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Getting fresh

Published 18 February 2001
Style Magazine
397th article



The big squeeze: back row, Tim Scott and Georgina Hristova; front row, Natasha Caine and Michael Winner (Martin Magee)

A strange happening at my favourite restaurant, The Ivy. One Friday night the duty manager said: "Whatever you do, Mr Winner, don't order the orange juice. We've stopped fresh orange juice. It's pasteurised now at all three restaurants." He meant also Le Caprice and J Sheekey. I'm glad he mentioned it, because Georgina is the ace orange-juice detector. If fresh orange juice became a prohibited import, they could use her to sniff it out at airports. She invariably asks for a glass of fresh orange juice and I for orange juice with champagne. I expressed surprise. I was told how the chef personally insisted fresh orange juice was dropped. "Then go to the kitchen," I said sweetly, "and tell the chef that Michael Winner is appalled and will be writing about it." The manager came back smiling broadly. "That put the cat among the pigeons," he said.

I sent a fax to Mitchell Everard, the boss of The Ivy. "I thought you were doing wonderfully well since the departure of Chris and Jeremy," I wrote. "I cannot believe that cancelling fresh orange juice will give you all longer summer holidays or vastly increase the profits of the organisation. I guess Mark Hix. your executive chef, can now put on his CV, 'The first person to diminish standards at The Ivy since the founder-owners sold out.' I think that's sad."

Very speedily I heard from the "Chef Director", Mark Hix, by phone and fax. He assured me that fresh juice was never stopped at any of their restaurants. "Then why should the restaurant manager tell me otherwise?" I asked. "And why, when the manager went into the kitchen with my message, if it was fresh, did he not return to correct what he'd said, when in fact he reconfirmed it?"

"He was misinformed," said Mr Hix.

Mitchell Everard echoed this when I turned up for lunch again some days later. "Is this a case for the Insight team?" I mused. "Or should I write a thriller - The Case of The Ivy Orange juice - to play at the New Ambassadors theatre opposite? Might such a production even equal the 49-year run of The Mousetrap next door?"

At that very lunch I sampled the orange juice. It was, I assume, fresh. But Ivy orange juice has always had a rather thin and imperfect taste. Maybe because, as Mr Hix informed me, it's squeezed last thing at night by the kitchen porters. Orange juice has a brief life of quality. If squeezed one night for use the next day, it's unlikely to be good.

Shortly thereafter, lunching at Le Caprice, the orange juice was far nicer than at The Ivy. I was told they squeezed it in the morning. A bit later, at J Sheekey, it was even better. They squeeze it at 11.30am for lunch and again at 4.30pm for dinner. Perhaps Mr Hix could arrange a conference call between his three excellent restaurants to standardise orange-juice quality to that of J Sheekey. Or am I hoping for too much?

I sought advice from my friend Tim Scott. Tim runs three juice bars called Fluid. These have brought him great good fortune, not least the presence of Michael Caine's beautiful daughter Natasha in one of them. She transmogrified from customer to wife at a delightful wedding. I gave them their crockery, so every time they eat, they can think of me. No comments, please.

Tim's Vogue Cafe, in Hanover Square, was made available for me one Saturday morning. It's ever so chic. There I witnessed a small machine squeeze four fresh oranges in 25 seconds. First we tried Jamaican oranges, lovely and sweet juice, although they look green and disfigured. Then Belize oranges, very orangey and a slightly tangy taste. Finally Cuban, which are best from March onwards. They were delicious, too. An immense variety of juices, soups, snacks, lunch boxes and smoothies are normally available. Smoothies offer frozen yoghurt mixed with a variety of things such as strawberries, banana, mango and cranberry juice - "meal replacement", Tim calls them. There are even two tables with free internet access. I ate a wrapped brownie, which was highly succulent. Customers tried to enter the place all the time. "Perhaps we should open on Saturdays," Tim mused. Doesn't worry me. I'm happy to write about closed restaurants. Much easier, really.

Tim said: "I reckon orange juice tastes different within 15 minutes of being squeezed. Ice dilutes it and refrigeration kills it." I'm sure he's right. I wonder if I could interest Mark Hix in Tim's automatic orange- squeezing machines. Think of it, The Ivy kitchen porters could get home earlier - and I'd have great orange juice. What more could any chef want?



Letters

I see that Michael Winner is now pouring his vitriol onto establishments that he has not even visited. It is possible that the Royal St Lucian (February 4) has gone downhill since my wife and I stayed there three years ago, but we are not convinced by the dubious second-hand testimonies he recounts. We had a memorable week there and the service was beyond reproach.
Tom Adams, by e-mail

I was recently told by a waiter at Drones that they are to be employed in the retraining of staff at another of Marco Pierre White's restaurants, The Criterion. This is not before time. Unlike at The Criterion, which is characterised by the surliness of its waiters, the team at Drones offered just the right amount of attention and were warm, welcoming and witty. The food was excellent and the service prompt. I have one criticism, however. How can Drones, or any restaurant, add sufficient value to a glass of Veuve Clicquot to justify charging £16.50? Maybe, we should follow Mr Winner's example and bring our own.
Andrew Dickinson, Leicester

I recently ate at Ne'als in Loughton, Essex, where I was forced to change tables twice because of the continuous bumping by the waitresses. After the meal, I spoke to the owner when he was doing his rounds and asked him whether it was necessary to leave barely 6in between tables. He told me he could sell out 50 times over on a Saturday and that this was his night for making the money to pay his staff, etc. He then asked if I would prefer to pay an extra £5 per head to cover these costs. When I said yes, he walked off, saying that if we did not like it, we could always go elsewhere. Service with a smile.
Brian Kirsch, by e-mail

With reference to Gillian Harrison's note on the cruelty involved in producing frogs' legs and foie gras (February 4), as Michael's esteemed colleague Mr Gill once said: "The more pain, the better the taste."
Nigel Lowe, by e-mail

I was appalled to read about Claridge's restaurant going to an outside operator (January 21). My wife and I went there for 20 years, always receiving the best food and service. I suggest we all have a champagne buffet outside the hotel and demonstrate against this change.
James E Lloyd, Cannington, Somerset

Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk