Published 3 February 2002 Style Magazine 447th article
The Palms court: Michael Winner and the Warner Music crowd (Dinah Lagoudakos)
Mrs Lagoudakos is my principal receptionist. She was once Miss Great Britain. She's now married with two children and lives on the Wirral. When she dines with her friend Gilda, they often go to Palms, just off Kensington High Street, and share the bill. This seems a bit unfair as Gilda has her own enormously successful lighting business and is very rich. Mrs Lagoudakos is not in the same league at all. I don't understand why Gilda can't treat Mrs Lagoudakos to a slap-up dinner in a proper restaurant, as opposed to going Dutch in a place largely used by secretaries and shoppers.
Even though I have many failings (well, a few), I'm very generous with my hospitality. To which you may say: "Then why did you take Mrs Lagoudakos to lunch at Palms instead of to Gordon Ramsay?" There's no answer to that other than to report Mrs Lagoudakos has been treated to posh meals now and then, but one mustn't spoil the staff.
So on a day my cook was off and I had to eat out, we were driven in stately fashion the few yards from my house to Campden Hill Road and settled at an extremely wobbly table in a window corner of Palms. Nicholas Jones, the manager, came and turned the table round. This made no difference whatsoever. Its wobble was completely unaffected.
I'd just ordered still water and received something odd called Cerelia when Mrs Lagoudakos said: "My bird's just been eaten." "What bird? Who ate it?" I asked, feigning interest. "My cousin's dog," said Mrs Lagoudakos. I laughed. "I'm very upset," cautioned Mrs Lagoudakos. "It's not funny." Apparently, she'd had the bird four years. It was now a severely damaged and possibly dead cockatiel.
I noted, even though it was winter, Palms had small metal chairs and tables outside. Inside, there was a long bar, real palm trees and a pleasant, whitewashed atmosphere. I ordered hot garlic bread, then two starters, a chorizo-sausage-and-mozzarella pizza and crisp-fried calamari with a lime dill sauce. For a main course, I asked for the Palms burger with bacon and cheese. Mrs Lagoudakos ordered a salad of mozzarella, avocado, plum tomatoes and fresh basil vinaigrette, followed by home-made salmon fishcakes. My calamari were unspeakable. They weren't crisp, they were floppy and rubbery. The pizza base was very poor and the topping far too spicy. Mrs Lagoudakos, who'd been before and knew the ropes, liked her salad greatly. She was now knocking back chardonnay, which might have influenced her vote.
"You were quite adventurous to try the pizza," said Mrs Lagoudakos. "Not everybody would consider a pizza adventurous," I replied. "I would here, because it's not a pizza place," responded Mrs Lagoudakos, revealing northern wit and wisdom.
"Is my bird totally dead yet?" mused Mrs L. "Who says it's not dead?" I asked, determined to show interest. "Takis [that's her husband] says it looks dead but it might still breathe," said Mrs L. She told me the bird's name was Lucky. Which, since it was three-quarters eaten by a dog, doesn't describe its life very accurately.
My mouth was still burning from the chorizo. Our main courses were taking for ever. A waitress would appear. I'd look eagerly to see if she was heading our way. She wasn't. But, eventually, my hamburger arrived. It wasn't a patch on the Ivy or Sticky Fingers nearby. But fairly pleasant. Mrs L's fishcakes were very good indeed. Her dessert, creme brulee, was okay and my banana-and-caramel tart - which had "Palms" written on it in chocolate powder - was cheap and cheerful. Our Italian waitress, Emma Nemor, had her tongue pierced and bejewelled, and also one nostril. "Are any more places pierced?" I asked, whereupon Emma revealed her navel.
Palms was quite buzzy now, in a secretarial way. A jolly group of girls at a table opposite turned out to be from Warner Music, which has offices in Kensington Church Street. They were celebrating the departure of a colleague who was going to EMI. I learnt all this when I wandered over to be photographed with them. A nice bunch.
Palms is quite pleasant. But when the cook's off, I'd rather get something delicatessen-like brought in from Harry Morgan's in St John's Wood. It's less sociable, but tastier.
PS: For animal lovers, I'll complete the story of Mrs Lagoudakos's cockatiel. It was touch and go for a while - and the vet called it "a miracle" - but Lucky lived. He doesn't have many feathers left. He looks like one of those cartoon birds that's been blown up. But I'm assured he's fit and cheerful. There's a happy ending for you.
My wife and I disagree about a few things, but we definitely agree that Michael Winner looks like a koala.
Greg Butler-Davis, Palma de Mallorca
Marcus Dunberg (Letters, January 13) recommends Les Bookinistes in Paris. It is one of a string of bistros belonging to Guy Savoy, whose very expensive and eponymous base is near the Arc de Triomphe. As a frequenter of his less pricey establishments, I found Les Bookinistes rather so-so. I can, however, thoroughly recommend both Le Butte Chaillot, near the Trocadero, and Version Sud, off Avenue Friedland, for great value.
Peter Bates, Woodmancote, Sussex.
As a newcomer to Rome, I tried out only one of Winner's recent recommendations: Pierluigi on the Piazza dei Ricci. There was no need to go elsewhere. The food was outstanding, the service efficient and friendly, and all for £20 per head, a la carte. I ate there every night of my week's stay. On New Year's Eve, they served a nine-course banquet (for rather more than £20), which included salmon fried in a horseradish and poppy-seed crust. Historic indeed. This is welcome proof that Winner is no food snob.
Jules Lubbock, via e-mail
I would like to put myself forward as a stand-in for Georgina should she be unavailable or fed up. I can see past all Mr Winner's bluster and think it would be jolly (and jolly expensive) to be his lunch guest. My birthday is coming up, and my last trip out was to Pizza Express with my two children. What says the great man?
MB, via e-mail.
Mr Michael Colesnic (Letters, January 13) misses the point. Mr Winner is not a food critic: he's a critic of restaurants, their people, ambience, decor - and, yes, the food as part of it. Hotels and restaurants are a microcosm of life, and Mr Winner's job is to observe, comment and raise the temperature. You can keep your dry food critics. I, for one, have my own taste buds, thank you very much.
Chris David, Vale of Glamorgan.
Is there no limit to Michael Winner's pomposity? In a recent column (January 20), he used 15% of the space to inform us that, in contrast to other food critics, he spends his own money when dining out to review a restaurant. As he regularly spends a good deal more of his column space telling us of his high-spending lifestyle, it is obvious he can well afford it.
Peter Frankel, via e-mail
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