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Getting to Know You

Published 19 September 1999
Style Magazine
323rd article

Reception committee: Michelle Rinkoff and Michael Winner (Dinah Lagoudakos)

We put an advert for a receptionist in The Stage, a theatrical newspaper. I find rather nice people turn up. I'm interviewing this girl, a dancer aged 21, name of Michelle Rinkoff, and she says: "Are you Mr Fraser?" Mr Fraser runs my office, he'd phoned and asked her to come in.

"No, I'm not Mr Fraser," I say quietly.

"Who are you then?" asks Michelle.

"I'm Michael Winner," I respond helpfully.

"What do you do?" asks Michelle. I swear this is absolutely, word for word, true.

"You don't know who I am?" I say.

"No," replies Michelle.

"Well, when you get home, ask your father, he may know," I remark, all very mildly.

A few days later Marco Pierre White and I are chatting. "I hear you interviewed a receptionist and she had no idea who you were," says Marco gleefully.

"It's true," I reply. "How did you know?"

"Her stepfather's a good customer of mine," said Marco.

A couple of weeks later Michelle rings me up. I'd asked her to call in case we still had a vacancy, which we did, as the girl we took on found it very difficult to get in on time.

"I hear your stepfather told Marco Pierre White about your interview," I said.

"Who's Marco Pierre White?" asked Michelle.

"You haven't heard of Marco Pierre White?" I said.

"No," she said. "What does he do?"

"He's a famous chef," I said.

"Oh, is he the one who runs the Ivy?" asked Michelle.

"No," I Said, "Marco runs the . . ." Then I gave up. She got the job, she's a jolly nice girl and she's doing very well. Even though she has no idea who she's working for. I mention this story because it amuses me and because I failed to get a photo in the Europa Hotel, Belfast when I was there on my meet-the-people tour. I once heard the greatest joke session ever in the Europa Hotel. I did Any Questions? for the BBC and afterwards we went back to the hotel with various BBC bigwigs. We sat in a bleak room with little chairs round the edges and the local people told jokes about "the Troubles". These were at their height, with mass killings, the IRA prisoners defecating and spreading it on their cell walls. As always in times of tension, humour is a great relief. The jokes they told were, by any standards, utterly sick. They made fun of the murders and all the other horrors of those days in Northern Ireland. But they were indescribably funny. It was a night I shall always remember.

On my recent visit I was in room 101, the President Clinton suite. It may sound grand, but it was tiny. A small sitting room with a yellow two-seater sofa, and then an opening, no door, to the bedroom. There's various presidential memorabilia. A signed photo of him and Hillary, a certificate of appreciation from a man in Presidential Communications called Dale Ellenberger, and a framed letter from Hillary thanking someone for the beautifully engraved crystal ball. It's the least presidential suite I've ever stayed in, but perfectly comfortable in a boarding-house way.

Downstairs we dropped into the Brasserie for a snack. I dictated into my tape: "This is a seriously revolting room." It had blue balloons all over the place because the musical Grease was playing next door and the Brasserie was done up in sympathy. There was a very tired-looking salad bar. Vanessa asked what the soup of the day was and that sent the waitress into total frenzy. She came back and said it was vegetable broth. There were slices of dessert on view that looked as unappetising as anything I've seen in my life.

A lady came over with a badge saying Frenchy, who is a character in Grease. "I've just come to let you know things will be going smoothly from now on," she said. She was Mary Smith, Brasserie deputy manager. I noticed the table next to ours was served well before us; not my idea of things going smoothly. Eventually, Frenchy served Vanessa my Kenickies Kikin Chicken and gave me the nachos Vanessa had ordered. There was one soup too few, so Vanessa wasn't served any. After a brief taste she was pleased about that. The chicken was highly indifferent and the sauce much too hot. The baked potato was horrific. The soup was horrific. Even the tea tasted odd.

I'd like to have shown you a photo of Mary as Frenchy with me, the balloons and the Grease atmosphere. But I forgot my camera. So here I am with Michelle in my study. That's a perfectly good alternative, isn't it?

Winner's letters

Nicholas Silver (Style, September 5) may be interested to know that when no price for lobster is mentioned on the menu, you have to ask the waiter for the market price, as it fluctuates from day to day. Instead of paying £75 for a grilled lobster on Elba, Mr Silver should have hopped on a plane to the Bookbinders seafood restaurant in Philadelphia, where for £15 he could have steamed lobster (the best way to cook it) with melted butter and lemon - sheer ambrosia.
Edna Weiss, London

Mr Richterich of Leeds (Style, August 8) is not the only gentleman who looks like Michael Winner. My ex-boyfriend did, too. In fact, I only went out with him because he reminded me of the great man. Should Mr Winner wish to meet a stunning Vivien Leigh lookalike with a recent 2:1 in media studies, he only has to give me a call.
Jenny Male, Rowfant, Sussex

I recently "did a Michael" and flew to Scotland for lunch. Someone had suggested the Thainestone House Hotel outside Inverurie. This hotel was moderately priced - £19.95 for the gourmet lunch, which was chosen by my two eating companions and myself. We all agreed it was probably the best meal we have ever had (we are all over 50 and have a good idea what we are talking about). We sent our congratulations to the chef, but were informed that the sous- chef was in charge that day. Could you arrange for him to be sent to England where more people would be able to enjoy his cooking?
Sandy Gauld, by e-mail

Club Gascon in Smithfield Market, London, recently won a New Restaurant of the Year award. It seems to have gone to their heads. My wife wanted to book a special birthday lunch for me and knowing of my fondness for foie gras, armagnac and all things Gascon, called to book a table for eight. She was told that, as a large party, we would have to have the set menu at £30 a head. She was slightly put out, but agreed. Subsequently, two people from our party dropped out and we decided that the set menu was not appropriate as some of our friends were light eaters. My wife called to rearrange our booking. The proprietor came on the line, rudely berating my wife for changing the arrangements (he claimed he had already ordered the food) and saying that we would have to eat the £30 menu. My wife duly cancelled the booking. I find this inflexibility and lack of service appalling. Needless to say, we shall be avoiding Club Gascon in future.
Dominic Robinson, Surbiton

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