Mohamed al-Fayed's pastrami is perfect, but watch out for the salt beef
Published 10 December 2000 Style Magazine 387th article
Wiener dinner: Mohamed al-Fayed and Michael Winner at the Harrods Salt Beef Bar (Georgina Hristova)
I am not a close friend of Mohamed al-Fayed. Our only meeting lasting more than a few minutes was seven months ago, when we lunched in Harrods' Georgian restaurant. "Do you really still want a British passport, Mohamed, after they've been so dismissive?" I asked. "Don't you feel like putting two fingers up?" Mohamed looked hurt. "Well, I love this country, I've paid taxes, I've lived here for 35 years " he replied.
Personally, I think dear old Mohamed deserves a passport. Tone should give him one for Christmas. "Ah," I hear you say. "But he lied about his wealth when he bought Harrods." So did Peter Mandelson when he got a mortgage. He's back in the cabinet.
"He bugs his staff," you remind me. We bugged Gerry Adams at the height of the Irish peace negotiations.
Don't tell me some of the reported business activities of Mohamed are questionable. So are the insurance scandals at Lloyd's and masses of other City activities.
"But," you expostulate with finality, "he claims the Duke of Edinburgh and the royal family personally arranged to murder Princess Diana and his son Dodi." Just a minute. I thought in a democracy people were entitled to express their views. Voltaire put it brilliantly: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
I ﬁnd Mohamed a delightful eccentric who cheers up our national psyche no end. So let's progress to his Jewish-type delicatessen, the Harrods Salt Beef Bar. I've always wanted to try that. Particularly as, at the peak of his battle with Tiny Rowland, Tiny issued immaculate books to selected people detailing supposedly taped conversations in which Mohamed spoke as a dire anti-semite. I rather like the idea of an anti-semite running a salt beef bar. Even though I don't believe Mr al-F is anti-Jewish at all.
But I did find his salt beef odd. It's not bad. It tastes perfectly pleasant. But it in no way resembles the salt beef I have lived with. Offer this up at great New York delis, such as The Stage or the Little Carnegie, and they'd fall about with derision. It's sort of pressed salt beef. It has none of the succulence and texture of the salt beef I adore. The deli pastrami, on the other hand, is excellent. But let's start at the beginning.
I rang up Claude Cevasco, who recently joined as Harrods' director of food and beverage from the MGM Casino, Las Vegas. "I'm coming on Saturday at precisely 1pm," I said. "I don't want to fight for a seat at the salt beef bar. I'll be taking a photo." Mr Cevasco assured me that all would be well. It wasn't. "Reserved" signs faced two bar stools. My stool was 3¼in from the wall. So when I sat on it, my left arm and part of my body extended over the side. My left arm was crushed against the tiled wall. "This is really a stroke of genius, to reserve me the most cramped seat in the place," I dictated into my tape. Mr Cevasco arrived to check things, so I told him personally. I turned to George Ofori, the extremely charming bar manager. "When the two people next to me go, keep their seats so we can slide into them," I said.
The lady next door perked up. "We're staying for two hours," she said. Then added: "Don't worry. We're going soon."
"I was born to suffer," I told her.
When she left, we whizzed onto her stools with superb alacrity. "As one Letchworth person to another," she said mysteriously, disappearing into the Christmas throng. She must have known I was at the bizarre St Christopher School, Letchworth, for 11 years. To be followed, coincidentally, by AA Gill, who was there for eight years.
The deli food was most enjoyable. I had the frankfurters, which were superb, even though they weren't in the usual buns but in crusty French bread. The pickled cucumber and sauerkraut were tiptop. The only available dessert George described as "wonderful New York cheesecake". It was.
Then I rose, camera in hand, to show Georgina exactly where to stand to take the photograph. Immediately a large, ferocious Harrods security man grabbed me by the shoulder.
"No photography!" he barked.
I started to remonstrate and was just going to be thrown out when, with incredible timing, a beaming Mr al-Fayed appeared.
"I thought you'd be on your Scottish estate, Mohamed," I said, "not working on a Saturday."
"I have to be here to sell sausages," he replied.
There's devotion to duty. If that doesn't merit a British passport, what does?
I am sorry that Michael Winner did not enjoy his recent visit to Paris (Style, November 26). Here are a few - obviously much-needed - tips that might make any future trip more enjoyable:
1 Try asking a Parisian where to eat; he just might give some good advice. Don't ask someone in Harry's Bar, Venice, and don't, above all, ask our friends from across the pond or you will be surrounded by people eating shared salads and drinking Coca-Cola.
2 Ignore the decor. The only decor that counts here is your companion.
3 Never order orange juice to drink with your food; such behaviour will put your waiter in a very bad mood.
4 Remember that other countries have their own way of doing things. A request for a butter knife will be met with incredulity, so learn to do as the French do and wipe your knife on a piece of bread.
Sioned Harper, Paris, France
Mr Winner should indeed visit Eastwell Manor, as suggested by Helen Ward (Style, November 26). When ordering a bottle of wine by name in the restaurant, I had the following reply from the sommelier (who does not speak English to any great extent): "Which number is it, please?" I was totally unaware that I was, in fact, dining in my local Chinese restaurant.
DD, by e-mail
I understand that Mr Winner has recently qualified for his pension, for which he is to be congratulated. He should remember, however, that while his new bus pass may gain him substantial reductions in many establishments, it will have little effect when it comes to chartering private jets. I trust this does not mean he will be restricting his culinary excursions to less exotic locations.
Oliver Chastney, Cringleford, Norfolk
About four years ago, I first visited La Reserve de Beaulieu on the Cote d'Azur. I fell so in love with the area that I bought a boat, moored in Beaulieu, on which I am now lucky enough to spend several months each year. I still visit La Reserve regularly and entirely agree with Michael Winner's comments. Due to Christophe Cussac's second Michelin star, and also, no doubt, to Mr Winner's recommendations, La Reserve's popularity has greatly increased, which brings me to my point. Mr Winner recently visited what, in my opinion, is the gem of the Cote d'Azur, La Mere Germaine, in Villefranche. I dread to think how his report is going to ruin this delightful oasis. I do not think they need his particular brand of help.
Richard C Sadler, Leeds