Published 29 April 2001 Style Magazine 407th article
Michael Winner with Ken and Kitty Lee at Aroma II (Georgina Hristova)
Andrew Lloyd Webber looked at me with a mixture of regret and disdain. "I'm not sure you're a real foodie, Michael," he opined. His Lordship (which he wasn't at the time) was absolutely right. Compared with Andrew, I'm nowhere. He has an incredible interest in food, he understands its component parts, he's an avid collector of new places to eat. I care nothing about the make-up of what I consume, only that the overall result be pleasing. I'm not greatly interested in new restaurants, having been let down so often by recommendations from professional critics and ordinary people. But I do value Andrew's opinion.
He recently said he liked Aroma II in Shaftesbury Avenue, because they served offal and funny bits of animals. So I rang them up. When I asked for the manager, Lawrence Lee came to the phone. I gave my name for the reservation and he said: "Has Charles Bronson ever been to England?" The Chinese are great fans of Charles Bronson. So I told Mr Lee that I once took Charlie and his then wife, Jill Ireland, to my local Chinese restaurant. This was I Ching, at the top of Earls Court Road. It was the modest beginnings of the Zen restaurant chain. The manager, Peter Lam, was somewhat eccentric. Bronson, Ireland and my girlfriend sat in the downstairs area. After a while, Charlie said: "This restaurant isn't very popular, we're the only people here." I found this odd, as I'd seen other diners coming in. I called Peter over. "Where are the customers?" I asked. "I put them upstairs," said Peter. "Not worthy to sit in same room as Charles Bronson."
We drove up Shaftesbury Avenue, past trinket shops blasted with rock music, to a garish site named Aroma II. It was large and bustling. They'd reserved a good table for me by the window. I sat facing the room, Georgina opposite, with a view of the street. She liked that. If I'd faced the street, people would have been waving and smiling all night as they recognised me. That's nice, but ultimately tiring.
I was glad to see a lot of Chinese people eating there. That's comforting. Particularly if it's a Chinese restaurant. Ken Lee and his wife, Kitty, the owners, were working the room like crazy. She offered me duck tongue, deep-fried pork intestine, chicken feet, pork knuckle, jellyfish, smoked fish and marinated beef. "Have a little bit of each," advised Kitty. I'm easily led, so I said, "Fine."
Georgina ordered jumbo prawns, sweet-and-sour chicken, duck with pancake (which we never got) and other ordinary stuff. "I don't eat chicken feet, thank you," she announced.
My exotic first course arrived. Five neat little ducks' tongues were laid out. I took one and bit it. Kitty said "Be careful of the bones", by which time I was traumatised. This tongue is all bone. The rest of the display was rather jolly. I liked the deep-fried pork intestine, though it won't go on my regular diet.
Thereafter, more good food arrived in waves. Scrambled egg with seafood, braised grouper mandarin-style, baked quail, Singapore noodles, veal chop with honey-and-pepper sauce. It really was very tasty. You finished and then kept going back to take a bit more - before they came to clear the table.
A party of slightly drunk businessmen went through, left to right. "It's very noisy," said Georgina. She was right.
I think Lord Lloyd-Webber comes in for lunch, as it's near his office. I can understand that.
We finished with toffee-apples, ice cream and a fruit bowl with coconut mousse. As I left, saying goodbye to Kitty and Ken, a large group of men at a table started saying goodbye as well. "Goodbye Michael, goodbye," they chanted. An unusual sort of evening.
Different, in another way, if you go to Barbados, is the Polynesian Restaurant, perched above the Lone Star - still the seafront Ivy of the island. There, you overlook breaking waves and palm trees, and eat surprisingly good spare ribs, chicken pancake, and other simple Chinese stuff. Downstairs, where I dined often and well, the chicken tikka was particularly good, as were the desserts. Last year's chef, Andy Whiffen, has removed himself to Sandy Lane. Rory Rodger, the Lone Star manager, didn't give my regular table to someone else, for which he deserves some credit for vigilance. The owners are Steve Cox, who has restaurants in Richmond, Surrey, and Christian Roberts, a former movie actor - still looking good - who was returning to London to star in a stage musical by the man who wrote his previous vehicle, Forbidden Planet. Sadly, it fell through. That, as they say, is show business.
Michael Winner may be good at reading maps (April 15), but his interpretation of them leaves something to be desired. The landscape south of Carcassonne, stretching to the sea and the Spanish border, is indeed as beautiful as he says, but Beziers is actually east of Carcassonne -nowhere near the dramatic mountains. Incidentally, my Michelin Red Guide for 2000 only gives the Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse, one Michelin star.
Mike Gilbert, Kinghorn, Fife (It has two stars in the 2001 edition - MW)
Reading Michael Winner's report on Manzi's (April 8), I was thrilled to discover he was dining with a glamorous grandma. He may be interested to know that there are lots of us around: hungry and happy to give an opinion or two after all the cooking and baking we've done. So how about Michael sharing his taste buds with a canny Yorkshire lass in the not too distant future? Now there's a challenge he can't resist.
Mrs Sandi Firth, Leeds
I've had my little chuckle at Richard Barton's comments on the spelling and verbal skills of the denizens of "Wolver'ampton" (April 15). Now will someone please explain to him that the letter "h" is pronounced "aitch" and not "haitch"?
Frank Whiteside, by e-mail
I agree with Mr Barton's judgment of "restaurants" in the West Midlands. If Kenilworth is within spitting distance, Simpson's is worth a detour, as is Restaurant Bosquet. Otherwise, forget it.
Jane Jones, London
I draw much satisfaction from seeing Michael Winner strike a blow for the ordinary diner each Sunday. He's quite unique. But then they said that about Attila the Hun, Karl Marx and Derek Griffiths, too.
Peter Franks, by e-mail
As an avid reader of Mr Winner's column, I sometimes wonder whether he fits into Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic: "Someone who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing."
Rob Dixon, by e-mail
How about a caption competition to accompany each week's Winner's Dinners photo? First prize could be a meal with Mr Winner - with two meals for the runner-up.
Martin B Empsall, by e-mail
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