Published 14 May 2000 Style Magazine 357th article
Golden opportunity: Marike and Philippe Serruys with Michael Winner at Den Gouden Harynck in Bruges (Miss Lid the Third)
It's always nice to stumble on something marvellous when you aren't expecting it. This particular stumble occurred in Bruges, which even out of season seemed to be full of English people. The restaurant has one Michelin star and is called Den Gouden Harynck. The owner, Philippe Serruys, found the name buried in the 17th-century house, indicating it was once a fishmonger's named The Golden Herring.
Driving around Bruges is a nightmare unless you're prepared to disobey all rules, something I'm extremely good at. It's full of one-way streets. I was advised to go out of the town, onto some ghastly motorway, and come back in across one of the canals to get to the restaurant.
I broke my first traffic rule by mistake. Cyclists are allowed to go the wrong way up one-way streets. I followed one - and there I was sailing along in the direction I wanted to go but against the legal traffic. Nobody seemed to mind, the Belgians being very polite. They also, I was told, obey all traffic rules and thus drive very slowly. This greatly assisted me in driving, throughout my stay, up one-way streets the wrong way.
The Golden Herring is exceptionally attractive. Large tables, well spaced, very quietly speaking diners, a real log fire, a tiled floor, white walls. Marilee, Mrs Serruys, wafts between the tables in a grey silk coat. It's all extremely civilised. Wish there was somewhere like it in London. Butter was not wrapped; a large square of it rested on the table. Real orange juice came quickly with a little carafe for me to mix it with champagne. I did and it frothed onto the tablecloth. Scallops marinated with truffle were a freebie. The Belgian water was called Spa. "It's a little weak," I said. "I'd say bitter," added Miss Lid, determined that her views be known. "I'm trying to be helpful," she explained.
I started with excellent langoustine grilled with basil and mozzarella, and then we had roast lobster in butter with a curry sauce. Everything was sensational. They gave me a bib for the lobster, which is useful, as hardly a meal passes without me spilling some of it on my shirt. I should have taken my bib home. Anyway, it's on for the photograph.
The couscous with raisins was particularly tasty and I had more of it when they brought some extra curry sauce. To finish, I had millefeuille with gingerbread ice cream; Miss Lid had ice cream, hot chocolate sauce and cream.
They didn't make the mint tea with fresh mint, which was the only downer. Otherwise, this was all very memorable. Philippe even drove back to the hotel so that I could follow his car. Thus I took my only legal journey through Bruges in my entire stay.
Another one-star Michelin restaurant in Bruges, De Snippe, is owned by Luc and Francine Huysentruyt. When I rang up it was full, so I explained the enormous importance of my persona: Hollywood movies, The Sunday Times, et al. "Can you prove it?" said Luc Huysentruyt. That's the oddest question I've ever been asked. There I am sitting on the phone in a Belgian hotel and this man wants me to prove who I am down the mouthpiece. "What shall I do, sing My Yiddish Mamma in Flemish?" I thought. "I'll prove it when I get there," I said.
Luc graciously decided to accept that I was me, and we got a lovely table by the fireplace. De Snippe is in another historic house: more crowded than The Golden Herring, not as calm, but very elegant. High Ceilings, decorative cornices, Venetian chandeliers. The freebie starter was a codfish curry soup. Then they had a young beer hop served either with langoustine tails or a poached egg. I had pigeon de Bresse done as . . . "It's a kind of stew," I observed. "It's not a stew - because of the shallots and Madeira wine," said Luc.
At some time or other we had baked oysters with sour cream, and a tower of bitter chocolate, which was more like a bun with a layer of sauce in the middle. Miss Lid tried apple pancakes flambeed with Calvados. This was an excellent meal. Not historic, but very nice.
A printed sign on the table read: "Please Don't Smoke At The Table." I objected to a man smoking at the next table. Madame Francine said: "It's a request, it's not like a real thing because we put an ashtray there as well." Since the Don't Smoke table sign was in English, German, Flemish and French, it seemed ﬁairly pointless if my chain-smoking neighbour had the approval of management. I'd have chucked him out. That's why I'd be disastrous running a restaurant.
A propos your hatred of piped music in restaurants, I once indulged in a terrific wheeze, which you may care to emulate. On our way back to Britain one Christmas, we stopped at a cosy-looking place. There was the inevitable boom, boom, boom of music on the speaker system but, as it was late and this was the only place for miles around, we decided to order anyway. While waiting for the first course, I had a brain wave. I popped out to the car and pulled out one of my favourite tapes - Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A major. I then explained to the proprietor that it was a Christmas present that I had opened but had not yet had the chance to hear. I smiled broadly and asked if he would allow us to listen to it while we had our meal. To my astonishment, he agreed. The food was excellent and they put up with the Mozart until our coffee arrived.
William Mitchell, Turin, Italy
As an outgoing, fancy-free young man I always make it my business to read Michael Winner's review. But a few weeks ago I couldn't help but notice the far more attractive (and no doubt far better mannered) visage of Miss Lid the Third. So I thought I'd ask her to my 18th birthday party at the South Western public house in Tisbury, Wilts. If she can't get rid of Michael, we could always prop him up in a corner with a bottle of cola and a straw.
Nick Harling, by e-mail
I am much impressed by Michael Winner's mastery of the English language. Your correspondent Andrew White (Style, April 23) asked "could Michael Winner please limit his use of the word 'historic'...? There must surely be other ways to describe those parts of a meal that are to his liking." Without hesitation - in fact, in the same issue - the incomparable Michael came up with "super historic". It is not, however, for his literary abilities that I admire the great man; nor is it for his revolting taste in food (he is addicted to the onion - that first resort of the culinarily incompetent). No, the reason I feel sure he must be a splendid person is that in The Times Christine Hamilton writes: "On principle, I wouldn't go to a restaurant recommended by the ghastly Michael Winner." This surely means that restaurants now have an even greater incentive to win his approbation.
Gerald Solomon, Pwllglas, Denbighshire