Published 6 October 2002 News Review 482nd article
Location lunch: Wood, Lynton-Edwards and Winner in Holland Park (Chris Taylor)
David Wilkinson, the general manager of The Dorchester, must have been traumatised by a sheep. I admire the Dorchester. It's named best London hotel in The Winner Guide, along with Claridge's. But when it comes to lamb their standard is well below my movie location caterers'.
I recently said to a manager at the Dorchester Grill: "How's the lamb?" He pulled a face.
"Is it on the trolley?" I asked. "It's prepared in the kitchen," was the answer.
"I'll have the roast beef," I said, "and a sample of the lamb." A side plate of lamb arrived. I took one bite and muttered: "Thanks for warning me." It was actively horrid. But not half as ghastly as the lamb I had last Sunday when speaking at a Variety Club tribute to my neighbour, the lyricist Don Black.
This was served to some 300 people in the Dorchester's main reception room. I looked down the top table and saw knives and forks lying on plates hardly eaten off. I asked a real food expert, Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber: "If that had been a blind tasting, would you have guessed lamb?"
"I'd have said some sort of deer," responded Andrew.
A few days earlier I ate delicious lamb in the car park of Holland Park. I was directing a commercial I starred in and wrote for the insurance company esure. It was filmed in streets bordering my house.
The crew base was the Holland Park car park where J&J, "caterers to the film and television industry", set up their portable kitchen. Clyde Lane, son of John, one of the "Js" in J&J, cooked us a terrific lunch. It included soup or various starters, then fried plaice, pasta, roast lamb with roast potatoes, a veggie dish and one of the most excellent steamed treacle puddings ever.
I sat at a posh table provided by Louis Abdilla, the best general manager the Belvedere's ever had. With me was Peter Wood, an extraordinary man who invented Direct Line insurance, thus cutting out the brokers and saving me - and many more - thousands of pounds on our premiums. Peter founded Direct Line, then sold out for a staggering amount. He now controls esure.
Also present was Little Mary Sunshine, aka Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, today making her photographic debut in this column. She greatly enjoyed her broccoli quiche. My roast potatoes were tiptop, if below the ones Michael Caine cooks.
I've used J&J at a number of my police memorial receptions and they did very well. British film crews eat the crews of any other country under the table. Or more accurately under the dining bus, because that's where they sit.
On arrival at 6.30am my crew ate a full English breakfast - bacon and eggs, hash brown, toast, marmalade, baked beans, black pudding, haddock, sausages, bubble and squeak, tea and coffee. Then a morning break of sausage rolls, bacon rolls, boiled eggs, beefburgers and more. Then lunch. For tea came fairy cakes, sandwiches, jam rolls - I could go on. All this marvellous food for the extraordinarily low price, including J&J travelling with their kitchen, of around £15 per person for full breakfast, morning break, a generous lunch and a big tea. That's less than one portion of bizarre lamb at the Dorchester.
You could rent J&J if you're planning a garden party. I also recommend conventional caterers such as Rhubarb, who did a stunning job at Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sydmonton Festival weekend this summer. Or Mecco, who provided a splendid lunch at Queen's Club when Sir Frank and Lady Dawn Lowe gave their annual bash for the Stella Artois tennis finals. I've personally remained loyal to caterers The Admirable Crichton, run by Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh. You expect to see him in a striped blazer holding a tennis racket. He did my last "at home".
The most recent and magnificently catered event I attended was to celebrate Gordon Ramsay's new reign at The Connaught in Mayfair. On Tuesday the last atrophied old dump in London broke free from years of pomposity and neglect as our Gord introduced his protege, Angela Hartnett.
She's taken over cooking in both the Grill and the main dining room, absurdly renamed Menu. Ms Hartnett was total charm and delight, unlike her brochure photograph where she looked bored and weary.
I was particularly pleased to meet a bright and instantly likeable young Swedish lady who'll be restaurant manager of both restaurants. You previously had to wear a tie to sip tea at the Connaught. Gordon's gathering included men without jackets. The Menu restaurant has no dress code. The Grill Room literature reads, "for gentlemen jackets are preferred".
I never thought I'd see the day when the Connaught acquired a brain. Thank you, Gordon.
I take great exception to the generalisation in Winner's Dinners (September 22) that all Irish people exude charm. I am 100% Irish and am (my acquaintances - I have no friends - tell me) totally charmless.
Borris Threar, Fulham.
I have over the years experienced time and again the wondrous cuisine of Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc. Last week my husband and I decided to try a chef relatively new on the scene - Heston Blumenthal. It is a shame that so early in his career he exerts such arrogance, which filters down to his frontline staff. We asked if my fish dish could be warmed up and were told 45 degrees was the correct temperature - like it or lump it. Please, Michael, do not support pretentious chefs (Winner's Dinners last week). Try Chef Stefan's food at Candela in Palma. The meal we had two weeks ago was heavenly and his staff were delightful.
K J Nicholson, Esher.
Still euphoric over the European golf victory at the Belfry my mind nevertheless turned to my catering non-experience there. A request for dressing branded us as troublemakers, and anyway there wasn't any. They forgot my starter and my main dish came five minutes after everyone else's. I paid £18 for soggy prawns, solid mackerel and anaemic salmon. Asked my opinion of our £125 meal, I said it was dreadful. All I got in return was a look of total amazement.
Sandy Gauld, Telford.
Despite having no "culinary credentials" (Winner's Dinners last week), I offered a "clear opinion" about a less than historic apple tartlet served at a wedding meal at the Royal hotel in Scunthorpe. The manager insisted that as it was a bought-in set menu, nothing could be done, before adding defensively: "Anyway, it was a ridiculous choice. I wouldn't have chosen that for my wedding, would you?"
Julian Corlett, Scunthorpe.
At what stage in his love affair with La Reserve will Michael Winner reveal that it suffers from a nasty disfigurement? I refer to the piped music, which makes the lounge uninhabitable to everyone, except me that is. But then, I'm mostly deaf.
Douglas Brown, Malmesbury.
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times. co.uk.