Published 22 July 2001 Style Magazine 419th article
From left, Lord Glenconner, Julie Woodyear-Smith and Michael Winner (Maurizio Belvedere)
My neighbour, the lyricist Don Black, raved about Raccolto. It recently opened in Holland Park Avenue, on a site where restaurants fail with regular lack of aplomb. I gathered another neighbour, Lord Glenconner, one of my favourite people, who is also known as Colin Tennant. He founded the luxury island of Mustique and lives most of the year in St Lucia, where he is having much success selling picturesque land for housing. He also runs a magical restaurant on the Caribbean Sea, in what was rainforest, adjacent to the excellent Jalousie Hilton hotel. I had checked out Raccolto on my return from appearing on BBC television, and chose two tables as possible Winner landing sites. The manageress, Julie Woodyear-Smith - nice girl, looks exactly like her name - showed me table 170, which I had not selected. I agreed hers was better. "We call it 170 because 17 in Italian is very bad luck," she informed me.
"I often buy a banana next door," said Colin, as we sat down. "Are they as good as in St Lucia?" I asked. "No, they're a bit firm and rather tasteless," said Colin. "Have you ever come across roast asparagus?" his lordship murmured, now scrutinising the menu. I had not. Nor did I
have any particular wish to.
In order to read the small type, I borrowed reading glasses from a lady with a party of four at a nearby table. She was very pleasant about that. The menu announced portobello mushrooms. "Where are they from?" inquired Colin. "Portobello Road," said the waiter. "From the greengrocer?" I asked. "Yes," replied the waiter.
We got olive oil instead of butter. I hate that, as I always drop it on myself. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and excellent. Ghastly piped music blared out. It was like a fairground. "We just put it in," said Julie. "Well, go and turn it off," I suggested. "You can't think," said Colin. Then, turning to Julie: "He's been removing piped music all over the world." This is true. They got rid of it at the Jalousie Hilton for me.
"Fine calamari, very tender," said Colin. My bruschetta with prosciutto, tomatoes, basil and garlic was horrid. The bread was burnt black. People often say: "I bet they watch out when you're in, Michael." Here was an example of nobody caring. They served me burnt-black bread. "Look," I said, pointing it out to the Italian waiter. "This is typical, from Tuscany. That's how they do it." he responded. "I've got news for you," I said. "I've had these in Tuscany for 30 years. They are not burnt in Tuscany." Colin liked his portobello mushrooms with a wedge of polenta.
The main course took for ever. "Another wedge of polenta," said Colin, when it finally arrived. But his liver was most acceptable. I had roast chicken breast with aubergines, tomato and basil with rosemary and garlic potatoes. Colin said: "When we had rabbit during the war, it looked like that." The chicken tasted of nothing. "It's not nearly as good as Chez Moi, is it?" I remarked to Colin. Chez Moi, only a few yards away, is one of our favourites. "It's too New York here," explained Colin. The place had very Ikea-type walls. No charm in the decor. The waiter took the plates and then wiped the table. He did this so enthusiastically, it was left soaking wet. "If I put my arm on it, I'm dead," I observed.
I chose the iced nougat semifreddo with espresso. "Where is it?" asked the waiter. "There are only four desserts on the menu," I explained. "It can't be difficult to find." I should have said: "It's next door in Sainsbury's." But we always think of the best lines after the conversation is over
Colin observed: "I think this place is a bit in-between. It's not chic enough to be amusing and it's not cosy enough to be entertaining. All the surfaces are hard. My chair is very hard." He paused for a moment, then added: "I haven't tried the toilets." His lordship set off for a toilet inspection. He did that at L'Anis in Kensington High Street. He returned, muttering: "Same piddling pissoir. They've all got them now. It's astonishing. Exactly the same as at L'Anis."
Raccolto isn't going on my list of key local places. At best, it's an okay cafe. I offered Colin a lift home in my 1966 Rolls Phantom. "I'm going to Marks & Spencer to buy my knickers," said Colin. "Marks & Spencer may be out of fashion, but I never change my knickers, do you?" I do, actually. I recently switched to Armani. But I'd rather not go into that in detail.
Georgina may not be an expert on chocolate cake (July 8), but Michael Winner is certainly not an expert on fish from the Adriatic. Bruno, in the picture, is holding a tray of canocie (Venetian) or cicale di mare (Italian), not scampi. Incidentally, Harry's Bar lost its star because the Michelin Guide has integrity. As a Venetian, I urge "the public" - ie all you romantics out there -to eat, when in Venice, wherever you feel at home.
Angelo Carraro, by e-mail
My friend and I recently attempted to have dinner at Busaba Eathai, one of the "trendy" eateries in London's Soho. After queuing for half an hour, we were finally seated. The waitress was rude and, when she brought our food, moaned at us for not clearing the table for her and not realising that her tray was heavy. When I asked to speak to the manager, he said that their policy was to get people in and out as quickly as possible, and that if we felt unhappy with the service, we were free to leave. Isn't it about time people realised that being trendy doesn't mean that you can be rude to your customers?
Hanei El-Hadidi, by e-mail
As Mr Winner writes in praise of fish and chips (July 1), may I suggest that, if he can tear himself away from the rarefied environs of Kensington, he try our excellent chippy, the Two Brothers, in Regents Park Road, London N3, where he will experience a truly historic version of the dish. Just to keep up with Michael's name-dropping: I have seen Sir Clement Freud dining there on this delicacy.
Edna Weiss, London
I loathe Irish coffee, and perhaps it is true, as your correspondent Stanley Silver writes (July 8), that "no really sophisticated person would possibly ask for such a passe concoction". But socially secure people eat and drink what they fancy and don't give a damn about whether they are sophisticated or not. One of the best qualities of Michael Winner, prince among restaurant critics, is that he doesn't seem to care what people think of him.
Celia Haddon, London
I was surprised that Michael Winner was inconvenienced by running out of film (July 8). His usual style would have been to apprehend a fellow tourist and offer him an absurd sum for his camera. Is the great man losing his touch?
Bill Gardner, by e-mail