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Going, going, gone

Published 30 July 2000
Style Magazine
368th article



What am I bid? From left, Hugo Swire, Henry Wyndham and Michael Winner (Ken Hall)

I called them "les trois Hugos". There were three of them, all named Hugo. Very nice people, most charming. I met them some years ago at the Sandy Lane Hotel beach bar. A fourth chap, Julian, shared their rented house on the Sandy Lane estate. "What do you do?" I asked. "I've got a sandwich bar in the city," he replied. "Typical," I thought ungenerously. "About the right level of activity for the privileged classes."

He was Julian Metcalfe; his sandwich bar was Pret A Manger. Every now and then someone says to me: "Julian turned down £300m this week." His sell-out figure keeps rising. Brilliant of Julian, and well deserved.

The Hugos, with Julian, gave a lovely party one night. They were Hugo de Ferranti, Hugo Guinness and Hugo Swire. We bump into each other occasionally, but I see Hugo Swire more because he's terribly important at Sotheby's, always shadowing their immeasurably affable European chairman, Henry Wyndham. Hugo was a prospective Tory candidate for Kensington and Chelsea. Unfortunately, my local twits voted in Michael Portillo, an absurd choice in my view. Hugo lived to smile another day: he's Tory candidate for the safe seat of West Devon. Why he'd rather be in parliament than at Sotheby's, I can't imagine. But it's good news for the folk in Devon.

Occasionally I lunch in the chairman's suite at Sotheby's, but when Henry asked me this time, he said: "Would you rather we eat in our cafe?" "Much rather," I said. I prefer a bit of bustle. Sotheby's Cafe is adjacent to the corridor as you enter the building, so there's a lot of lobby activity. I went in the Sunday before our date and faxed Henry a Winner-drawn plan showing the exact table I wished to sit at. We were due to meet at 1pm. I was 10 minutes early and admired the Cecil Beaton photos on the walls. Hugo was seven minutes early and Henry was four minutes early. That's what I call a polite and considerate group. After a bit of chitchat, with Henry mentioning very fashionable names, he said: "Let's order. I always have the lobster club sandwich. It's legendary." And, in case I didn't get the drift, he added: "It's incredibly good." So we all asked for it. It was invented by Sotheby's former chairman the American Alfred Taubman, and comes in a brioche. I was looking forward to it.

At exactly 1.03pm the waiter returned. "We have no lobster sandwiches left," he announced. "What a dump!" I thought. "They have a tiny menu and before lunch has even started for most people, they've run out of the best thing." Then the restaurant manager, Ken Hall, appeared and said: "For you, we're not out of them." He told us they're so popular that people order their lobster club sandwiches in advance. I suggest that anyone planning to eat at Sotheby's Cafe in November phones Ken now and orders the lobster sandwich. It's ridiculous.

My chilled spinach soup with yoghurt was fine. The lobster sandwich was, indeed, deliciously special. I felt sorry for diners who couldn't get one. Hugo had changed to quail and I tried a bit. Perfectly pleasant.

The situation of the cafe is particularly interesting. Bulky men in overalls walked past carrying furniture. "I like the stuff coming in," said Henry Wyndham. "Means we've got something to sell. Something to look forward to." At one point three small tables, a commode and four large pots went in right to left. Henry was practically orgasmic.

For dessert I had baked vanilla cheesecake with fresh apricots. That was excellent. Henry had toffee-apple ice cream on shortbread. He said he loved it, but then "he would, wouldn't he", as Mandy Rice-Davies once brilliantly remarked.

It was an extremely amusing and pleasing lunch. I'll mention two further things about it. Firstly, I brought with me a finely carved old chess set that had been in the family for decades and was said to have belonged to Queen Adelaide (1830-1837). A Sotheby's expert took it, brought it back and declared it a fake. "That won't pay for the lunch then, will it?" said Henry.

Secondly, Henry played an auctioneer in the movie Entrapment. His "co-stars" were Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones. "They cut me out without telling me," said Henry sorrowfully. "They also offered me two tickets for the premiere. I didn't get those either."

"Serves you right for trusting film people," I responded.

After lunch, we admired a Degas bronze of a dancer. It later sold for £8m. If people say to me. "You're rich," I say, "No, I'm not." When I can afford knick-knacks like the Degas, I will be.



Letters

My husband recently took his boss and a couple of potential clients to John Torode's new multilevel gastrodrome, Smith's of Smithfield, in London. They had an enjoyable early meal at 6.30pm and were requested to leave the table at 8.15pm. They had no problem with this, as the waiter suggested that they adjourn to the cocktail bar below. When they arrived at the bar (after paying a Pounds 300 bill, inclusive of a hefty service charge), they were told that the bar was full. My husband informed them they had just eaten upstairs and had been directed to the bar by restaurant staff. He was told in no uncertain terms that they had no space in the bar and that, in any event, there were five people off the street in the queue in front of him. Not wanting to create a scene in front of his colleagues, he felt obliged to leave. I understand the flurry of punters eager to visit a newly opened, highly publicised restaurant. But it will be interesting to see how many of them venture back in the months to come when faced with the arrogance of the restaurant's besuited pint pullers.
Lisa Woodward, by e-mail

I seem to recall Michael Winner lamenting the quality of Fanta in the UK (Style, April 2). Actually, it's rare that I'm able to lay my hands on Fanta produced exclusively for the UK, as most of the independent grocers in my area seem to stock Fanta from other countries, presumably because it's cheaper. The Argentinian version I had yesterday was delicious.
Pedro Geppert, by e-mail

Perhaps I can use Michael Winner's page to voice my plea to Coins in Notting Hill, erstwhile favourite cappuccino-and- croissant stop for one Miss Bridget Jones. After its lengthy closure for refitting (which led regulars for hangover breakfasts to Dakota next door - fabulous), it was a horror to stumble back on a Sunday morning to discover that there seems to be even less table space than before. Waiting half an hour for an old favourite is no problem - until one discovers that the new French chef has, according to one of the waiters, decreed that there is "no way in hell" he is going to cook baked beans or potatoes. Of course, there has been no commensurate reduction in price to reflect this. Coins should remember what it is - an English local caff, claiming to serve full, and not two-thirds, English breakfasts. Until it does so, there is no way in hell that its old regulars will return.
JJ, London

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