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When the chips are down, a quiet man gets chatty

Published 24 November 2001
News Review
489th article





Some people realise that and don't expect a flamboyant performance when they see me. Others do not, and are disappointed. Victoria Mather put it rather well on the BBC radio programme Loose Ends. She said: "I loved The Winner Guide to Dining & Whining because it is such a fine comic creation. It's one of the finest pieces of comic writing. Michael Winner is a comic creation, a wonderful piece of pantomime in our dull lives, although he says he's a quiet man."

I am a quiet man, though mercifully not of the Iain Duncan Smith school. When I'm in a restaurant I see people craning toward me, hoping to witness a scene. Sometimes they actually stop by and say: "We were very disappointed, we expected fireworks." Or words to that effect. I thank them for coming over, wish them well and leave some highly disillusioned readers.

I was very quiet when I entered Compo's in Manchester Street, Oldham. Manchester Street is one of those bland thoroughfares you don't expect to stop in. Compo's looks like a large hut with signs such as "Licensed family restaurant. Kids eat free". I suppose that counted me out. It’s a big room with wooden hoop-backed chairs with spindles, a green carpet with darker green squiggles, fake roses in bowls on the window ledges, piped music and photos of TV shows around the walls. We had Last of the Summer Wine for our booth.

I ordered "Jumbo cod, large succulent fish in golden batter £6.80". Geraldine took the smaller version at £5.60. They were served with chips and mushy peas. I had a cup of tea as well. It was absolutely delicious. A terrific meal. The fish was fresh. The batter was excellent. The chips were from good potatoes, crisp on the outside.

"Beautifully done," I recorded. Geraldine said: "The fish is no comparison with the fish I had last night." She was referring to the awful sea bass she'd been served at the Stanneylands hotel in nearby Wilmslow. That was a horrific meal with dreadful service and ghastly, pretentious customers.

The service at Compo's was exemplary. They even do a business lunch for £6.75 and one for senior citizens for £4.25. I'd have qualified for that.

The young waitress, Lindsey Hope, said: "Can I ask who you are?" "I'm nobody," I replied. "I'm just a customer eating fish and chips." Then someone must have told her, because she came back to say sweetly: "I lead a very sheltered life."

"So do I, dear," I replied.

"It's very good," said Geraldine of her fish, "because it's not greasy." I immediately put that onto my tape. "I'm not going to say anything else," said Geraldine.

The clientele were a delight. There were old age pensioners taking advantage of the special rate, some kids. Everyone was polite and normal. I went over to a nice-looking couple, Mrs Joan Reed, aged 86, and her daughter Diana Eversley, 62. Mum had recently moved to Oldham to be near her daughter. We had a chat and Geraldine took a photograph.

Then I went off to have a biscuit and a cup of tea with Tone. The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, the prime minister, to you. He was unveiling one of my memorials to a police officer slain on duty further down Manchester Street.

I asked my driver, local Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealer Steve Gallimore, how long it would take to get from the ceremony site to the private jet terminal at Manchester airport. "Twenty minutes," he replied.

"I don't believe you," I responded. Everyone says travel distances will be shorter than they really are. "I'll bet £50 you won't get there in 20 minutes," I said.

Steve shot into his 1978 long-wheel-base Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce and off we sped. Believe me, speed was of the essence. Behind the stand for the ceremony, plastic traffic cones blocked Steve's way. He was out of the car like lightning, throwing them aside as if he were on a TV game show. We lurched about the back seats as Steve squealed round corners.

At a roundabout I said: "Steve, this is not a sedate way to drive your customers." He just charged on.

He reached the private reception area of the airport, having squiggled round various tiny approach roads, with 15 seconds to spare. I could hardly stand up I was so shaken. But Steve got his £50. He deserved it.



Winner's letters

We recently had a family lunch at the Dorchester - a perfectly reasonable meal for £22 a head. However, the portions of dessert were rather small and the youngest of the family asked for a little more chocolate cake. When the bill came we were charged an extra £8.50 for an "additional dessert". When we spoke to the restaurant manager he said it had "a strict portion control system". We have a strict non-exploitation policy and will, unsurprisingly, not return.
Richard Joyson, Weybridge

A friend and I recently went to a local pub that serves excellent food. My friend ordered moules and I chose the grilled sardines. The couple next to us ordered sauteed pigeon breast salad. A charming young waitress served it with the warning: "I have been told to tell everybody that it has been shot, so you may find a bullet in it." I nearly choked on a sardine bone for which I had been given no warning.
Jean Free, Tunbridge Wells

The otherwise excellent Idle Rocks hotel at St Mawes, Cornwall, has a way to forestall complaints of slow service. A note in the rooms explains that the restaurant cannot provide meals "at the speed some guests would prefer". If it is busy, "please accept that there is likely to be delay before your order is dealt with". Dinner "is not meant to be a rushed affair but rather an evening's entertainment". Thus warned, we switched our booking to bed and breakfast.
Francis Bennion, Budleigh Salterton

I must disagree with your correspondent (Winner's Letters, November 3) who was so disappointed with Harry's Bar in Venice. My wife and I have just had a wonderful evening there. The food was marvellous. The waiters were very helpful and fun and the chocolate cake is simply the best on the planet.
Ash Marston, Peebles

With reference to the baby and its parents being denied entry to Rick Stein's Seafood Resturant in Padstow due to their pram conflicting with fire regulations (Winner's Letters, last week). I say full marks to the restaurant. No doubt the real reason for doing so was out of concern for other diners who might want to enjoy their meal without listening to a screaming baby.
Malcolm Rodker, Poole

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times. co.uk