A waitress coy about her phone number - and the cutlery
Published 29 December 2002 News Review 494th article
At Truc Vert: Marketta, Alacoque, Winner, Cameron and Joanna (Terry O'Neill)
I've been known to say when I like a place, but am not totally overwhelmed by it: "I'm not making a reservation for New Year's Eve." This is just as well in the case of Truc Vert, an all-day restaurant in Mayfair, because it's closing at 5pm on December 31 instead of its normal 9pm, which wouldn't have helped much either.
Truc Vert is the favourite of a distinguished lunch-group consisting of Doug Hayward, tailor to the stars, and Terry O'Neill, the enduringly excellent photographer. He used to live nearby but now walks from Battersea almost daily to join Doug. Regular members include Philip Kingsley, who has a local "save your hair" establishment, and John Gold, the supremo of Tramp.
For my lunch at Truc Vert - which is French for Green Thing - I joined Doug and Terry. It's spacious with a high ceiling and a bar. The piped music was too loud.
I asked the waitress for her name and she wrote Marketta on the table. I asked where she came from. "The Czech Republic," she said, adding: "Do you want my phone number as well?" "Okay, write your phone number down," I suggested encouragingly. She didn't.
I ordered spiced crab cakes with watercress and tartare sauce to start. Marketta brought them. I said: "It's bad enough you didn't give me your phone number. You also haven't given me a knife and fork."
The crab cakes were phenomenal. "The value for money here is unbelievable," advised Terry. My crab cakes were £7.25. Reasonable. I tried the freshly made pumpkin and broccoli broth. That was very good too.
My main course of Toulouse sausages with braised cabbage, red onion, tomato and harissa was all right. I'm not sure I like Toulouse sausages.
The owner is a pleasant man from New Zealand, Russell Cameron. He said they made all their cakes and bread on the premises.
Marketta returned and I decided to keep up the gag. I hasten to assure you I'd no intention of calling her even if she gave me her phone number. Although she was attractive.
"What's your second name?" I asked. "Forget my second name, it's too difficult," said Marketta. "You don't want to know. And I don't know my phone number."
"What about your mobile?" I asked. "I can't remember the mobile number," said Marketta, smiling.
Another waitress, Joanna, came to take the dessert order. She said: "I don't have a second name." She was from Poland and had been in England only three months.
Then a third waitress, Alacoque, appeared. She was Irish. I decided to try a chocolate brownie, carrot cake and a passion fruit sorbet. Alacoque brought me a chocolate cake. I said: "I don't want an upright cake, I want the flat one." She left the chocolate cake. I noticed she'd brought coffee cake as well.
She returned with the brownie biscuit. It was hard, but excellent. The chocolate cake was just good in a rather English way. The sorbet was too creamy. The coffee cake was amazing. We finished and I said to Alacoque: "Get the owner up. Tell him Mr Winner wants to take his photo."
"He'd love that," said Alacoque.
"Nice feeling in this place," observed Doug. This is true. Marketta came with the bill. I offered her £20. "For this will you give me your phone number?" I asked. "No," said Marketta smiling, "give me yours."
I gave her the £20 anyway to share among the girls. Terry O'Neill offered to take the picture. He kept going backwards outside the back door of the restaurant and down a step into the street.
"Don't do that, Terry!" I screamed. "If you go too low it makes me look fat." There's an exhibition of pathetic desperation.
Marketta, standing with us for the photo, kept repeating: "I must go. I must go. I have to serve the customers."
"No you don't," I said. She replied: "Yes I do, it's my job."
"Your job is to stay here and get publicity for the restaurant," I instructed. So she stayed. Perhaps I should write and ask for her phone number.
I'm currently baking on the Sandy Lane hotel beach in Barbados. For New Year's Eve I've forsaken my usual location, a private room by the sea at the Carambola restaurant. There I normally gather showbusiness folk. I'm accommodating my delightful friend Simon Cowell. He wants to be at Sandy Lane, adjacent to their spectacular fireworks. So Simon, Chris Rea, whose new CD is a stunning success, ex-Spice Girl Mel C, me and others will now sit on an exterior terrace by the beach. I've been in Barbados for 20 years on New Year's Eve. Nine times it rained. We shall see whether Simon's choice makes him a hero. Or something less.
If Michael Winner with his expensive transport, tape recorders and beautiful female companions, plus his now famous face, still finds reason to complain, what chance have us mere mortals got? If he'd had to endure the appalling dinner party with myself, wife and five friends at the Cheltenham Park hotel, he would have gone berserk.
David Wallace, Sandy, Bedfordshire
Michael Winner's reference to La Bonne Auberge (Winner's Dinners, last week) is a little out of date. It has been reincarnated as the Pizzeria Toscana, and although I have not eaten there I suspect that it can safely be crossed off Michael's list of places at which he would enjoy a memorable Christmas dinner.
Michael Parsey, Antibes
Is there a self-help group for people who have written to Winner's Letters? No sooner had I been "published" than the abusive phone calls started from friends along the vein of "you sad b******", followed by "I don't read it, you realise, but just noticed it in passing".
A Nonymous (Alan R Horten) by e-mail
I am staying at the Sandy Lane and am very disappointed, observing Michael Winner, that so far he has not thrown any tantrums. He is, however, going a very strange shade of bright red.
Jackie St Clair, Kensington
At the Michelin three-star Paris restaurant L'Ambroisie, I ordered whisky on the rocks, so the waiter flooded my drink with water. My wife declared her chocolate souffle uncooked. The wine waiter decanted every wine, red or white, and when I asked why, he just shrugged his shoulders. The head waiter was charming when not avoiding my gaze. The bill was £300 for a not very fun evening.
Peter Vogl, St John's Wood
Recently I dined at the Atlantic Bar and Grill in London. We could not be seated until at least 30 minutes after our booked time. Our food was cold and obtaining service near impossible. I wrote to the manager, who did not acknowledge the letter. How does this venue manage to remain so popular?
Katharine Sharp Buckinghamshire