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Chinese whispers

Published 5 November 2000
Style Magazine
382nd article



Racing demons: Michael Winner and Georgina Hristova with the Ferrari (Martin Magee)

I have taken to selling used cars. My own. It started off with a superbly preserved light-blue 1970 280 SL Mercedes sports convertible, which I bought for £4,250. A tiresome dealer called Michael Lavers came from Putney. He said he'd phone with an offer. he didn't. I wrote telling him off. He phoned apologising, saying he'd tried to call but couldn't get through. Then he wrote to say that he hadn't called because he didn't want the car.

A nicer dealer came shortly thereafter, gave me a banker's cheque for a startlingly large amount, and drove it away. I was selling it because the hood isn't automatic. It's too much effort getting it up and down. After flirting with some charming people from Saab, I eventually decided on another Mercedes, the convertible CLK 430 Elegance. When it arrives, I'll sell my Ferrari, a dark-blue 200i with only 29,000 miles and one owner since I bought it new in 1980. I retained it for motorway driving because the Bentley rolls about so much. Now the Merc will do the motorways. I'm not trying to flog the Ferrari to you. I'm happy for a dealer to have his profit and save the chauffeur spending endless time with gawpers test-driving the car.

If you look closely at this week's fetching photograph of myself and Georgina, you'll see a sliver of the Ferrari behind us, outside Memories of China, Kensington. I'm outside, because I choose not to go in following an incident some weeks ago. Memories of China in Kensington High Street, and whomsoever it employs, is there only because I arranged a private sale (getting and asking no commission) between the previous owner, who ran an Italian restaurant on the site, and the present incumbent. It was never as good as its sister restaurant in Pimlico, where the totally superb Kam Po But is the chef, but it's an okay neighbourhood Chinese.

Thus I went one day with Mrs Edge. Mrs Edge is a legend in her own lunch time, having been married to a musician in the Moody Blues. She went out for many years with Terence Stamp, and was even closely associated with a national newspaper editor of great renown. She's now a bachelor grandmother and truly glamorous. The day we went to Memories of China, the restaurant was involved in one of those newspaper ofers where you get lunch for £10. It wasn't doing them much good, because, other than Mrs Edge and me, the only other customers were a party of four by the window and a single gentleman over the aisle from us.

The manager is a hospitable Italian named Giuliano Movio. On this occasion we had some prawn crackers and then a few starter orders, followed by the inevitable roast duck in pancakes. You know the sort of thing: a duck is cut up into little bits, you get these thin round pancakes, smear a bit of brown sauce on them, add the duck, strips of cucumber and spring onion, then roll it up. I've had it there, and at other places, many times. Now, as I dutifully served the duck onto Mrs Edge's pancake, I thought: "This looks a bit tired." But I didn't say anything. Then I took the first bite. It was dreadful. Old, hard, chewy. I called Giuliano over. "This duck is a disgrace," I said quietly. "It's tired and old. Take it away." He did so. Then Mrs Edge said, in her rather posh voice: "And the pancakes were dreadful, too. Didn't you see, Winnie, they were all curling up at the edges?"

This was humiliating. I'd been shown up in my own neighbourhood in front of my guest. And at a restaurant that I regularly visit and from which the staff only earn a living because I set it up. "Giuliano," I said, in a voice still quiet but now full of angst, "don't you ever do this to me again. How dare you offer your customers stale pancakes and old duck, any of them. I am appalled." Please note this incident, all you people who say to me: "How can you judge a restaurant? When you go in they're obviously on red alert." I wish they were. Red alert certainly doesn't include serving me what must have been last night's reheated duck.

As I was leaving, I said "Thank you" to Giuliano, extending my hand to shake goodbye. My conciliatory gesture was interrupted by the single male customer. "Good for you, Mr Winner," he said. "You were absolutely right. You tell them for all of us." I smiled my appreciation and left, with Mrs Edge repeating her scorn at the duck and the pancake. I've not been back. But I do go to Memories in Pimlico. That's terrific.



Letters

Having witnessed for many years Mr Winner's extraordinary behaviour and seen endless photographs of him in all known positions, the shock of seeing a picture of his bosoms (Style, Oct 29) was more than I could bear. I am amazed I remain a regular reader. It must be print hypnosis.
Jacqueline Brassey, Heswall, Wirral

Mr Winner's column is something in which I have found an unfailing source of innocent amusement and fellow feeling. I would not have thought it possible to have portrayed so much of the human condition by paying visits to restaurants. It is surely time for the sweet-toothed old vulgarian to broaden his scope. He must be aware that he has reached true artistic maturity in print, if nowhere else. How about another column, dealing with restaurant development, 'Winner's Piles'?
Snoo Wilson, via e-mail

Question: which restaurant
1) failed to advise customers, before they came to order, that certain dishes on the menu were not available?
2) relocated their kitchen to the side of the restaurant, with the result that a gross cooking fog now wafts across diners?
3) failed to produce the first-choice white wine and red wine?
4) had Michael Winner to stay for Christmas 1999?
5) announced that Michael Winner will be staying in Christmas 2000?
Answer: the Lone Star, Barbados.

Malcolm Padina and Mary Follett, St James, Barbados, via e-mail

"I don't go to restaurant toilets," Mr Winner informed us (Style, Oct 22). Is this his sneaky way of disclosing his most closely guarded secret? Does he insist on "mine host" providing a commode chair? And is this the explanation for his rather phobic insistence on having so much space? What panache!
Joseph Sinclair, London

Michael Winner is absolutely right to insist on the use of the lower case 'd' in denim. Should a restaurant wish to be pedantic and pretentious, and I see little evidence to the contrary in the establishments that he visits, they might indicate that "no (serge) de Nimes is permitted". By the way, I wonder if they would refuse credit cards or Money (which, I feel, should begin with an upper-case M in cases of overcharging) from a denim wallet.
Michael Jefferson, Hayling Island, Hants