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My Old Chinas

Published 9 April 2000
Style Magazine
352nd article

East side story: Robert Earl, Lawrence Leung, Michael Winner and Philip Green at Cassia Oriental (Andrew Jordan)

I first met Lawrence Leung in 1980. He was running movies for London's Chinese community and owned a small restaurant at the top of Earls Court Road called I Ching. I went there a lot. Mr Leung went on to even greater things, creating the Zen chain of restaurants. I recently met him at his newest acquisition, the very plush Cassia Oriental in Berkeley Square.

I first met Robert Earl on the beach of the Sandy Lane Hotel. Barbados, in 1987. My then girlfriend, Jenny Seagrove, had been given a gold card to get her to the front of the queue at a hamburger place, the Hard Rock Cafe. Since she was vegetarian, this seemed inappropriate.

I was told a man on the beach, named Robert Earl, was the boss. "Do you own the Hard Rock?" I asked.

"I've been here six years and he's never spoken to me. Now he knows I own the Hard Rock, he talks!" said Robert to all around.

"I've only come to complain. I don't have this gold queue-barging card," I said. We became friends. Mr Earl later co-founded Planet Hollywood, which is now, after a lull, in a period of resurgence. It was Mr Earl who phoned recently and asked me to dinner at the Cassia Oriental.

I first met Philip Green, the brilliant retail entrepreneur, on the beach of the Sandy Lane in 1989. Mr Green was somewhat crestfallen, having been forced out of Amber Day, a company he had run. But he soon showed his true mettle, coming back to buy, sell and run major retail outlets, culminating last year in his purchase of the Sears Group. More recently, he was a likely bidder for Marks & Spencer which, sadly, he abandoned after his wife was untruly accused of buying some shares improperly. I'd like Phil to get M&S. They could do with a real shake-up. The wonderfully direct Mr Green is just the chap to do it for them. He was the final member of our group at Cassia Oriental.

I first met Andrew Jordan, the general manager of Cassia Oriental, on a boat on the river Chao Phraya in Thailand in 1997. The general manager of the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok, Kurt Wachtveitl was giving a dinner party for me and the Hong Kong businessman David Tang. Mr Jordan was then lured from the East by Mohamed al-Fayed and ran the Harrods restaurants for a year before switching to the Cassia Oriental, where he now greeted us.

I first met Prince Naseem a few weeks ago with Messrs Earl and Green as we left the Dorchester Hotel on our way to dinner. I was highly impressed with His Prince-ship's charm and good manners. He seemed most relaxed, particularly as he was fighting a couple of days later. I thought his entourage of very large people (His Prince-ship is very small) were also extremely pleasant.

I first met Keith Vaz MP at Cassia Oriental when he stopped by our table to say hello. The diners at Cassia O were, on the whole, a fairly stuffy lot. Although there was one table of lovely young things - other than ours, of course. The place is very luxurious and spacious. It's on the first floor, and in another incarnation was called China Jazz. The food is absolutely exceptional. And very cheap! Among the things we had were bahn tom, which is prawn in sweet potato cakes. and some spicy soup - "This is beautiful," said Philip - with squid, prawns, lemon grass and Thai herbs.

"White radish," exclaimed Robert Earl, looking at another offering, "would I like it?" He took it, said, "Um-um," appreciatively, and then, "It's so unusual." The minced pork dumplings were super the spring rolls very fresh. The inevitable duck, which came with round, fat pancakes, had fried squares of skin elegantly laid out around it. My dessert, called indulgence, was bitter chocolate mousse, creme brulee and orange crisp chocolate genoese. All fancy-sounding, but very good.

There was one little problem; Philip didn't want to be in our picture. Philip has a very fetching photo of himself - to be honest, not totally up-to-date - which features regularly in the financial pages. "If I do a photo now, everyone'll use it," he said with reasonable caution. I assured him my piccies stayed only with me. Philip relented.

After dinner, we looked at the Rolls-Royces and Bentleys in Jack Barclay's showroom. A glorious Rolls Corniche convertible was the centrepiece. Price: £250,000. "I think I'll buy that tomorrow," said Philip Green. "Doesn't make any difference does it?" In fact, he bought British Home Stores. Oh well, if it isn't one thing it's another.


While playing a quiz machine in my local pub last weekend, one of the questions posed was: "What F is Michael Winner famous for?" The three choices given were: fighting, films and flatulence. Needless to say, I lost my £1, and would appreciate his help with the correct answer to avoid further embarrassment.
Oliver Willis, by e-mail

I was interested to read Michael Winner's comments about the Sir Charles Napier restaurant (Style, March 12). It came as no surprise to me and my wife to learn of his disappointment with the meal. We have been regular visitors to the restaurant over the past few years, and when the Sardinian chef departed, we certainly noticed a change for the worse in the main courses. A further point I have noted is the miserly measure of champagne offered when it is ordered by the glass.
Professor Paul D Cook, MBE, London

On a recent visit to Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden, London, our party had to wait for an hour before being shown downstairs, and was then told that there would be a further 20-minute wait for a table. When we complained about this, the gentleman in charge said that this was the "busiest restaurant in Europe" and please could we "stop spoiling the vibes". Could Michael Winner please find out what the former had to do with anything, and what vibes the latter was referring to? Cigarette smoke, stroppy management and mediocre food seemed to be the only "vibes" that night.
Kirstie Drummond, by e-mail

A recent survey among workmates and customers has backed my opinion that our corner fish-and-chip shop serves the most tasteless lunches and dinners around, yet it always has a queue of customers, many of them regulars, stretching into the street. After a little research, I discovered that its popularity is due to the ease of parking on the main road outside. Are people really that lazy or just not fussy about the actual taste of their lunch? Unfortunately, I suspect both.
Alan Williams, Stockport

I enjoy reading Michael Winner's column every week. Has he ever thought of becoming a food critic?
David Jacobs, by e-mail

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