brilliant produce. But the results are often ordinary and the prices astounding. A critical boot to the buttocks of restaurateurs can only be a good thing.
Duncan McNab, by e-mail

One thing you may have noticed, or may not because of your higher- profile dining presence, is the annoying habit of waiters and waitresses of asking "Is your meal okay, sir?" just as you are in mid-mouthful. Why cannot they be trained to wait until said mouthful has been properly addressed and is no longer in any position to interfere with vocal activity?
Tim Haysom, Liverpool

Send your letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@ sunday-times.co.uk