Caine's converted me to sushi - not a lot of people know that
Published 23 March 2003 News Review 506th article
A knight out: Winner helps Caine celebrate his birthday at Nobu (Terry O'Neill)
Sometimes the very best restaurants can do a poor job for one table. On occasion Michael Winner goes to a restaurant in a particularly stupid mood and has no idea what he's talking about. Of the two, that’s more likely.
I'm driven to these thoughts in respect of London's elegant and massively successful restaurant, Nobu, in Mayfair. I went over five years ago and didn't enjoy it. Since then everyone has said to me: "You're crazy, it's wonderful."
So I was pleased when Sir Michael Caine invited me to his recent 70th birthday dinner at Nobu and chuffed when his incredibly beautiful wife Shakira (one of my all-time favourite people) asked me to propose the toast to the birthday boy.
I looked in my 1963 diary to check when I first met Michael after seeing him give an outstanding performance in a play called Next Time I'll Sing for You. He made no attempt to articulate in the posh voices that haunted the West End stage. He was charismatically himself.
Unfortunately, I could find no diary entry for our first meeting. Then I discovered I had two diaries for 1963 and in the second, under Saturday, March 9, were notes of our pub visit after the show. So that was a significant day. It was the first time I met Michael Caine and the last time I went to a pub for a drink.
Michael spent the evening saying he'd never be a star. That, aged 30, time had passed him by. I assured him he was brilliant and totally wrong with his glum opinion. Happily, I was right.
Almost 40 years later to the day I climbed the stairs to Nobu. I was greeted by two smiling receptionists and led by a charming gentleman to their private room. Most restaurant private rooms are horrid. Box-like and confined. The Nobu one is splendid. It's large, simply but well decorated and with a glazed turret skylight on the ceiling.
The canapes were efficiently dispatched. I can't remember what they were, but each one was delicious. Serving 24 people in a private room can be a nightmare. At another birthday in a private room it was over an hour and a half between first and second courses. This would have been fatal in Nobu because the menu listed eight courses, excluding desserts. Fortunately, the service was exemplary.
We started with "edamame". I have a problem here. I recall I liked it, because all the food was historic. It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. But I didn't bring my tape to put everything on record as it was a private party. So I later turned to my Larousse Gastronomique, which lists food and how to prepare it. Edamame wasn't there. The nearest they had was Edam, "a Dutch cows' milk cheese".
We then had "yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno". Even I know sashimi is raw fish. But here it was so delicately decorated, with I know not what, it was memorable.
Nobu served each course on a plate for two people. I was sharing with Terry O'Neill's wife, the vivacious Laraine Ashton. Unfortunately, Laraine was not on a major diet, so I couldn't grab the lot without appearing rude.
Next we had "nasu miso". This is also absent from the Larousse. Although they do have nasi goreng, an Indonesian dish. "Are they the same?" I wondered.
Then came "lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing". Outstanding. Then a very tasty "rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce".
Throughout, the delicacy and skill of the food preparation were totally evident. Next was "black cod with miso" and then "anti-cucho Peruvian style spicy rib-eye steak". This may have been course number seven but I could have eaten it for ever.
Finally, before desserts, we had "assorted sushi". I don't normally like sushi. But I took a bit. Then another bit. I am now converted to sushi.
I don't remember what the desserts were. I do recall eating them avidly. Then I suddenly realised Michael Caine was standing up, thanking us for coming. And I hadn't proposed the toast on behalf of the guests!
Speaking before Michael Caine is all right, following him is ridiculous because he's such a brilliant speaker. We were all of us at that table lucky to share in the lives of Michael and Shakira.
As for the lad himself, he is simply the best. Not just as an actor, but more importantly, as a person. On top of that, he gave me a great dinner. A true friend indeed.
PS: As I left, the highly hospitable receptionists asked: "How did you like it?"
"Great,” I replied. "If I get permission from Sir Michael, I'll write about it."
Do you think if I support Tony Blair and George Bush in the Iraq conflict they will reward us by opening a new KFC drive-in near where I live? If not, I don't see the point in going against the United Nations. Do you have a bed in your bunker at Sandy Lane? Would be much appreciated. Might even be historic.
BS Hodge, Dundee
I agree with Winner's Dinners of March 9 about "enforced jollity". That's my expression for Christmas, birthdays and - overridingly - New Year's Eve. Mr Winner is most welcome, by prior arrangement, for something succulent out of the Rayburn 364 days of the year, but new year? No chance. The gates of my farm will be firmly locked at 18.00 hours on December 31 and will not be unlocked until 09.30 on January 1. No gatecrashers please.
John West, Old Earswick, York
During my visits to Barbados I always look forward to the Fanta you get on the island. I find that the taste and colour are much better than in the UK. I was recently surprised when requesting this soft drink that my hotel and all the best restaurants didn't stock it. The only option left was to go to the Esso garage opposite the Tamarind Cove hotel, where I found some. Where has all the Fanta gone?
Gregor Harvie, Glasgow
I was incensed by the comments from Fiona Wong (Winner's Letters, March 2) regarding lack of food on her flight to Grand Cayman. I'm a British Airways stewardess and the food on the 8½-hour flight to Nassau is good and ample. Ms Wong can't expect to be served food on the ground in Nassau because the ground staff would be cleaning the cabin and food was served an hour and a half before, anyway. Of course I don't agree no-frills airlines are better. By the way, I congratulate Mr Winner on his style of travel. If he ever needs a companion I should be delighted!
Louise Pegler, by e-mail
I'm sorry you missed out (Winner's Dinners, last week) on a meal at La Fosse in Cranborne. My family have had many a good meal there, including an excellent feast last Christmas Day. Try again, Michael.
Graham Mallett, Dorset
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