Published 9 December 2001 Style Magazine 439th article
From left: Michael Winner, Ian Pengelley and Alex Winchester (Georgina Hristova)
E&O in Notting Hill is the new "in" restaurant. Charles Saatchi told me so as I was buying baby clothes. "It's wall-to-wall celebrities," said Charles, a man of impeccable taste and grace. I thought no more of it. I've been recommended more bad restaurants, even by men of taste and grace, than I care to remember.
A bit later, Georgina said: "Why don't we try that restaurant Charles Saatchi told us about?"
"Why?" I asked incredulously.
"Because we always go to the same places," replied Georgina. There's no answer to that: it's true. So I phoned and reserved for Saturday lunch. E&O is in Blenheim Crescent, which once had on its north side, on the corner of Ladbroke Grove, a large nunnery in lovely grounds. That was pulled down and replaced by hideous council flats. Notting Hill is not how I remember it was in better days. It's absurdly fashionable. E&O is just the latest fly-by-night trendy dump, I thought, ungraciously, as I directed the chauffeur to it.
The place looked rather good. As with all new restaurants, it seemed they'd saved on decor by not having any. There was a large room separated from a drinking area by a sizeable bar. This gave a nice sense of perspective. The rest of it was plain, with windows down one side and mirrors down another. There's a row of booths for larger parties. We humble two sat at a table. Knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks were clumped together in a bowl in front of us. A good idea: it saves trying to find someone to bring them to you.
Will Ricker, the Australian owner, wasn't there. He had the flu. I met him later and he was exceptionally pleasant. I was in the hands of the general manager, Alex Winchester, a good leader, not afraid to muck in and clear the tables. The place is part of a trilogy, the other two being Great Eastern Dining Room in Shoreditch and Cicada in Clerkenwell. E&O stands for Eastern & Oriental. No celebrities appeared.
Their orange juice came in a canister, but they offered to squeeze some specially, whereupon Georgina changed her order to apple juice. Alex described the food as "Pan-Asian-Japanese-Chinese". It's prepared by a charming and skilful man from Scotland, Ian Pengelley. "Are you too posh to take the order?" I asked Alex. "My God, he's produced the tiniest piece of paper ever," I dictated in shock on to my tape. "I write very small," explained Alex.
We ordered crispy-skin chicken, crispy fried fish, prawn and chive dumplings, baby pork spare ribs, prawn phad Thai, tempura of avocado and sweet potato, tuna sashimi, chilli salt squid, stir-fried vegetables and sweet ginger noodles. Actually, that was over two visits. It was so good we went back. Everything ranged from excellent to fantastically tasty and delightful. The service was speedy and very friendly.
But still no celebrities. I'd liked to have seen Sting. On television recently, he admitted he had squatted illegally in one of my flats when I was a property magnate. There he wrote his first hit album. I could present him with a rent bill, plus interest. Or ask for a share of royalties. No, he's a nice fellow. Good luck to him.
The freebie starter was fresh young soya beans in their pods. We were told to suck them. A lot of pretentious twaddle. The man who brought them said, "Have you had them before?" as if he could reveal the secret of how to eat beans. On my second visit, I was delighted they had given up on the free beans.
The only other complaint is that I wanted the warm tamarillo crumble with white-chocolate anglaise, but the waitress said it took 20 minutes. They should print that on the menu. Give us a chance to order early. Instead, I had lemon-grass and vanilla brulee, which was fine.
E&O is a really good place. Cheap and cheerful in the very best sense of the words. Eventually, I met a celebrity. My dear friend Patsy Kensit, whom I hadn't seen for a while. I asked Alex to put her party of six on my bill without telling Patsy until the end. Which he did.
I once asked Jean-Claude Breton, the restaurant director of Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, to do the same for diners I'd temporarily displaced by being squeezed in regardless. He absolutely refused. That was restaurant mismanagement. If you were the party of three who had to wait, please write in. I'll gladly pay for your dinner. I now await 2,000 Sunday Times readers deciding it was them.
If Michael Winner really is the "ultra-sophisticate" he claims to be (November 25), then he should have expected his gulab jumun at Durbar to be served with kulfi rather than Wall's ice cream.
Julian Corlett, Scunthorpe, Lincs
I was horrified to read a few weeks ago that young Winner had discovered D'Chez Eux in Paris, having first met the present patron's pere 30 years ago. How nice, then, to find that it has been rubbished by your correspondent Christine Acres (Letters, November 25). I do hope that this will encourage Winner's readers to stay away.
Richard Towell, Taunton, Somerset
Having read Valerie Till's letter about her treatment at the Ivy, where she was accused of stealing plates (Letters, November 18), my reaction would have been to demand that the staff cancel my credit-card payment immediately. If they failed to do so, I would cancel it myself via the card company. The actions of the staff amount to defamation. If this had happened to me, the restaurant would have been very, very sorry.
Christopher Davies (solicitor), by e-mail
On a recent Saturday night, we visited the Lal Qila restaurant in Manchester, following two rave reviews by Michael Winner. Our experience could not have been more different from his. The (frankly average) food was served before we could blink and cleared away just as quickly, and the bill was on the table before we had time to order ice cream and coffee. I left with a serious case of indigestion after a visit that lasted approximately 55 minutes. We did not leave a tip and will not be returning. Customer satisfaction is obviously secondary to the number of tables they can fill on a Saturday night.
Sally Halon, by e-mail
I have just returned from the Caribbean, where I felt as if I were the advance party for Michael Winner's holidays. I had a delightful Bajan meal at Olives in Holetown, and, on congratulating the chef, Scott Ames, he advised me that he was going on a refresher course prior to Mr Winner's visit in late December. I then spent a few days at the Jalousie Hilton in St Lucia, where the director, Jeremy Mutton, said he was "really" looking forward to the great man's arrival. The food and service at the Jalousie were all excellent - and one meal of red snapper perhaps even "historic".
Alan Webster, by e-mail
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