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Sketching out a masterpiece for the palate

Published 6 April 2003
News Review
508th article

Picture of contentment: Mourad Mazouz and Michael Winner at Sketch (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Enter Winner stage left, hand on head, faces audience and calls: "O catastrophe! Catastrophe is mine!" For the first time in over 35 years my tape-recorded notes of an event have vanished. They were never transcribed.

My voice recollections include a movie reconnaissance in 1974 when I recorded during a voodoo festival in Haiti as some nutty woman was biting the head off a chicken. In the CIA in 1972 I recorded in front of its head of internal security: "There's a sign here saying no tape recordings."

My current, unique loss concerns London's most extraordinary restaurant complex, Sketch in Mayfair. I chatted away to myself, noting all the food, the details of the decor, the history of the owner and of the restaurant manager in the upstairs, posh place called the Lecture Room. All gone. If you find a small Olympus tape with Winner wittering, please return it.

As it happens I did, unusually, retain both the menu and the bill. On such scant evidence, including a contribution from my enfeebled memory, I shall soldier on. If this piece is even less coherent than usual, you'll have to live with it.

A short while ago people were "oohing" and "aahing" about the amount of money, rumoured to be £15m, that was supposedly spent on a grand house in Conduit Street to turn it into the super-duper eating place of all time. The result is both spectacular and stunning.

You enter what could be an 18th century hallway. A strange, electric-light picture faces you, hanging on the wall of a landing. If you move your head speedily from side to side it forms the word Love.

Go through a door straight ahead and there's a buzzy, brilliantly designed lower restaurant, the Gallery, which I recall as wavy. This was packed, as was the bar the other side. On the right of the hallway is an attractive cafe called the Parlour, open only during the day. Some of the toilets have white egg-shaped cubicles, others glitter with Swarovski crystals, which look like tiny, fake diamonds. It's a fun place.

My tour guide was the owner, Mourad Mazouz, fondly known as Momo. Upstairs the more formal Lecture Room is in classical style. I'd heard this was unbelievably expensive. First courses and desserts £60 each, main courses over £100. This was exaggerated. Prices, including a "discretionary 12.5% service charge", ranged, for starters, from £33.75 to £54. Main courses are £50.60 to £84 and desserts a mere £31.50. In what is described on the menu as "Lunch casual Lecture Room", it says "Starter, main course, dessert £48"and on the line underneath "Starter, main course or main course, dessert £42". It took me a while to work that out.

We commenced with glasses of Krug champagne at £32.06 each. They were excellent. Various canapes appeared, all exquisite. The service was attentive enough, even for me.

I had "langoustine in three ways" to start. In fact, I had everything anyone ordered, because my guests were Marco Pierre White and his delightful wife Mati. Chefs, or in Marco's case ex-chefs, insist everyone tries everything.

Marco kept muttering it was the best food in London. I think that was partly to put down Gordon Ramsay, his ex-assistant chef. They're still going through a period of mutual disenchantment. I keep trying to make peace. So far with total lack of success.

My main course was "heart of Charolais fillet of beef, slow cooked and served pink; fondue of caramelised onion with watercress, oscietra caviar and salted capers. Cream of avocado with pressed caviar, beetroot sorbet". It was absolutely terrific. We all thought everything was marvellous.

I demurred only on the desserts. They were too clever by half. None of them was sweet. In fact, they were rather bitter. They included "liquorice soft caramel", also "campari jelly, coriander and green apple sorbet" and many more. I wasn't mad about any of them. But overall it's a superb place.

The guiding light behind the food is Pierre Gagnaire, the famed three-Michelin star French chef. When the Michelin Guide next comes out the Lecture Room should get one star and speedily rise to two or even three.

I can't remember much else so I'll switch to a recent lunch at the Connaught. The food by Angela Hartnett was, as ever, exemplary. I used to love roast beef on a trolley, but she does it on a dish with wine sauce and Yorkshire pud.

All the staff are wonderful. But the general manager, Anthony Lee, should do something about the doormen. They're the surliest, most unhelpful group ever. Are they planning a revolution, I wonder? They may as well. They're certainly no use to the customers.

Winner's letters

Congratulations on your accurate description of life at Suvretta House, St Moritz night. (Winner's Dinners, last week). We were sad to see a hotel, once one of the finest in the Alps, slide into pretentious mediocrity. Neither the quality of the food nor the arrogance of the restaurant manager Claudio Molinari have done much to restore the hotel to its former glory.
Eric and Peta Brown, Brockenhurst

Winner was way off the mark and unkind to Suvretta House, a superbly run establishment. We were treated magnificently. The surrounding country is a great walking area. But maybe you don't take much exercise!
Tony Jones, Swansea

I stayed at the Suvretta two years ago and was not impressed. It was like one of those grand places that had lost its grandeur and flair. I won't go back again.
Maurizio Spada, London

I wonder what you'd have made of our table at the Admiralty Restaurant in Somerset House. It was so close to the kitchen the door swung back and forth in my husband's face. Without apology, we were moved to a table so wobbly the glasses almost fell off. The restaurant was half-empty and the maitre d' didn't bother to wish us good night.
Mrs N Seaward, London

I wonder if British Airways executives have tasted the vile slop they pass off as coffee. The stewardess on my flight obviously hadn't as I was greeted with wide-eyed amazement when I returned my still full cup to her trolley. The ham roll was okay - and it only cost me £300 to qualify for one.
James Woods, Staffordshire

I'm sorry Michael Winner described his hired Volkswagen Passat as "ghastly" (Winner's Dinners, last week). Ours is reliable, comfortable and easy to reverse in a confined space. The last quality clearly required by Mr Winner. He should have let Geraldine drive. She'd have appreciated its finer points.
Felicity Crofts, Nottingham

The last time Michael Winner visited a pub tor a drink was March 9, 1963 (Winner's Dinners, March 23). Now I know why I find him somewhat divorced from reality.
Leeyson M James, Eastleigh

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