Published 17 December 2000 Style Magazine 388th article
'A perfectly good place': back row, Michael Winner and Jason Atherton; front; Claudio Pulze and Colin Tennant
I don't read restaurant reviews. I never trust them. They derail things of no concern to me whatsoever, such as the ingredients that make up the sauce. They're invariably overlong and take themselves far too seriously. But I did, by chance, read a review in The Times of L'Anis, a place I had recently visited. The man hated it. He hated the food, he hated the decor. he hated the ambience - he hated everything. If I had written a review like that, everyone would say how poisonous I was. In fact, most of my reviews are rather kind - far kinder than some places deserve.
L'Anis is at No 1 Kensington High Street. I've lived adjacent to the high street for more than 50 years. I consider myself a world expert on Kensington High Street. I shall choose it as my specialist subject when I go on Mastermind. But I never knew it had a No 1. To be faced with it was rather sobering. No 1 Kensington High Street is not part of what we experts call Kensington High Street at all. It's on the left as you drive westwards, in a rather strange set of buildings opposite the park.
I took my friend Lord Glenconner there for lunch. His lordship. also known as Colin Tennant, has his own superb restaurant in St Lucia, which I shall soon visit. He is currently flogging coastal land adjacent to it for the rich to build houses on. It's a spectacularly beautiful spot, which, like all spectacularly beautiful spots, would be better with no housing at all.
L'Anis is in premises that were once a bank, so they are pleasantly high-ceilinged, with two fine Victorian gothic. stonework-framed doorways leading to the kitchen. There are appalling modern decorated glass panels here and there, which add the ethos of a conference centre. His lordship and I were sad to learn that Claudio Pulze, the owner, intends to erect more hideous glass to obscure the room's best features, the two kitchen doors
We were given one set menu for two people. Apparently, they only give out one per table.
"Ridiculous." I said to the manager. "Not expensive to produce, are they?"
The set lunch is very cheap at £12.50 tor three courses, ex service. I suppose that's why they don't offer the menu to everybody. They'd rather diners choose from the a la carte. Sticking to the cheap version, I ordered the ham consomme with winter vegetables and the butternut-squash risotto with sauteed Paris brown mushrooms. Colin chose salad chicory with blue cheese, roasted girolles and apple a la creme, followed by roasted cod. "You're a cheap guest at £12.50," I said. "I'm not usually," said Colin, and retired to the toilet. "The hand basin's quite acceptable," he reported on his return. "But the pissoirs are too small. It was like peeing into a bottle in a bed." It's nice to have professional advice from the nobility on my little inspections.
Our freebie starter was rillettes of hare with croutons. Colin decided my risotto could win the Turner prize. It was hugely decorated. Looked like a starter portion. "They're saving on rice today," I muttered. It was very good, though. Claudio Pulze then arrived and we gave him a lecture about not hiding the kitchen doors. He took no notice. Instead, he told us the chef. Jason Arherton, had been voted best young chef of the year.
For dessert. I ordered compote of figs, pears, apples and cob nuts with a sage zabaglione and vanilla ice cream. Colin asked for "fresh fruit, no sugar". That caused considerable delay. They didn't have a good selection of fresh fruit, so they rushed out to buy some. Do not assume for one minute that they would do the same for you. Colin's fruit eventually arrived, beautifully laid out. "It could be worn by a geisha, couldn't it?" he observed. My zabaglione was a bit oversweet, but all right.
I suggested Claudio should offer more simple fare - such as Lancashire hotpot. "They like this fancier food," he responded. "They want modern things they've never seen before."
"Then why is the Ivy so successful?" I ventured to remark.
"Their menu's full of things people have seen for years." That stumped Claudio.
I think the man from The Times was wrong. L'Amis is a perfectly good place, even sampled on the cheap Express Menu. But then The Times' man was, I'm sure, an expert. Far more knowledgeable about food than I am. That is not necessarily an advantage.
PS: Some 80 guests invited by JP McManus and Dermot Desmond, the owners of the incomplete Sandy Lane, Barbados, will spend Christmas and New Year there for free. Sensibly, as I seek perfection, I wasn't asked. I wish them luck.
Something to add to Michael Winner's best and worst list: Best restaurant: where you don't see Michael Winner. Worst customer for restaurateurs and chefs: he's a winner again.
Terence Conran, London
I recently made a dinner reservation at Orrery in London. I furnished them with my phone number, as requested, and was then asked, without explanation, for my credit-card number. I declined and cancelled the booking. Would Michael Winner not agree that to give one's credit-card details in such circumstances is like writing an open cheque?
Michael Lewis, London
I note Michael Winner's remarks (Style, December 3) about a man who "sat alone with a large Marks & Spencer bag. They'll be collectors' items soon." Mr Winner has joined the media bandwagon criticising this company, founded by my great- grandfather, which undoubtedly sells better food than many of the restaurants he frequents. The 12m people who shop there each week cannot all be wrong.
Joel Lerner, by e-mail
Michael Winner has blotted his copybook this time. As a regular diner at places such as London's River Cafe and Tribeca in New York, I would rate Oslo Court and its staff among the best anywhere. If you have an occasion to celebrate, this is the place to go - if you can get in.
Peter Benscher, Loughton, Essex
I always read Winner's Dinners because it never fails to amuse, particularly when I contemplate how many waiters must have p***ed in his soup over the years. His description of the food he ate in Paris a few weeks ago seemed to indicate just such a happening. Chacun a son gout.
David Townsend, by e-mail
I have some good news and some bad for Mr Winner. When in Barbados a couple of weeks ago, I was driving past Sandy Lane early on a Saturday morning and can confirm the sight of hundreds of Bajan construction workers attempting to finish "his" hotel. The bad news is that it still looks like a bomb site, and I am not sure it will be finished for the next millennium.
David Sax, by e-mail
Send letters to Style; or e-mail: email@example.com
Winner's Dinners (Robson £8.99) is available from The Sunday Times bookshop for just £7.99, including Freepost. To order, call 0870 165 8585; or visit www.sundaytimes-eshop.co.uk