Published 26 March 2000 Style Magazine 350th article
Members only: the Michaels Caine, Winner and Douglas with Catherine Zeta Jones and Johnny Gold (Vanessa Perry)
I could not be described as a devotee of Tramp, the discotheque that remains endlessly in fashion. So when, a few years ago, I discovered theirs was the only payment I made by banker's order, I said to my friend John Gold, the owner: "Johnny, I don't want to be difficult, but I hardly ever go to Tramp. So I'm going to cancel my standing order."
"That'll save you £10.50 a year," he responded, with a righteous glint of sarcasm.
"Oh," I said. "I thought it was expensive."
"It's £350 a year now," said john, "but people pay only what they started their membership at." As I was in a generous mood I kept my standing order to attention.
I've had some marvellous times at Tramp, the greatest being the night I was dining with Robert Mitchum in Claridge's, and we saw Jack Lemmon at another table. We all got together for coffee and jack said to me: "Can you get us into Tramp?"
"Of course," I said. "They know me well, I've been a member since 1970!"
So I presented myself at the desk, flanked by Jack and Bob. The two receptionists looked up ferociously. "Michael Winner." I announced. "He's not here," said a receptionist, quick as a flash.
"Come on Bob," I said, "follow me," and we walked off down the stairs into the smoke-filled, dusty atmosphere. Jack Lemmon had been drinking a bit. Jack is the best drunk ever. Nothing malicious comes out; he's just unbelievably funny. The comedy performance he put on, his eyes swivelling as each new girl came in dressed in less than the one before, is a great treasure that I hold in my memory. Bob Mitchum had just come out of the Betty Ford clinic, so he sat, very sober - a wonderful, benign presence. The next day I took them to The French Horn at Sonning and we knocked off a few Polaroids. I'll always remember thinking: "I hope they don't mind." When we spread the photos out on the car bonnet they took their share with alacrity.
A few years ago, Tramp was bought by some Scots group headed by a very nice chap called Kevin Doyle. Johnny stays as employed boss of the club, which is just as well because it's his extraordinary charm and talent that have made it what it is. Originally, the premises were a posh restaurant with a gypsy orchestra, owned by my good friend Bill Offner and his partner, the American comedian Al Burnett. Bill, bless him, died before the new management started their huge renovation, which is just as well. Because seeing what they were spending would have killed him.
When johnny and Bill ran Tramp, they had a board meeting to decide whether to splash out and hoover the carpet; they looked at the cost of a woman to do it for a few hours, and voted against.
The place has been spruced up but, cleverly, looks much the same. The 17th-century oak panelling in the main room is seriously historic. It has been cleaned, so the carvings can be admired if you go in early and persuade them to turn on the lights. This is now possible because, rightly proud of their new kitchens, they open for dinner at 8pm. There are more than 6,000 members. I went along with a few of them - Mr M Caine and his wife, Mr T O'Neill and his friend Laraine - and we joined Mr and Mrs Gold at Johnny's famous table. I've always liked the food at Tramp. Limited, but very good for what it was. The old favourites - sausage and mash, excellent smoked salmon, prawns, steak - remain. But a rather classy menu has been added. I had duck salad to start, expecting some ponced-about, cut-up bits of leftovers warmed up with some shredded lettuce. I got a superb breast of duck, quite enough for a main course, sitting on salad. Miss Lid greatly enjoyed her asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and then risotto of Mediterranean vegetables with parmesan. I had a steak followed by vanilla ice cream. "Is it bought in?" I asked. "It's Wall's," I was told as a joke. It was definitely home-made, though it tasted like Wall's. Which is fine. I like Wall's ice cream.
At the party to celebrate Tramp's 30 years of excellence, I have never seen so many stars and "faces" gathered together. At Johnny's table were Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Shirley Bassey, famous models, famous composers ... the room was abundant. Michael Caine and I made congratulatory speeches. Then everything returned to normal. Well, not normal. The place had been cleaned. We old-time members never thought we'd live to see that.
I am sorry that you did not enjoy your meal at the Sir Charles Napier (Style, March 12). Our family has dined there regularly for several years and has rarely been disappointed. Every cloud has a silver lining, however: at least there is now no chance that we shall have to suffer your company there.
Richard Goldstein, Marlow
My wife and I recently dined at Marco Pierre White's Titanic restaurant in London. The starter took 40 minutes to arrive and the other two courses a further one hour each. The food was insipid, the wine overpriced and the music almost as loud as a disco. When the pudding arrived, so did the bill, and the waitress asked us to move to the lounge area for coffee as the next diners were waiting for our table. When we declined to pay the 12.5% service charge (added automatically), the waiter said that there must be some mistake - how could we not pay? The manager, too, insisted that we must have been told when booking that the table had a time limit. Perhaps we did make a mistake - we thought we were paying £160 for a meal for four, but in reality we were paying to rent a table for 2 hours in somewhere not much better than a works canteen. With any luck, this Titanic will live up to its name and sink one foggy night.
Russell Thomas, Twickenham, Surrey
The saucing of food should please its eater, but before being so dismissive of the sole with bearnaise at Sheekey's (Style, March 5), perhaps Mr Winner might have noted that the great Auguste Escoffier's Sole St-Germain is just that.v
Barry Silverman, London
In a number of otherwise reasonable restaurants, the request for a jug of water is met with the response that they do not serve tap water; there is a choice of either bottled sparkling or still. Having complained about this practice on several occasions, I have received varying responses, the most usual being that it is "management policy". In my view, this is money-grabbing to the zenith. Michael Winner should draw attention to this insidious manifestation of rip-off Britain.
Simon Stacey, Chard, Somerset
Who is Michael Winner and what does he do?
Peter S Dewar, by e-mail.