Published 12 August 2001 Style Magazine 422nd article
Vegging out: Michael Winner with Roger Benham (Georgina Hristova)
Tuscan Steak is in the St Martins Lane hotel in London. I ordered the "Florentine T-bone steak". "Comes from Tuscany, does it?" I asked Roger Benham, who was the manager that night. "No, it's from Scotland," he explained. I suppose Scottish Steak doesn't have the same allure as a restaurant name. I wondered whether the large bull's head adorning the wall above the cash desk was from Italy, Scotland, Argentina, the North Pole or Blackpool. I deliberated on whether it was a real animal stuffed and hung, or a fake to deter animal rights activists from attacking the customers. The only other token decoration was Tuscan vineyards painted on the lamp shades.
The St Martins Lane is one of those minimalist, ultra-chic places owned by the New Yorker Ian Schrager, who also has the dreadful Sanderson hotel near Oxford Street. At weekends, the only time I've visited the St Martins Lane, it's full of very buoyant Essex-type people on a night out. I do not refer to Essex farmers, fisher-folk, university professors or landed gentry. I mean what are generally regarded as "Essex" inhabitants, namely delightfully flashy, enthusiastic youngsters of whom I totally approve. As we entered Tuscan Steak, Georgina smiled, held her hand out to Roger Benham and said: "Good evening." She was ignored. As this had happened to her the week before at Green's, she was considerably put out. "What am I, a shadow?" she muttered in exasperation as we settled at a large table. I ordered a caesar salad. Roger pulled a face. I said: "You pulled a face, Roger. Is it no good, this caesar salad?" "No, it's . . ." started Roger. He was soon lost for words. I said: "You're not prepared to say anything, about it, then?" "It's very nice," said Roger, pulling another face.
We got some bitter and dying orange juice when we'd asked for fresh. Roger assured me it was squeezed that morning. "I asked for it be squeezed now," I stated. So we got some more. This was probably fresh, but so watered down it tasted like the orangeade at school functions when I was eight years old.
My caesar salad arrived in an enormous bowl, enough for at least four people. I thought it was perfectly good. Obviously Roger dines in finer places than I do. Georgina got angel-hair pasta with tomato, basil and mozzarella. She had plenty for three servings. She said: "It's excellent." I tried - and found it pleasant. Georgina ordered extra parmesan. I asked for proper orange juice to replace the watered-down variety. When Jo Lennard was around, I got wonderful orange juice at the hotel's Asia de Cuba restaurant - both when I had dinner and when I went to a dreadful party given by Tina Brown for Talk magazine. If that event was an example of New York cool, give me McDonald's any day. Jo Lennard was the manager of Asia de Cuba, then Tuscan Steak was added. Now she's been deservedly promoted to assistant food and beverage director, in charge of all the hotel's restaurants.
Roger brought Georgina's parmesan. I observed that he was very elegant. "And very badly mannered as well," said Georgina, still smarting at her non-greeting. Our third serving of orange juice appeared. "I've squeezed it myself," said Roger. "I didn't let the irresponsible chefs do it." There were no orange bits in the juice, so it may have been oversieved. It didn't compare to Jo Lennard's version, but perhaps I was getting confused.
My portion of steak, cut up into bits and with garlic puree, was enough for a medium-sized wedding. There were very good crisps in the middle. The bone was placed on the end. It was almost superb. "What have you got for dessert?" I asked, as we were hurrying to the theatre. "A little selection of our famous . . ." and Roger moved his hands about. "I'll organise it now so it'll be ready when I clear your table." I found Roger quire efficient. But then he greeted me when I entered. The plate of desserts displayed vanilla cream with amaretto, a citrus cannelloni, tiramisu, and vanilla cake with almonds. The vanilla cake was outstanding, the others were okay.
We proceeded to the bar, where rested three big dishes holding green peppers, yellow peppers and tomatoes. Roger held the yellow peppers. I got overexcited, picked up the plate of tomatoes - and dropped them all on the floor. So we regrouped. Connoisseurs will note that, with rare agility I'm holding three tomatoes in my left hand and a red pepper in my right hand. All at the same time. I definitely recommend Tuscan Steak. Particularly if, like me, you enjoy seeing giggly girls in white stilettos.
I was delighted to read (July 29) that Michael Winner has seven bathrooms and nine toilets in his bachelor pad. I have four bathrooms and six lavatories in mine. I'm sure Mr Winner doesn't ask for a serviette when he wants a napkin. I hope not anyway.
St John Marston, by e-mail
If I read one more story about Lord Glenconner founding the Island of Mustique - or, indeed, about Michael's famous 1966 Rolls-Royce Phantom - I will jump in the River Trent. Do us all a favour, Michael, and only talk about the food and the restaurant.
Stuart Matthews, Nottingham
M Montgomery (July 29) quotes: "Yorkshire born, Yorkshire bred, strong in arm, but thick in head". I had always assumed our local "Suffolk born, Suffolk bred, strong in the arm, but weak in the head" was unique to this county.
Buzz Rodwell, Ipswich
"Am I missing something?" asks Kevin Moran (July 29) about Harry's Bar in Venice. The answer is yes: knowledge. To order risotto primavera ("spring risotto") in October reveals a total ignorance of Venetian food. Harry's Bar is probably not the best restaurant in the world, but it is the best in Venice - provided you order properly and don't behave like an ignorant tourist, when, quite rightly, the staff will despise you and serve you rubbish. Kevin has only himself to blame.
Andrew Dyke, London
Nick and Natasha's question "Why all these put-downs of Cliveden?" (July 29) deserves an answer from a nonregular visitor to that establishment. Recently, a colleague and I visited the restaurant to celebrate the finale of a successful collaboration. The lunch was so disappointing that even my guest was moved to agree that I had chosen badly. The waiter with the stained tailcoat was unable to supply a lime wedge for my mineral water and, after we had placed our order, came back saying that one of the main dishes was "off". My colleague discovered, to his horror, that his dish contained the offal trimming that he had asked to be excluded. And while, on arrival, the hall staff had conveniently parked the motor car, on leaving, we were merely handed the keys. Nick and Natasha may plead that these were minor matters, but they were sufficient for us to maintain our "nonregular" status.
David Crowther-Hemsley, by e-mail