Published 28 October 2001 Style Magazine 433rd article
Enver Ucar, second from left, with Michael Winner and other staff members of Gallipoli Again (Georgina Hristova)
I've never enjoyed a show more than Bless the Bride at the King's Head theatre in Islington. The marvellous score was by Vivian Ellis, the touching and funny book by AP Herbert. Twenty-four excellent cast members crammed onto the tiny stage to perform this mini-masterpiece. It's got some of the greatest hit songs of all time, it's part of our history, it's British through and through. Just the sort of thing the National Theatre should do instead of regurgitating familiar American musicals. My neighbour, the famed lyricist Don Black, went. He laughed and cried. So I wrote to Trevor Nunn at the National. He said it was one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's favourites, but he hadn't seen it. I shall pursue Nicholas Hytner, the National's fixture boss, on this important matter.
Upper Street, Islington, home to the King's Head, has more restaurants than I've ever seen in one area. "There's nowhere any good to eat up here," a lady said, coming over to me, as people tend to, with gems of information. She's right. Frederick's and Granita are supposedly okay. I found them pretentiously awful. The indefatigable Lionel Blair, who starred in Pageant at the King's Head, recommended Gallipoli Again. It's next to the theatre.
You may be interested in Georgina's favourite shows. They are (1) The Caretaker (2) Humble Boy (3) Pageant. The first two are about completely nutty misfits. Pageant is a high-camp, off-Broadway musical where men dress up as women for an American beauty contest. This should tell you something about our relationship.
The traffic is highly unpredictable between Holland Park and Islington, so the only way to be on time is to leave early. Thus I often require refreshment before visiting the King's Head or the nearby, posher, Almeida Theatre. I entered Gallipoli Again at 7pm and had to be out at 7.50pm for the theatre. I chose a table in the pleasantly muddled front room, which has a long bar, a lot of hanging lanterns, Turkish pots, chains running from the ceiling with candles in them, an old radio and masses of other strange stuff. The owner, Enver Ucar, said I couldn't sit where I wanted because it was booked for 7.30pm. "Nonsense," I told him, "I bet it won't be full when I go." But I was led to a strange tent covering the back yard. There was a candle on our table, close to a burn mark partly covered with material glued to the plastic tent. "Thank goodness we're near the door to the restaurant," I said to Georgina. "If this catches fire, everyone could be ash in 30 seconds."
They produced a large menu. I said to Enver: "Will you write down my order?" He said: "I don't need to write it down."
"I think you may," I cautioned. I ordered hellim, which is Cypriot grilled cheese. "Then I'll have sucuk izgara [spicy Turkish garlic sausage, grilled], then mitite kofte [char-grilled minced lamb prepared with chopped onion and fresh herbs]." At this point, Enver beckoned to a young man behind him, desperate for him to come and write everything down. I added "tavuk kanat" (charcoal-grilled marinated chicken wings), "falafel" (a mixture of ground chickpeas and broad beans toasted in spices), "ispanak yumarta" (boiled spinach with fried eggs) and the Gallipoli special kebab. I had enough for about 10 people.
The restaurant was speedily filling up. By 7.40pm, the main restaurant was full, including the table I'd wanted. So was most of the back, tented area. People eat very early in Islington, presumably because there's nothing else to do.
For dessert. I had a dry baklava without the usual gooey honey - I prefer the gooey honey - a milk pudding and an apricot filled with almond nuts and cream. With three Coca-Colas, the bill was £33.45, ex tip. Very cheap - and tasty.
Georgina said: "Why did you make me eat dinner?" I said: "I didn't, you just dived in." Then she said, being Bulgarian: "My country's next to Turkey. They conquered us, but we got rid of them."
On our next visit we were allowed to sit in the proper dining area upfront. They gave us even more dishes, including Albanian liver. Enver had changed from a T-shirt with "Fatcamp Phys.ed 54" on it to a very boring check shirt, because he thought it looked better for the photo. We entered at 7.10pm, took the photo at 7.15pm and by 7.40pm we'd been served and finished an enormous multi-course meal. That's what I call zipping along. I can think of many grander restaurants that should learn about speedy service from Enver and his merry Turks.
Michael's article on the Belvedere (October 14) brought back unhappy memories of my birthday lunch there earlier this year. We had booked two months in advance for 2pm, but when we arrived were not seated until 2.50pm. We would have left before that had we not been there with my 83-year-old mother. Anything would have been preferable to the way we were treated. Our table was so small that the edges of the plates touched. When we asked for a larger one, we were told (on a take-it-or-leave-it basis) this was all they had. The management was just plain rude throughout. A letter of complaint brought no acknowledgment. I thought that left only one option: to stop eating at Marco Pierre White's restaurants. But there was another option: a letter to Michael Winner. Thank you for the idea -I do feel better.
Pamela Keane, by e-mail
We were recently lucky enough to cruise aboard the P&O Arcadia on a western Med cruise. One of the ports of call was Santa Margherita Ligure, from where we took a tender vessel to Portofino. We decided to check out Michael Winner's advice and climbed the hill to the Hotel Splendido. We were impressed - and even more so when we mentioned we were avid readers of Michael's column in The Sunday Times. The concierge, who had already been very helpful, proceeded to show us around, then gave us the tariff to examine. It was then that we realised this would probably be our last visit.
Peter and Judith Turley, by e-mail
Picking up my copy of The Sunday Times after an unpleasant night shift as a police officer, I skim the headlines before going to Michael Winner's column to cheer myself up. I find his generally non-politically correct views a tonic, seeing as we are submerged by the stuff in the force. For example, a flip chart may no longer be called a flip chart in case it offends Filipinos (not that there are any in Avon and Somerset). Winner should demand more pages and let us hear his observations on things in general. And if he gets fed up with Georgina, he might like to point her in my direction.
Graham Elsam, by e-mail
I enjoy Winner's articles as a rule, but was horrified that he used that bastard expression "maitre d'" recently. For the sake of English (and French), he should either quote it in full or use the good old "head waiter" - or even "restaurant manager".
Colin Harris, Weston, Staffs