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Gordon plunges over the edge on a hard doughnut

Published 8 June 2003
News Review
517th article

Cafe society: Winner with Stuart Gillies and Gordon Ramsay (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Nine years ago Michael Caine recommended the Aubergine in Chelsea and its young chef Gordon Ramsay. We went there. I wrote Gordon deserved a Michelin star. He got one. Years later I went to Gordon Ramsay, Gordon's own restaurant in another part of Chelsea. He had two Michelin stars. I wrote he deserved a third. Gordon got it. I now say Gordon should get a knighthood. Let's wait and see.

I both like and admire Gordon. But from time to time we have little tiffettes. like a couple of old queens. We ruffle our feathers, strut about, smooth them down, and are friends again.

I was particularly looking forward to Gordon's latest excursion, into what was Vong on the north side of the Berkeley hotel, Belgravia. There he's opened the Boxwood Cafe. In interviews Gordon spoke of doing hamburgers and other cafe-like food, including pommes souffles with almost everything. That I didn't believe. They're little fried, blown-up potato bags. Very time consuming and tough to get right. Gordon tried for me at Claridge's but didn't quite make it.

They're not on the Boxwood Cafe menu, but Gordon personally did some anyway. This time he came up trumps. They were the best pommes souffles ever.

The Boxwood Cafe bears no resemblance whatsoever, in appearance or menu, to a real cafe. As Gord and Winnie are going through one of their love-ins, I won't report him to the Trading Standards Office for misrepresentation under the Trade Descriptions Act. Instead I'll say that the highly posh restaurant named the Boxwood Cafe is very good indeed. That's if you want another highly posh restaurant with staff creeping about with peak discretion in an elegant room where you can hear yourself talk.

The food resembles cafe fodder as much as I resemble Elizabeth Hurley. The night I went, Gordon came to the table and showed us some River Wye elvers in a shallow bowl of water. They looked like hair-cuttings. When Gordon prodded them, they wriggled. He served them on thyme toast. One of the great tastes.

The real chef is Stuart Gillies, who was with Angela Hartnett at the Connaught. I love Angela's food but I had a horrific experience there recently when the man in charge of the restaurant that day. Mark Hastings, was more ridiculous than any restaurant employee I've ever encountered.

This is rare for Gordon's staff. Geraldine rightly commented at the Boxwood how clever he must be to find so many good people to run his restaurants.

We got a freebie of some Parmesan-fried courgette flowers with San Daniele ham and sweet onion. This was delicious and totally un-cafe-like. You won't get a cuppa tea and a bun from our Gord at the Berkeley.

Geraldine got a freebie smoked salmon and sevruga caviar croque monsieur with cream cheese. Another regular cafe dish. I don't think. But it was marvellous. For my main course I had the grilled rib eye chop with marrowbone and braised challots. Absolutely superb. Then, when everything was going so well, the meal took a plunge over the precipice.

For dessert I ordered warm sugared doughnuts with blood orange yoghurt sorbet. The sorbet was fine. The doughnuts were among the most revolting things I've ever forced myself to eat. The outside was both hard and chewy. They were clingy and revolting. Any discernible taste was horrid. I was given three. I left two and a half.

They reminded me of the absolute awfulness of the so-called French waffles Marco Pierre White once served at the Mirabelle. I wrote then: "What Marco knows about waffles could be written on the head of a pin and still leave room for the collected works of Jackie Collins."

I say the same of Gordon regarding his doughnuts. Marco took the waffles off the menu. Gordon should do the same with his doughnuts. Alternatively, he could send his chef to The Square in Bruton Street, Mayfair, where Philip Howard makes the most delicious round doughnuts. So historic I always take some home in a bag.

  • Now to the Sandy Lane hotel, Barbados. Its executive chef, Mark Patten, recently left for the lnterContinental in Kowloon. For four years he managed Sandy Lane's restaurants with enormous skill. He was also the greatest meeter and greeter with a wonderful open charm.

    He tells me he departed because he was hoping to move into management, where I think he'd be superb. Sadly, Colm Hannon, the hotel's excellent general manager, wouldn't have him as his deputy. I'm sorry about that. Particularly as the man he chose has no charm and is low on my list of hotel employees. I'll be kind and not mention his name. That's what I'm known for. Kindness.

    Winner's letters

    Mr Winner, a man of much pomp but little circumstance, enjoys knocking the Swiss. He would benefit from spending more time in their country. As many of his more entertaining acquaintances have discovered, Switzerland offers long, steep walks at high altitudes, of benefit to both mind and waistline - areas that Mr Winner would do well to refine.
    Tim Abegg, St Moritz

    Michael Winner wrote last week that La Mamounia planted flowers in the beds for him. We are obviously not as important as him because a week ago the flowerbeds were completely void of plants. Perhaps they put them in for Mr W and then took them out again when they knew we were visiting!
    Clive Colman, Torquay

    During dinner at Le Gavroche, feeling rather warm, I removed my jacket. Within two minutes the head waiter asked me to put it on again as I was breaking a "house rule". Reluctantly I obeyed. My friend was more angry than I and called the head waiter back, asking him politely and in perfect French what they would have done if I'd refused. He replied: "Un scandale, monsieur." He added he would have to call for the management. I pointed out there were women in the restaurant in sleeveless garments and no jackets. He replied: "That's not the same."
    Timothy Allen, Greenwich

    Staff at the Dorchester happily take in riffraff (Winners Letters, last week). We recently worked our way around the Monopoly board on a pub crawl from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair. For Park Lane we chose the Dorchester. I entered unshaved, dressed in jeans and sat in the lobby for 10 minutes. The staff were most welcoming and showed me the bar. The service was efficient and one chap helped me into a seat. The free nuts were lovely too.
    Robin Whiting, Norfolk

    Avoid hotels owned by "mine host". Beneath the thin veneer of bonhomie beats the (heart?) of a toad. Basil Fawlty without the laughs. A complaint is taken as a personal insult. An apology would be an emotional sacrifice. Stay at hotels that are part of a chain. There, staff and manager have a collective responsibility to the company and the customer.
    Patrick Nolan, Leeds

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