Published 3 June 2001 Style Magazine 412th article
Back row, from left, Philip Kingsley, Michael Winner and Johnny Gold; front row, from left, Terry O'Neill, Leslie Linder and Doug Hayward (Steve Schneider)
Not many film people go into restaurants. Other than as customers. Michael Caine did - most successfully. Wolf Rilla, whose famous movie was Village of the Damned, owns and runs the lovely Moulin de la Camandoule, a restaurant-hotel in Fayence, in the south of France. Leslie Linder was a successful film producer - 10 Rillington Place and others - in the 1960s. He was also a restaurateur. His White Elephant, in Curzon Street, was the great show-business hang-out of the 1960s and 1970s. Now Leslie owns The Berkeley Square Cafe in Mayfair. A "gang" based in Doug Hayward's nearby tailoring establishment often lunches there. Other masticating members are Johnny Gold of Tramp, Terry O'Neill, photographer, and Philip Kingsley, hair expert. In an effort to look chic and beautifully dressed - have you even noticed? - I've returned to Doug Hayward, who made suits for me in the 1960s. I'm also illuminating Terry Haste, the chief cutter and leading light of Huntsman, in Savile Row. I even buy off the peg from Brioni in Bond Street. A recent jacket I acquired there cost, amazingly, £2,400. I never look at price tags. I got the bill after I'd had it altered. In my youth you could buy a fine London house for £2,400. If not two.
So there I was with the Doug gang in the light and airy Berkeley Square Cafe eating a cobb salad, which is a pleasing replica of one they served at the famous Brown Derby in Hollywood. The ingredients include chopped chicken breast, crispy bacon, lettuce, stilton cheese, tomato, avocado and Brown Derby dressing, whatever that is. "You won't eat anything else, it's huge," said Leslie. He was right. I left half and all I could manage to follow was a fruit salad. This was big enough for four and one of the freshest and best fruit salads ever. Terry O'Neill had fennel and sweetcorn soup, which pleased him. Doug Hayward was enjoying some pasta. The Berkeley Square Cafe will soon sport a sushi bar in the basement. It's a good place.
Snacky places are rare, so I was disappointed, a few days later, when visiting Richoux, also in Mayfair. It was sold about two years ago to Chez Gerard, a group Marco Pierre White recently described, publicly and accurately, as appalling. Since the chairman and founder of Chez Gerard lives in the flat above Marco, I can imagine the hostile frigidity when they pass on the stairs. They, in turn, sold Richoux on to a group called Madisons Coffee.
I was greeted by a surly waitress with the immortal words: "Smoking or nonsmoking?"
"I'll sit there," I said, moving to a table. "Smoking or nonsmoking?" repeated the charmless one. "Whatever this is, I'll take it," I responded. We ordered two lots of finger sandwiches. Georgina loved those last time and was looking forward to them. They were the most appalling sandwiches I've ever eaten. The cloying, not fresh-feeling, refrigerated bread stuck to the roof of my mouth. Whatever was inside tasted of nothing. We left them and I ordered "Welsh rarebit to the original Richoux recipe". I've had that before and enjoyed it. This time it tasted odd.
The bill for this dreary outing - two orders of finger sandwiches, one Welsh rarebit, one hot chocolate and one tea - came to £26.40, including 10% service. For £3.98 more, two people could have had a superb three-course lunch, including roast beef and yorkshire, at Marco Pierre White's excellent Parisienne Chophouse. Richoux's questionnaire asked guests to place items between 1, "very poor", and 7, "excellent". The bottom rating is not low enough. On the bill it said: "Look forward to seeing you again soon." Not likely.
In contrast, tea at Claridge's was impeccable. Fresh, delicious sandwiches. Scones, just a little crisp, were the finest ever. The meringue with lovely pink goo was superb. The chocolate cake let them down. Claridge's is expensive. If you just have two teas and sandwiches it's £28.60, including service. Dress-wise, there was a woman with jeans and a T-shirt at seven o'clock in the evening. From 6pm, men are supposed to wear a tie, but many did not. At The Savoy, the lounge waitress said I needed a tie to take tea at 6.30pm. The tea was good, but men in T-shirts and jeans walked around endlessly. "Is a tie compulsory?" I asked the manager of the elegant River Restaurant. "Absolutely," he said. "Are you telling me the people dining here are all wearing ties?" I said. "Of course," he replied firmly. "What about those two by the window?" I said, pointing. "We relax the rules for pre-theatre meals," was the get-out. "Most sensible," I muttered as I strolled off.
A few weeks ago, Michael Winner boasted of possessing the best road sense of any driver in London. Imagine my surprise, therefore, upon turning onto the eastbound carriageway of the A4 at Chiswick roundabout, to see the great man driving in the centre lane. Anyone who knows this road is aware that, 100yd ahead, a left turn filters a great deal of traffic off the inside lane, allowing one nonchalantly to pass the stationary middle and offside lanes. Perhaps Mr Winner was distracted by the baseball-capped cutie at his side.
Michael Kilgarriff, by e-mail
As Michael Winner's least favourite restaurant designer, I was wondering if he might be able to help me with a project I am working on. I am in the process of developing a range of brown paint - 36 shades in all - and would very much appreciate his advice. Perhaps he could also help me with decorating tips via a tour of his lovely home in Holland Park - I'm sure it would offer lots of inspiration. On a separate note, I have been searching everywhere for a pair of cut-off demin shorts similar to those Michael was photographed wearing in Barbados, as I would like to feature them in a speech I am preparing on taste in the 21st century. I do hope he can help.
David Collins, London
I feel compelled to take Michael Winner to task over a few of his ill-founded comments about my restaurant, Green's (May 13). David Vickerstaff has a long and distinguished career in restaurant management, particularly at Green's, and to suggest he was "nervous" on meeting Mr Winner is quite absurd. David has greeted many customers more distinguished than Mr Winner, and would have no reason to be "in awe" of him. On the food front, Mr Winner's comments about the saltiness of the brandade of cod shows a surprising ignorance. Brandade demands a strong and salty flavour, and David pointed this out to Mr Winner before he ordered the dish. It is an acquired taste, but has been much appreciated by our more discerning diners.
Simon Parker Bowles, London
I am sorry that your correspondent Wendy Street (May 20) failed to give the name of the restaurant in Normandy that serves pigs' ears, as my 11-month-old spaniel, Jemima, is devoted to them. Fortunately, they are readily available at the local pet shop for 50p each.
Sonia Copland, Addington Village, Surrey
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