Published 2 September 2001 Style Magazine 425th article
Happy hour again: from left, Michael Winner, Davide Guidi and Alessio Gubello (Georgina Hristova)
I view with considerable nervousness the handing over of Claridge's restaurant to Gordon Ramsay. The room is being redesigned and made smaller. The unveiling is planned for September 24. Since things seldom open on time, I wouldn't hold your breath.
I'm an immense admirer of Gordon Ramsay. The last two dinners I had in his Chelsea restaurant were among the best I've ever eaten. Although it was unnecessary of Gordon, even when saying nice things about me, to relate a highly inaccurate account of my visit in a newspaper interview. It was also distasteful that Gordon slagged off his old friend and mentor Marco Pierre White in the same interview. Gordon is a senior member of the community now. He doesn't need to resort to bitchiness. Particularly as Marco always speaks well of him.
I was a great admirer of the Claridge's restaurant that is no longer. The one where John Williams prepared marvellous English meals, simply and superbly. The chicken pie was historic, the roast beef and Yorkshire memorable and the Vienna schnitzel - a rare sighting - tiptop. Claridge's under Williams made the only proper pomme soufflees to be had in London. These are little blown-up, fried potato bags. For all his three Michelin stars, if Gordon fails to offer this delicacy, then Claridge's will have subsided. Anyway, I wish Gordon well. I hope, after the initial furore, he'll succeed in getting enough regular punters into a hotel. This is more than Marco Pierre White or Nico Ladenis, both three-star chefs, managed at their last hotel venues.
As a result of Claridge's restaurant being closed, The Grill Room at The Dorchester, another Winner favourite, is getting customers it hasn't seen for years. Those who might not want a staple diet of Gordon's miraculous but fancy food may well opt for the old-British style of The Dorchester more than ever. I'm impressed by the rise in quality of the Dorchester tea. I hadn't tried it for six years following a disastrous visit. But the other afternoon it beat Claridge's, where the earl grey tasted of nothing and the scones weren't a patch on The Dorchester's. It was still a nice tea and I prefer Claridge's four-piece string orchestra to the lone pianist in The Dorchester. But in the battle of the giants, The Dorchester is rising. I decided to try the one restaurant there I've never eaten in. It's called The Dorchester Bar and serves Italian food from a separate kitchen and has different chefs from the Grill.
The room is delightfully decorated. It's bright and cheerful with mirrored panels on the ceiling, blue neon-lit steps, tiles forming pictures of birdcages and Liberace's overdecorated piano. The table was absurdly small - 24inx28in. It was less than half the size of my table in the Grill. After a watery and bitter bellini, the duty manager, Davide Guidi, assured me the lobster was fresh for Georgina's spaghetti. The focaccia tasted tired, hard and old. Davide told me it was baked that morning. This did not improve the taste.
My starter of thinly sliced octopus and crab salad was very good. So was my spaghetti with tomato and basil. It was close to the best I've ever had. Georgina's spaghetti was soft and overdone. For dessert I ordered almond tart with lemon and mascarpone ice cream. It was poor. It may or may not have been in the fridge overnight, but tasted as if it had. Georgina greatly liked her watermelon. Davide asked: "What do you think of the almond pie?" "It's terrible," I replied. He said: "Well, normally we sell a lot of it." I said: "McDonald's sells a lot of hamburgers. I don't go there either." I was assured the tart was made that morning, to which I responded cheerfully: "Fire the chef"
I don't know if the sous chef on duty, Pietro Amato, panicked or had a hot date, because when the time came for the photo, Davide told me he'd gone. "We'd better be quick before only the washing-up fellows are left," I advised. We then waited forever for the assistant sous chef, Alessio Gubello, to appear. It was like hanging around for an ageing movie star to come out of make-up. Apparently he'd insisted on putting on a clean outfit.
Marco Pierre White used to enter his restaurant from the kitchen sweating like mad. His overalls may once have been white, but were stained with every piece of detritus you could imagine. That gave me confidence he'd been pitching in. I wish he'd go back to the kitchen. Marco cooked a dish of three types of pork that's forever embedded in my memory. But he couldn't manage pommes soufflees. I do hope Gordon's practising regularly.
I am puzzled. How can Michael Winner describe the braised rabbit at Le Cirque in Las Vegas (August 19) as "historic", when he cannot actually remember eating it?
Chris Greenwell, County Durham
Nicola Lawrence's comments (August 19) on the apparent "woolly child policy" of many restaurants and hotels infuriated me and, I suspect, many of the restaurant-going parents in the UK. As alien as it may seem to Ms Lawrence, some of us genuinely enjoy the company of our children as well as the opportunity to eat decent food and stay in comfortable surroundings. The British catering industry is alone in its discrimination of children. We have just travelled the length and breadth of France, eating in some of the most acclaimed restaurants and hotels. The fact that we are a family was not discriminated against, and our children were welcomed in every dining room. Perhaps Ms Lawrence might be better off conducting her business meetings in more traditional surroundings: namely, the office.
Caroline Seely, by e-mail
During a recent lunch at Langan's Brasserie, we were brought a bottle of white wine, which, when tasted, turned out to be warm. On asking the waiter whether the wine needed further chilling, he assured us that it was only warm at the neck of the bottle and was very cool at the bottom. Should we have requested that we be served the wine at the bottom of the bottle before the wine at the top?
Stephen Hardwick, London
Michael Winner and St John Marston (August 12) must be bordering on the incontinent if they need so many bathrooms and lavatories in their respective bachelor pads. Under the circumstances, it hardly matters whether they ask for a serviette or napkin.
Desmond Gore, London
As I was intending to visit Venice, I tore out Mr Winner's recent piece on Venetian restaurants (July 8). I had dinner at Alle Testiere and enjoyed the exceptional food and friendly, knowledgeable service. I think Michael Winner would have also enjoyed seeing various couples from the UK, all of whom were instantly recognisable by the fact they were clutching a grubby piece of newspaper with Mr Winner's article of recommendation.
Maxwell Morrison, Surrey
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