Published 10 September 2000 Style Magazine 374th article
Sugar and spice: from left, Rosie, Karen, Michael Winner and Lin (Georgina Hristova)
I once watched a documentary about the opening of the restaurant Sugar Reef. It featured the co-owner, who was the strangest thing I've ever seen on TV, or indeed anywhere else. Every other word began with "f". He bullied, screamed, showed off and generally ran amok, making pronouncements of unparalleled absurdity. The restaurant itself looked ghastly beyond belief There was a pink waterfall that never seemed to work, horrid decor and an opening night where the usual ragbag of non-celebrities appeared, to the horror man's apparent delight. Lurking in the background was my friend Jimmy Lahoud, a partner in the venture, who wisely said nothing. I thought: "At least I'll never have to meet that monster or go to his appalling restaurant."
I told Marco Pierre White of this at his wedding. "You're wrong, Michael. The man's Mark Fuller. There he is," said Marco, pointing to a nearby table. "He's a very nice family man."
I didn't meet Mr Fuller then, although I did some weeks later, when Robert Earl of Planet Hollywood fame asked me to join him and Marco at Sugar Reef. It's a large place seating 320 diners, has lots of bars and is licensed for 1,000 people. It's in Great Windmill Street, Soho, close to where a wondrous cafe called the Nosh Bar used to be. I was most charmingly greeted by a reformed, highly pleasant Mark Fuller, not a swearword in sight, and met by a wall of noise. Hundreds of people, mostly quite pretty girls, sat on rattan chairs having a good old Friday night out. "There can't be anyone left in Essex," I thought.
Mark led us to a round corner table away from the worst noise blast, where he'd considerately arranged for ice cubes and lemon slices to be ready for me. It was still an acoustic nightmare.
Some rolls appeared, which were hot and tasted fine. The menu offered chargrilled lobsters at £23, but, ever frugal, I ordered American breakfast waffle, ham and eggs (£6.90), followed by prime fillet burger with home-made barbecue relish (£10.50). "Can you cope?" asked Georgina. "With ordering?" I asked. "With the noise," she responded. I had to. It was either that or leave. Anyway, I liked all the young people enjoying themselves.
"I'm an expert on waffles," I explained to Robert Earl when he asked what I'd ordered. "You're a big waffler," he replied. My waffle was excellent. Very light, magical taste and texture, crisp on top. It was quarter-size, which was fine for a starter. The egg was good; the ham was good. If they served this around Kensington, I'd have it every day.
I wondered how they got such a small waffle. "They have a small waffle pan," said Marco, who was beautifully dressed in a blue pinstriped suit, blue shirt and red tie. Marco knows a prodigious amount about food, but nothing about waffles. I remember the terrible ones he served at the Mirabelle, which have now, mercifully, been removed from the menu. The waffle pan was brought to our table. It was very large and produced two waffles. I suppose they must cut one down when it comes out. "Where do you get your waffle mix from?" I asked the man with the machine. "They buy it in a packet," volunteered Marco. I ﬁnd the American Carbons mix far and away the best. The girl who makes the waffles appeared. She said Sugar Reef made its own waffle mix of egg yolk, sugar, flour - then egg whites to give it white colour. My hamburger was superb: so was the bun, the cucumber, the tomato, the relish and the onion.
An entertainer arrived and said: "May I show you some magic?"
"Can you make him disappear?" asked Robert Earl, pointing at me. He's a wag, isn't he?
Everything was going so well, I was truly sorry dessert was a disaster. It took for ever to arrive. I asked some snotty manageress where it was and she said, "It's coming straight away," which it wasn't. Then everyone had the wrong choice placed in front of them. I got someone else's apricot strudel, which was awful, My own coconut parfait was acceptable, but it was all a dreadful mess and put me in a bad mood. I speedily recovered because I'm a wonderful person. "You've got to be kind," said Marco. Boy, did he have a wrong number.
I then went among the delightful Essex girls, all of whom seemed to know me. I sat with three very nice ladies, Lin, Karen and Rosie, who were dining on their own. There was much giggling. After our photo I said: "Are you from Essex?"
"Esher," said Karen. "We're Surrey housewives." Oh well, they all look the same to me.
Glad to hear that Michael Winner had a nice time in Florence (Style, August 27) - we did, too. In fact, we must have been among the "endless tourists" in the Piazza Della Signoria. Mr Winner should not, however, be too impressed with his hotel staff for arranging queue-jumping at the Uffizi. They probably rang the advance-booking service, just like us.
Adrian Skinner, by e-mail
It was with some delight that my husband and I read Michael Winner's article on the Villa San Michele in Fiesole (Style, August 27). We were married in Florence in April last year and had our wedding meal - just the two of us - at the same hotel. Everything was wonderful, from the salmon to our dessert on the terrace, where we discussed football with the waiters. Just reading about it brought back some beautiful memories. And yes, we did queue for three hours to get into the Uffizi.
Jo Seymour, by e-mail
We were considering booking Belvedere in Holland Park for a special dinner when friends told us their reservation had been cancelled. Their experience was exactly the same as that of Derek Helps (Style, August 27). Has Belvedere so many friends that it can afford never to make a new one?
Edna O'Toole, by e-mail
I was shocked and appalled by your recent dismissal of the entire PR industry as "idiots" (Style, August 13). They are not idiots, but in fact very clever people who, despite a lack of skill or talent in any other field, are extremely adept at extracting huge sums of money from big corporations in return for services that any one of us could do in our lunch time.
Ian Davies, by e-mail
Your appearance a few weeks ago in both Style and News Review (August 20) was an embarras de richesses, like ending a meal with tiramisu and chocolate mousse. But what really concerned me was the turnaround in your financial status. Not only have you had to bump up your appearances in this journal to earn a crust, but you have resorted to tugging at our heartstrings by exhibiting, front of shot, a moccasin with your toe poking through it. I can't afford to offer a replacement, but I enclose a £5 note. There is a nice Chinese man near South Kensington Tube station who will stitch it for you.
Anthony Jones, London