Published 6 January 2002 Style Magazine 443rd article
It's a mug's game: Tony Blair and Michael winner in Gateshead
As the overeating excesses of Christmas and new year fade into memory, I think about how pleasing is a simple cup of tea or coffee prepared at home. Or hot buttered toast, or a good old fry-up, or scrambled eggs.
Being a bachelor, I'm expert in all these matters. Take coffee. The best way to prepare it is to take two equal-size mugs. Place in one of them two heaped teaspoonfuls of freshly ground coffee beans. I use Blue Mountain. Place in the other mug some brown crystal sugar and about an inch and a half of milk. Boil water. Pour the boiled water into the mug with the coffee and stir briefly. Take a fine sieve and pour the water with the coffee through the sieve into the mug with the milk and sugar. Voila - a perfect cup of coffee. The considerable food expert Marco Pierre White visited my house one morning and was given this personal brew. He spoke of it with reverent admiration and returned many times to partake of it again.
Likewise, teapots are irrelevant. You just do the same with tea. Place tea leaves in one mug, milk and white sugar in another. Pour boiling water into the mug with the tea, sieve through to the other and you have instant tea of spectacular quality. I try to use Earl Grey. Bur for some reason my kitchen has a staggering variety of teas in it, so I mix them up.
I once told my personal scrambled-egg recipe to Ava Gardner, and she said: "That's how Frank did his eggs." She meant Sinatra, not Skinner. Take six eggs. I always take six, even if only I am to eat them. Add a generous amount of milk. Take a large frying pan, put lots of butter in it. Whisk eggs and milk while heating frying pan at peak gas. When the eggs are frothy and the butter is spitting, chuck in the eggs and milk and stir with a wooden spoon. In seconds, you have delicious scrambled eggs.
I also make an incredible salad sandwich with mayonnaise and can knock up a delicious toasted sliced-steak sandwich or a sausage sandwich. I'm a cert for Gordon Ramsay's Roadside Cafe when it opens.
There's something about tea and biscuits, or tea and toast, that's unbeatable. A fried-egg sandwich with a cup of tea on a film set in the cold early morning is as great a taste as I've ever experienced. J&J Catering, John Engleman and John Lane, are world experts. Or a cup of coffee, even if it's instant, at a time when you need it is deeply satisfying. In this week's exclusive photo you see me and
Tone sharing a joke over a cup of coffee. We're at the Sunhill Old People's Home in Gateshead, having a natter before one of my police ceremonies.
There are other simple tastes I remember with great affection. Fortnum & Mason used to do a mont blanc of incredible quality in its Fountain restaurant. This was two meringues encasing cream and chestnut puree. And what happened to those cakes with marzipan round the outside and four different-coloured squares in the middle?
I'll snap out of reminiscing and relate an extraordinary recent event at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's. The restaurant bill was sent to my house. One item puzzled me: "Transfer from Fumoir £17.15." My French dictionary said "fumoir" was "a smoking shed for curing meat or fish". A Gordon Ramsay executive, Chris Hutcheson, explained: "The fumoir is owned by Claridge's. If a guest of the restaurant has a drink or cigar there before or after dining, the charge will be added to the main bill." We hadn't entered the fumoir, incorrectly used as the word for a bar. But my guest, perhaps fearful of the effect of Gordon's chicken pie, had ordered a stomach-settling Fernet-Branca. It was served at our table. This was the £7.15, which I saw included a 10% "discretionary service charge".
I'd been assured Gordon Ramsay never put service charges on their bills. But there was one on the Fernet-Branca. It could have been a lot of money if we'd had expensive spirits or aperitifs. Why should a customer be told categorically there was no service charge when on part of the bill there was one? This is Claridge's, not a used-car lot in Balham.
Chris Cowdray, Claridge's general manager, wrote that he appreciated my concern, adding: "We are in the process of resolving this as a matter of urgency." The restaurant had already been open for many weeks. No "urgency" came along until I complained. But then that's often the case.
Michael Winner's walkout from Giggetto er Pescatore in Rome (December 23) was much tamer than I'd hoped for. Surely he could have turned over the table, smashed some crockery and even slapped a waiter. As a show of pique at surly service and piped music, it was less than volcanic. But at least he did demonstrate that not all Italians are brimming with charm.
Richard Fletcher, Burton-upon-Trent
The next time Mr Winner visits the holy city, perhaps he should consider dining at L'Eau Vive on Via Monterone, where a group of nuns led by a mother superior provides not only a most satisfactory and varied menu and wine list, but also exemplary service. Clients are advised beforehand that at 9pm the lights will be dimmed and the sisters, carrying candles, will sing the Angelus. I wonder what response Michael would get if he waved his napkin at that particular head waiter?
Ken Scholfield, by e-mail
I was recently taken to lunch at Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. It was, in the words of Mr Winner, both a "treat" and "historic". However, when the cheese trolley came, I was bewildered to discover that the restaurant only served French cheeses. I do think it a great shame that British chefs seem so reluctant to promote British cheeses - there are some great ones out there.
Fiona McLean, by e-mail
How many restaurants has Michael Winner written about scathingly because of their piped music? The Rome experience (December 23) is the best example yet of how he gives himself an unnecessarily hard time. Why not refuse to sit down once he hears the music and simply leave - immediately.
Joseph Sinclair, London
Once again, Michael Winner gives vent to his obsession with The Waterside Inn (December 16). To compare this establishment with a motorway cafe shows that his palate is incapable of knowing the difference. Michel Roux's charm? Recently I took my nearest and dearest to a birthday lunch. Roux left the kitchen and inquired of my eight-year-old granddaughter if she found the meal to her liking. She said the soup was "beautiful". I don't suppose it had ever been described thus - he beamed and thanked her. I have long valued Michael as a restaurant critic, but I now realise he is really doing his day job - acting the part under a good director.
Bernard Russell, London