Published 4 November 2001 Style Magazine 434th article
Out for a duck: Michael Winner with Marco Pierre White and Mati (Georgina Hristova)
Marco Pierre White is an excellent manager of restaurants. I don't suggest he goes around taking orders and clearing plates; I mean in an overall sense. Having been outstandingly brilliant in the kitchen, he now controls various establishments. My favourite, foodwise, is his Parisienne Chophouse in Knightsbridge. The fact that I'll never go there again shouldn't put you off. I just thought it unbearably noisy. I find many establishments, full of happy eaters, beyond-belief cacophonous. Noise pollution is as bad as air pollution. I wouldn't eat in a fume-filled restaurant. Why should I eat where it's impossible to hear my companions talk unless they're shouting? What sane person wants to shout for the duration of a meal?
We went down to the windowless basement that is the Parisienne Chophouse. In the bar we waited for Marco's adorable wife, Mati. She was eight minutes late, but arrived looking very elegant, so was forgiven. Georgina took a sip of orange juice, pulled a face and surreptitiously slid it along the bar in my direction. It was certainly not fresh by my understanding of the word. I find it surprising that Marco, who's so fastidious about most elements in his restaurants, is prepared to serve this tired, tasteless orange stuff. I think it's because he never drinks it. Before I took to drinking wine, people sat in my house looking highly uncomfortable as the meal progressed. I eventually realised they expected wine.
We entered the very attractive room. It's bistro-like, with French posters on the wall. Some of them that should be hung upright hang sideways. "Where would I sit if I came here?" I asked Marco, before the full fury of the noise hit me. "There," he said indicating a tiny booth for two. Exactly the sort of place I'd never accept. I had difficulty reading the menu as the light was low and the type was tiny. Mati took my pince-nez. "No wonder you can't read through them," she said. "They're filthy. You should use washing-up liquid and water."
Thus I was a wiser man when my whitebait arrived. They were the best I've ever had. There was taste, succulence, texture - all the things missing when I ate a dried-up version for much the same price at Manzi's in Soho. Marco said they came from the Thames estuary.
I tried Mati's Bayonne ham; it was splendid. Marco had terrine of duck and foie gras with pistachio. He said: "I take duck fat and spread it on toast like butter. Then I put the pate on top. I like fat."
"I like fat, too," I said.
"We can see that," observed Georgina. I sampled Marco's terrine It was exceptional. I also had frog's legs. They were very tasty, but I'd forgotten they had a little bone in them. I don't like bones.
A nice looking crispy duck then appeared. I dictated "Jean-Christophe Slowik, the excellent restaurant manager, is poncing about with it." He was carving it, actually. There was apple sauce and breadcrumbs. I said I wanted bread sauce. Marco nearly exploded. "Are you serious?" he asked. I said, "Yes." "Unbelievable," muttered Marco, "you have that with chicken."
"Listen Marco, I come from Willesden," I explained. "In Willesden, we always had bread sauce with duck." I don't know why I said that. Or why I ordered bread sauce. I'd never had duck with bread sauce, ever. It clearly offended Marco's sights when it arrived. "Is it nice with bread sauce?" he asked. "Very good," I replied. And it was. I'll definitely order it again.
Georgina was eating sole. "It's the best I've ever had," she volunteered. "You hear that?" asked Marco, rightly determined not to let a compliment slip by. "She said it's the best she's ever had."
A bit later, Marco finished and the waiter cleared his plate and Mati's. Marco is totally paranoid that dirty plates should not be left on the table a second longer than necessary. I agree with him. "My plate's not been cleared, Marco," I said. "Georgina was still eating," he responded. "I wasn't still eating. I haven't eaten for a year and a half," I stated. "Did you pick your cutlery up at five o'clock?" Mati asked. "That was the last time I ate," I said. I appreciate this conversation sounds surreal, but that's what happened. It's on my cape, so it's true.
For dessert I tried the creme caramel and the creme brulee. They were both superb. I greatly enjoyed all the food. Marco should open another Chophouse in a room that doesn't make you deaf. I'd be there every night. That's a very good reason for him to stick exclusively to the one he's got.
Michael's latest hyperbole -"the local Fontainebleau cheese is beyond historic" (October 21) - is simply barmy. If he likes eating prehistoric cheese, he is a braver man than me. John H Franklin, London Mr Winner describes his visit to Nobu (October 14) as a "terrible time", but concedes that "so many people say it's excellent, I now accept this was unfortunate rather than definitive". Has he finally taken the hint?
Dani Carnell, Henley-on-Thames
We recently had dinner at the beautiful Chateau de Gilly in Burgundy. When the time came for dessert, we ordered souffle and millefeuilles. These were a long time coming, so we asked what was happening and were told that there had been a problem with the souffle and it was having to be remade. When the second attempt eventually arrived, it had collapsed and all that remained of it was some slush in the bottom of a small ramekin. The millefeuilles, too, were far from impressive, and comprised some very sour cream between two shortbread biscuits. We left the desserts and casually remarked to the waiter that they needed a new pastry chef. He replied: "'Ow do you know, 'ave you seen ze advert?"
Peter Marks, by e-mail
I was with my 11-year-old daughter in Brisbane when she bought a bottle of Fanta. I found myself asking her whether it might be as good as "Winner's choice blend". She looked at me as if I was mad. Is there a cure available for obsessions caused by reading Winner's obscure ramblings about soft drinks?
Graham Thomas, Brisbane, Australia
I really can't take any more of this tedious OJ nonsense. The most "historic" orange juice I've tasted is available from Asda - yes, Asda! It costs £1.99 a litre and is as good, if not better, than that served in the Djemaa el Fna. Believe me, I'm an authority on this.
Trevor Wood, Ipswich.
With reference to Mr Daniels's letter about unpriced "ladies' menus" (October 21), the practice was far more common 40 years ago. They presented no problem to my father, however, who would fix us with a steely eye and, pointing, say: "You can have that, that or that."
Caroline Hayes, Winchester, Hants
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