Published 2 January 2000 Style Magazine 338th article
Harrods the Great: Michael Winner with Mohamed al-Fayed and Michael White (Nigel Moore)
Shortly before Christmas I was prevented from entering Harrods by a very rude security man. "Put the camera in your pocket." he said. "There's no photography allowed."
"But Mr al-Fayed has asked me many times to visit his restaurant, I'll need a photo," I responded. "Then get a press officer to go with you," said the massively surly attendant.
I'd rather attend a black mass than deal with a press officer, so I pocketed my camera for a few seconds and proceeded to the book department to sign my Winner's Dinners opus. A friend, the impresario Michael White, had suggested Harrods' Georgian Restaurant for lunch. After autographing a healthy number of books and looking blank as two old ladies asked the way to haberdashery, I was met by Nigel Moore, the general manager of the Georgian, who came to escort me. "There are 21 outlets where you can eat in Harrods," he said. I'd never been to any of them.
The Georgian Restaurant is spacious and elegant with pink chairs. Conversation is easy. All the tables are large enough, even for me. There's a vast buffet; you can also order from a menu, in 1963 I co-presented my first theatrical event, a critically praised and audience-ignored show called Nights at the Comedy. William Donaldson, than an ace theatre producer, was in this with me and Michael White. When the posters appeared, I noticed Michael White's name missing. "Oh, I don’t need him," said Willie. "I've got you."
He'd knifed Michael out. On top of that, Willie suffered his first monetary collapse and vanished. Nobody was there to pay the cast, it wasn't my responsibility, I was an impoverished junior investor with some billing on the poster, it was Michael White, the man who'd been sliced cut, who paid the cast for three weeks. An act of extraordinary generosity, which sums him up. Michael's rightly a man who is much loved.
He appeared at the Georgian on time so that he could remain loved by me. We went to the buffet. I was behind a customer who took every single shrimp, picked it up with the tongs, inspected it and put it back. I impatiently grabbed some with my fingers, did likewise with mussels and bits of lobster, proceeding to the gravadlax and smoked salmon. A slight refrigeration feel about it all, but highly pleasant. They kindly wheeled out the chef, Tim Powell, who took over at the Canteen after the bust-up between Michael Caine and Marco Pierre White. A few moments later Emad Estafanous, who was in charge of all the restaurants, came along to see if I was happy. He pointed out the pink "free loo" slips, one for each customer, which save a pound if you visit Harrods' "luxury bathrooms".
Then Michael Neuner, the general food and beverage manager, senior to those who'd already visited, tumed up. "It's like eating with the Maharajah of Hendon," observed Mr White, regarding the felicitations from so many executives. "It always happens when I eat out," I said. "Staff who haven't been seen in the restaurant for 100 years are dragged out to greet me."
"It's a good moment to go to the buffet," said Michael "There's only two old ladies in front of us." The buffet sported beef on the bone before it had been officially legalised, roast veal and lamb, veggies and a good array of gravy and accoutrements. I thought the food excellent. I like buffets. I don't have to rely on waiters to let me down.
We went back for desserts and the pastry chef was introduced, a girl called Tanya Addison. "The mousse is white chocolate; can I explain anything else?" she asked. "Not really," I replied, "I never know what I'm eating anyway." I had four desserts, all extremely pleasing. Then, just as no more executives could possibly come over, I looked up. There - sailing majestically between tables - was the superboss himself, Mohamed al-Fayed. Mr Fayed was the height of graciousness and hostlike charm. He insisted we be his guests, which I attempted to stop. in the and I gave £100 for the staff, which was well over the price of our meal. A man came with a book on the history of Harrods and some chocolates. "Mr Fayed would like a card with your home number," he said. I had no card, so I wrote on one of the pink lavatory tokens.
Michael White was outraged. "I could have used that!" he protested. "Well you're too late," I replied, handing it to Mohamed's emissary. Michael hastily pocketed the other voucher. "I'll use it tomorrow," he said. Then he went and bought a Winner's Dinners book. Like I told you, he's a sensationally nice person. And an excellent judge of literature.
In your recent column on the Belvedere restaurant (Style, December 26), I read with interest that you clambered over the fence into Holland Park in 1947. That is something I doubt you are capable of today. If you tried it, you would probably get stuck on the top, making it the only time you sat on the fence about anything.
John Becker, Cranleigh, Surrey
I enjoyed your article on the Belvedere, particularly your threat to eat wearing a blindfold if the new decor is not to your liking. But doesn't "belvedere" in Italian mean nice to look at?
Charlotte Walton, London
Surely David Harvey (Style, December 12) cannot expect first-rate catering during his stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure? While I would not wish anyone to be given food that is not fit for human consumption, I always thought the point of prison was to deprive a person of their liberty and comforts. I would not consider it a reasonable use of my taxes to provide inmates with haute cuisine.
Diane Dillerstone, by e-mail
Continuing the quest for the perfect Miss Lid (I note you are now on the third), may I suggest a selection process along the lines of Blind Date? Young hopefuls with appropriate credentials - plunging necklines and the like - could be ranged behind a screen ready to pit their wits against your saucily contrived questions. Points could be awarded for amusing double entendres, such as "I like mine freshly squeezed", and an ability to remain soignee while sporting false beards and noses in the interests of "national security".
Linder Lid, Twickenham
I sympathise with Alan Turner of San Francisco (Style, December 12). Even high-class restaurants do not give sufficient thought to the comfort of customers. Few chairs have proper back support, let alone padded cushions. However good the meal, the pleasure of what we put into our tums is lost in the discomfort of our backs and bottoms. Having lost many nights' sleep due to back pain from such excursions, I now take a cushion.
Babs Hewson, by e-mail
I have a solution for wobbly tables that has never failed me on my many travels. Take a small piece of french bread, tilt the table appropriately (it is sensible to remove the wine bottle at this point), then lower the short table leg onto the bread and press firmly. If it doesn't work, you have the wrong bread.
Richard Downs, by e-mail