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A Curate's Egg for Lunch

Published 14 November 1999
Style Magazine
331st article

The wrong trousers: Michael Winner and Giles Thompson in the Ritz dining room (Miss Lid)

I phoned The Ritz in Piccadilly. "Can the lady wear designer jeans?" I asked Yves Deret, one of two assistant restaurant managers. "Yes," he replied. "So designer jeans are all right?" "Yes," he repeated. "Do I need a tie?" "Yes," he said. So I took an old Turnbull & Asser kipper silk tie from my museum collection and set off for Sunday lunch, accompanied by Miss Lid, which, you recall if you committed last week's article to memory, means Lady in Danger. Real name withheld for reasons of national security.

No Ritz doorman opened the Bentley door, because he wasn't there. "Saving on staff, are you?" I announced cheerfully to the concierge as I entered the lobby. "Doorman's fired, is he?"

I was told: "There's only one and he's gone to the gents."

"God help us all if he has diarrhoea," I thought. "The customers would never be dealt with."

I went into the dining room. It's certainly busier than it was before Giles Shepard - nicest and best-dressed man in the world and Ritz supremo for four years - took over. He's spruced the place up no end. I considered the comparative value of the southwest corner table as opposed to the southeast one. I chose the southeast through force of habit; I've sat there before. It has a better view of the entrance and is closer to the kitchens in case I need waiter assistance. The set lunch is £34. Quite a bit more than Claridge's and the Dorchester at £29.50. The other diners looked like they were on special outings, always a bit off-putting.

I ordered Coca-Cola and Miss Lid asked for fresh orange juice with no ice. The Coke came warm. I didn't ask for no ice. I requested that M Deret bring me a bowl of ice and some still mineral water. A small glass with five ice cubes in it appeared. We ordered. When M Deret came again, I pointed out that I'd asked for a bowl of ice, not a small glass. This is, after all, a supposedly high-class place. They should know the difference. Everywhere else does. After sitting for a very long time without the water appearing and with no wine waiter in sight, I asked specifically for him. When he came, Stephane assured me he normally goes to guests of his own accord. I suppose I'm so insignificant. I must learn to live with that. I told him I asked M Deret for mineral water but never got any. Stephane promptly brought some. It was Ashe Park, which I don't like. "Is this all you have?" I asked. It turned out they had Evian. Why wasn't I offered it? Stephane took the glasses away and brought Evian. A Thermos bowl of ice appeared.

This is all exceptionally sloppy for a beautiful, high-priced dining room in a top-class hotel. "If you need anything else please call me," said Stephane. I felt like saying: "Well, you're unlikely to come of your own accord, so we'll have to."

Miss Lid had a timbale of lobster, crab and langoustine amoureux. It was an okay fish pate. They didn't offer her any toast, only me. I had potted smoked salmon, trout and brown shrimps with pickled baby vegetables. I prefer simple potted shrimps, but I hadn't ordered them. I noticed a 13-amp plug in the marble skirting board with a white device attached sporting a flashing red light. It was labelled Pest Control. "That's for people like you," said Miss Lid. A wit if ever there was one.

Luckily, she thought her main course of linguini of smoked salmon and asparagus with caviar cream was exceptionally fine. My roast beef was superb, the veg tasty and well cooked. I liked the Yorkshire pudding, but it was odd: crisp on the outside, runny inside. I'd been told the chef, Giles Thompson, was not on duty. But after the meal he appeared. He admitted: "Your Yorkshire pudding should have developed more." He revealed he'd had my favourite pommes soufflees ready in the kitchen. Excellent, but why didn't someone tell me? Giles, a nice chap from Halifax, explained he worked from 8.30am to 10 at night with an hour off in the afternoon. His food was very good in general, and I'm not saying that out of sympathy for his hours of labour. I finished with a vanilla souffle that was impeccable. Miss Lid pronounced her pear ice cream and chocolate slice totally superb.

As I left, M Deret moaned about my being in jeans. I object to this as I'd checked with him and visited in jeans many times before. The doorman, now potty-trained, said: "Wonderful condition." "Me?" I asked. "No, the car," he replied. It was that sort of a day.


Dr Clare Jenkins (Style, October 31) wonders if "freshly squeezed" orange juice means something different if it's printed with initial capitals. I wonder if she's ever visited a Little Chef (I know you haven't). There, the menu offers "Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice (Slightly Pasteurised)". So not only must they have a little hand-squeezing machine behind the counter, but a mini pasteuriser as well - not to mention a device for sealing it into a plastic bottle!
Graeme Moorsholm, Moorsholm, Yorks.

Following on from your observations about the fruit content of Fanta orange drink (Style, September 26), what of the neatly marketed Sunny Delight that is currently flooding the shelves of supermarkets? Prominently displayed in chilled fruit juice cabinets and packaged to imitate fresh juice, Sunny Delight contains a mere 5% juice - rather less sunny than it would appear at first glance.
Lesley Basu, by e-mail

I understand from your column that one of your pet hates is wobbly restaurant tables. My remedy is a miniature "door stop", which every diner should carry at all times. The hardest thing is remembering to remove it from under the offending table at the end of your meal.
Alexandra Rous, Harrogate,

Yorks So sorry to hear that you and Vanessa have parted company. I am a poor girl from Willesden and have been happily married for the past 30 years. But if you could possibly overlook this, I shall be more than willing to step into her shoes at a moment's notice.
Sheila Rofaila, London

I have always thought you an arrogant and annoying person. Until, that is, I saw you on Channel Four's 11 O'Clock Show. You were funny and interesting - and from now on I will always defend you against your detractors. Which brings me to my point: on the same programme, you promised to send one of the drawings from your new book to anyone that asked. Well, Mr Winner, I'm asking...
Anders Semb, London