Published 1 October 2000 Style Magazine 377th article
Friends indeed: back, from left, Michael Winner and Gordon Ramsay; front, Marcus Wareing and Marco Pierre White (Matt White)
The feuds in chef-world make show-business bitchiness pale into insignificance. Even if I cared, it would be difficult keeping up with who's talking to whom. For many years, Gordon Ramsay worked with Marco Pierre White at Harvey's in Wandsworth. Then Michael Caine brought Marco into town to the Canteen, and Gordon went to Aubergine. For reasons I will not reveal, they fell out. For some time now they have been friends again (the civilised world breathed a sigh of relief) and it was Marco who suggested we visit Petrus, a restaurant in St James's owned by Gordon where the talented Marcus Wareing is cooking. Gordon also joined us.
He and Marco were once the bad boys of chefdom. Tantrums, expletives, even minor violence were supposedly the norm. I find them both thoroughly well behaved. Although I did see Marco on heat recently. I was with him and his wife, Mati, the Best Restaurant Receptionist in the World, at Marco's Mirabella restaurant. Tim and Nina Zagat, who edit a famous restaurant guide, came to the table to greet me. I had met them very briefly, five years ago, on a boat. Zagat readers had just voted Gordon Ramsay's own restaurant Best Food in the country. Tim turned to shake hands with Marco, who refused, and said with considerable clarity that he didn't want the Zagats in his restaurant. Apparently, they had published rude things about Marco's establishments. The manager was dispatched to escort Tim and Nina to the street. I remained. The meal was splendid. Another restaurant feud was born.
Petrus resembles an art gallery that sells 17th-centuty Dutch paintings and serves coffee on the side. It is narrow and exhibits large painted reproductions of Flemish still lifes of oysters and fruit.
"Cauliflower soup," I dictated into my tape, "is our freebie starter."
"Creme du Barry," corrected Marco. "That's the classical name for cauliflower soup."
Either way, it tasted great. It came in one of those tiny bowls. "I hate drinking with teaspoons," said Marco, drinking from the bowl. He looked around. "Very nice clientele," he observed. I found them rather dull. Businessman types.
My starter was marinated foie gras, apple and artichoke salad, with creamed vinaigrette. The main course - which took for ever to arrive - was pork belly rolled tight, sliced, cooked in sherry and vinegar sauce, and served with aubergine puree. From these ponced-up descriptions you will deduce that it is a serious place. It's also very good. Somewhere along the line we got another freebie of red mullet.
Marco started his main course at once, saying: "It's rude to wait if you've got hot food." I agree. It's ridiculous. If the waiter is preparing food for one of your party, why should everyone else wait, their food getting cold, until the last person is served? Pitch in, I say. I'm glad Marco approves.
On the dessert menu, it read: "Please allow a minimum of 20 minutes for the preparation of your dessert." In that case, I thought, why didn't they give us the menu 20 minutes ahead of time, not 10 minutes after we finished the main course? There's a limit on how long I want to look at fake Dutch oil paintings and other diners in suits.
The desserts were truly memorable - from a freebie treacle tart to pistachio souffle, creme brulee, and iced coconut cream with candied coconut and warm chocolate sauce.
The wine waiter took Marco's glass when it still had some Petrus in it. He rightly asked for it back. Marco waved his empty plate about the second he had finished his pud, and a waiter took it. I asked for mine to be cleared and the waiter took that. Mati was left sitting in front of her dirty plate. The service needs tightening up, but Petrus is a nice place.
You may remember that my neighbour, the lyricist Don Black, was shocked to find the club sandwich at my favourite Riviera hotel, La Reserve de Beaulieu, cost £27. I was there recently when they reprinted the menu. The club sandwich rose from £27 to £33.50. Well, it is prepared by a Michelin two-star chef. They also have one of my favourite maitre d's, Roger Heyd. Like many restaurant staff, Roger mistakenly believes he has a memory. At my ﬁrst dinner, he didn't write down what I asked for. I ordered pork and got red mullet. After that I checked his pad. I'll send him a leather one for Christmas. The terrific manager, Estelle Wicky, said to me: "I understand you like Dean Martin."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"I checked you up on the internet last night," said Ms Wicky. There's an intelligent lady. Even off duty, she can't bear to be without me.
We have just returned from our honeymoon in Venice. While we were there, we decided to visit Harry's Bar for a couple of bellinis and a "light bite". The atmosphere and staff were a delight - but with the carpaccio alone costing an enormous £30, our light bite became somewhat weighty. On leaving Harry's, however, the financial burden was lightened immeasurably when we noticed Michael Winner's beaming face staring up at us. It was a matter of some pride to discover that Mr Winner's is the only picture to grace the walls of this haven for celebrities and superstars.
Annabel Bevan, by e-mail
I recently took a group of Chinese clients to the Good Earth Chinese restaurant on Brompton Road in London. Our waiter presumed to tell me that the mostly vegetarian meal chosen by my guests was not balanced, then proceeded to inform me in front of them of the £10 per head minimum charge. Even their second choice of meal - McDonald's - would not have humiliated me so much.
David Wilson, Cobham, Surrey
Michael Winner's recent mention of the Nosh Bar in Soho (Style, September 10) revived some special memories for me. In the early 1950s, I was an aspirant CID officer working at West End Central police station. My partner and I haunted Soho and Mayfair at all hours in our efforts to catch thieves. In those days, Soho was inhabited by a great many Damon Runyon types, many of whom frequented the Nosh Bar in Great Windmill Street. My memory is of a place not much bigger than a couple of phone boxes, with steaming slabs of hot salt beef. The sandwiches, served with a huge pickle, were out of this world. I have never encountered their equal since.
Don Organ, Nailsea, Somerset
Last year, I was fortunate enough to have dinner at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, courtesy of some dear friends. Totally overawed by the occasion, I left without taking my menu. On my return home, I contacted Le Manoir to claim my forgotten memento. Not only did I receive two, personally signed by Raymond Blanc, but, to add to my delight, they arrived on my birthday.
Precious? Perhaps. Sad? Definitely.
But my evening was truly memorable. Those who are less financially challenged than I am have simply become blase about such experiences.
Cath Stobbart, Kendal, Cumbria