Published 27 February 2000 Style Magazine 346th article
Michael Winner in the big chair, with Heston Blumenthal, at the Fat Duck in Bray (Miss Lid the Third)
At the Fat Duck In Bray I was given an enormous chair, specially made for Heston Blumenthal's father. "When you wrote about us, you said my father was 27st," said Heston. "He was most upset. He said, 'I'm only 26st' " Of course, the chair was far too big for me.
Heston is a brilliant chef. I visited him once, more than two years ago. This time I enjoyed one of the best lunches I've ever eaten. Never mind the overrated Waterside inn down the road; the Fat Duck is far better. It's on the main street, a pleasant enough inn-like restaurant, seating 42 people. I noted that the guests were posher than when last I came. And Michelin has given it a star. What's particularly good about Heston's cooking is that he takes British nouvelle cuisine, which is getting very tired, and does new, inventive and tasty things with it.
You know you're in a classy place when the waiter cuts the butter from an enormous slab. It's goat's-milk butter, and the bread is made with potato flour. I have no idea what that means, but they both tasted terrific.
The food sounds over elaborate, and it was a bit that way on my previous visit. Good, but experimentally fussy. Now, it's cleaner and more refined. I started with crab teuillantine with roast foie gras, marinated salmon, crystallised seaweed and oyster vinaigrette. A bore to read, absurd to say, but brilliant to eat. Miss Lid had lasagne of langoustine, pig's trotter and truffles.
My main course was pastilla of Anjou pigeon with cherries, roast breast with spiced nuts and Maniari chocolate, and watercress veloute. Like pigeon with millefeuille next to it. A very good fun dish. Miss Lid had piquillo peppers stuffed with truffled brandade, roast red mullet with borlotti beans and olive oil from Mausanne. All this food detail is like end-of-the-movie credits that go on for more than five minutes, naming even the secretary who was in for one day by mistake and walked out.
The Fat Duck staff cleared the plates with amazing speed, which I like. Perhaps they were trying to get rid of me, as, with my usual insouciance, I'd booked only an hour before arrival.
For dessert, Miss Lid had kouign amann tarte tatin Tahitian with vanilla ice cream. I chose millefeullle of pain d'eploes ice cream, with pineapple and chilli jelly, and fleur de sel. I asked for extra jelly. Petits fours were crystallised red-pepper juice, like a thin biscuit. "The most delicious apple pie I've ever tasted," said Miss Lid, reducing the ponced-up description to reality. "It's the most wonderful meal I've ever had, all three courses," she added.
"You've eaten like a real pig," I muttered graciously.
"You can't see it on me, but you can see it on you," Miss Lid responded. Girls can be so cruel.
This seems as inappropriate a time as any to discuss smoked salmon. Nowadays, it usually has great white streaks of fat in it. This is because it's farmed, which means the salmon loiter in fish pens, mostly in Scotland. Thus they get fat. Wild salmon, the happy ﬁsh cavorting in rivers, are leaner. I notice when I go to the Dorchester how good the smoked salmon is. They put me on to their supplier, H Forman and Son, in Hackney. Lance Forman, the owner, told me that his grandfather, Aaron, came from Russia and started the business in 1905. Smoking salmon was then a Jewish trade in the East End. The Scots, he explained, only started smoking salmon in the past 20 years with the advent of salmon farming. So all the Jewish East End firms that used to smoke salmon vanished. Forman's is the only one left. Which is just as well, because they now deliver to my house twice a week.
Some of you asked about Parrot Cay, Robert Earl's splendidly elegant hotel in the Turks and Caicos Islands, which l planned to visit again last new year. I decided the two-and-a-half-hour private-jet journey from St Lucia was a bit heavy. So I missed cavorting with Bruce Willis and Paul McCartney. It's a celebrity-tilled place, superbly managed by Michel Neutelings. He's one of those hotel executives who pitches in and does things. I will return this new year to the Lone Star and the Royal Pavilion in Barbados, and the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia. I loved the recent latter from Mr Constant telling me off for insulting his "gentle" mother of 80 when she tried to justify his nieces lying on my Jalousie beach beds. I'd describe mama as "spirited". She could have won the second world war without infantry. I hope the family will be there again, bless them. I've always admired eccentricity.
Michael Winner's request at the Lone Star Hotel and Restaurant for cotton buds (Style, February 20) has me worried. I can't be sure what he plans to do with them, but a nurse friend tells me that you shouldn't put anything smaller than an elbow in your ear.
Steve Randle, Leamington Spa
I read with interest and a big smile your article about the Room at the Halcyon (Style, February 13). Unlike you, I did not manage to sit down to dinner or have a chance to buy a painting. I think, with hindsight, that I was more fortunate. Feeling that the Halcyon would be the perfect setting for our wedding breakfast, my fiance and I set out to try and book the restaurant. We arranged to meet with Tracelee Ireland, the deputy restaurant manager, one afternoon. Although the restaurant had only six people in it, Tracelee seemed flustered and said she was too busy to speak to us. She did, however, say there would be a £5,000 minimum spend, which we agreed to. We asked for sample menus and wine lists to be forwarded, but after several weeks and numerous phone calls, it still seemed impossible for Tracelee to pick up the phone and deal with us. Eventually, the Halcyon's chief executive, Doreen Boulding, called to apologise for the way we had been treated. She even said she would oversee our booking personally. But it was too late: we were no longer confident that the Halcyon could deliver what we wanted for our special occasion and we decided to go elsewhere. The wedding is still going ahead, thanks to the Richmond Gate hotel - and we may even get change out of £5,000.
Lindsay J McCready, London
I love Michael Winner's column, but for all the wrong reasons: reading it always makes me mad. Why, when the staff at the Room at the Halcyon (Style, February 13) failed to bring him butter, did he not just ask for some?
John Martin, Edinburgh
While the general manager of the Royal Pavilion (Style, February 6) might not have seen Michael Winner off the premises personally, one feels confident that he would have had the event witnessed to ensure that Winner departed as promised.
John Smart, by e-mail
I haven't read Michael Winner's column for some years, but I know from the letters in Style that he is still whingeing. I bet he's a Manchester United supporter.
Bob Abbott, by e-mail
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