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The rice is right

Published 7 October 2001
Style Magazine
430th article

Georgina Hristova, Anjum Majid and Michael Winner at Lal Qila (Shah Abbas)

Raja Basharat Ahmed was a Muslim. I write "was" because Raja died, aged 35, in Manchester, doing his duty to enforce law and order. He was a police officer who was deliberately pushed into the path of an oncoming truck by a suspect's car. He was an exemplary British Citizen. I travelled to Manchester for one of my Police Memorial Trust ceremonies, when Tony Blair unveiled a memorial to Raja at the spot where he died. This was adjacent to what used to be a bingo hall, now taken over by a fellow Muslim, Anjum Majid, for his successful dress business. He supplies many of our most famous chain stores. He gave us space for our reception. Afterwards, Anjum suggested I join him in Wilmslow Road. This is known as "the curry mile" because it's so full of Indian restaurants. Locals claim 500 of them line the street.

Anjum chose Lal Qila. One of his executives, Shah Abbas, came with us. He told me Mike Tyson had eaten there. Lal Qila offers the standard decor for Indian restaurants in England: white tablecloths with a yellow cloth over them, simple chairs, a patterned Indian carpet and much fake greenery. This was enhanced, or not, according to how you feel, by photos of Mike Tyson, with people I assumed were the restaurant's owners. As we settled at a round table, Mr Abbas said: "I've brought quite a few famous people here." I hesitated to ask who, in case my idea of fame conflicted with his.

I greatly liked the food at Lal Qila. It reminded me of the tasty meals served at an Indian restaurant I frequented in Cambridge when I was a student. I often went with a local cinema owner, George Webb, a wonderful character. When a lady told him a spring had come through one of his Cinema seats and protruded into her bottom, Mr Webb responded: "Madam. you're in the one-and-nines. Them seats are reserved for the yobbos." For those too young to remember, "one and nine" was one shilling and ninepence - about 9p in today’s money. That got you into movies in the 1950s.

Mr Abbas ordered a chicken balti and kofta meatballs for us. "Very Bulgarian," observed Georgina. A delicious vegetable starter arrived. It shows how useless I am. I dictated into my tape it was "fried pate". But then I frequently have no idea what I'm eating. Either way, this was very good.

Apparently, Mr Abbas had told them not to serve the meatballs because they hadn't been made that morning. So we received large bowls of lamb and chicken curry, with yellow rice to go with it. "This rice is delicious, Michael," said Georgina. "One of the best rices I've ever had." I don't want any smart remarks about that. You don't know any Bulgarian. If she gets an English word wrong now and then, so what? To drink, we had one of my favourites, lassi. This is 3 mixture of yoghurt and milk, frothed up.

They offered us a picture book of not-very-Indian desserts. Georgina ordered a chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce. I had the coconut dream - unsurprisingly, it featured coconuts. Georgina didn't get what she ordered because they didn't have it. She got an orangey chocolate thing. The desserts were pleasant.

Someone told me over lunch you can have four wives in the Muslim religion, as long as they're all treated with exact equality. That must be very difficult. I thought.

  • Not as difficult, though, as getting your room properly serviced at The Lowry Hotel in Manchester. I told you before about my unsatisfactory visit. I didn't mention that, on the evening we arrived, Georgina and I ate some of the fruit. When we returned after dinner, the bed had been turned down, but the dirty plate with peel and apple cores, and the used napkins, were all untouched on the table.

  • I had very fresh sandwiches and nice cakes from Nick Probett of Chauffair on my private jet for the journey north. He even gave me a Hawker Siddeley 125 with an air hostess, when I'd only booked a no-hostess, much cheaper Citation II. Nick recently got me a little propeller plane for my flight to Chichester, where they had a Michael Winner day at their film festival. I was early for my own talk, so we nipped into Woodies Wine Bar & Brasserie, where I ate one of the best summer puddings ever, with an excellent cappuccino. There was a lot of space, it was comfortable, friendly, well designed, and the waitress was charming. The more serious food coming from the kitchen looked terrific. Can I have a Woodies in Kensington, please?


    My wife and I have just returned from a couple of weeks on Madeira. Imagine our delight when we came across a little restaurant, Arsenio's, in the old town, sporting a glowing recommendation from the great man himself (June 14, 1998) hanging on a rusty nail outside. Our mouths watered with anticipation as we were led inside. When our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, however, we discovered that the restaurant was almost empty. We soon found out why. To describe the sheer awfulness of the food, the service and the wine would take a whole column. We shall be very cautious before committing ourselves to a Michael Winner recommendation in future. On a different note, could the great man please stop banging on about his Phantom VI? It's an ugly, great brute of a car. It was originally produced in limited editions for royalty and heads of state, who presumably had no choice, with one or two going to celebrities who had no taste. May I suggest that Mr Winner try a 1950s Bentley R Type? In spite of all this, his column is still one of the most hilariously enjoyable, from whatever perspective you view it.
    Ian Niblett, Haywards Heath, W Sussex

    Knowing that Michael Winner would not approve of unnecessary sequels, I must apologise for this further entry into the long-running saga of Fanta products abroad. I feel that I must warn visitors to Austria of a Wild Berries variety I discovered in June. This is available only as a limited edition, and one mouthful will confirm why. Repeat purchases are an impossibility. It reminds me of the antiseptic mouthwash so lovingly dispensed by my dentist.
    John Youle, Sheffield

    I was surprised to read that Michael Winner has been going to the Ivy for more than 50 years (September 23). Do they still serve baby food?
    Stephen Lloyd Phillips, Chirk

    In Michael Winner's efforts in your section, he frequently refers to food as being "historic". Recently, however, he went further and referred to some dish as "totally historic". Whatever next? Extra totally historic? Unbelievably totally historic? He continually brags about his wealth, but apparently cannot afford to buy a thesaurus to check out the alternatives. Having once worked for him, however, I'm sure he will find a way of obtaining one at no cost to himself.
    Mike Russell, Worthing, W Sussex

    Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk