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Calm down, dear - it's only someone impersonating me

Published 3 August 2003
News Review
525th article

The real McCoy: Winner with Lelu and Schulz at Les Agaves (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Danka Schulz was a bit upset with me. No, I'll change that. She was very upset. "You made a reservation for eight people one Saturday night during the grand prix. The concierge at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo booked for you. Then you didn't turn up!" she said.

"Danka, darlink," I responded, "this happens all over the world. I wasn't in the south of France for the grand prix. Someone impersonated me."

"Not only that, your daughter was in the other night," said Danka. "I don't have a daughter," I explained.

Danka continued: "She said to me. 'My father sends his greeting.' She came in a limousine from La Reserve de Beaulieu."

By now you may be wondering: "What is this restaurant so difficult to get into, people use Winner's name as leverage?" It's a small bistro opposite the railway station in Beaulieu called Les Agaves. Although I'd visited Beaulieu for years, I'd never heard of it until lyricist supreme Hal David - Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Alfie, I Say a Little Prayer and others - recommended it as we sat by the pool of La Reserve.

I can't believe my non-daughter went from La Reserve to Les Agaves in a limousine. Even I can manage the walk. You head towards the old part of Beaulieu where you expect to see Leslie Caron, in period costume, exiting one of the superb 19th-century buildings with balconies, pillars and statues "holding up" the floors.

On the noticeboard outside I was surprised to see a photograph of me in this newspaper dated March 30, 1997. I was at Memories of China, Kensington, a place I no longer frequent. A letter writer, Russell Palmer, of London SW7, was saying I might be interested in Les Agaves. "We got a lot of business from that," said Danka.

I didn't heed Mr Palmer, because I went, for the first time, nearly a year ago. "A year ago! And you're only writing it up now!" you exclaim. Calm down, it's only a restaurant review. I phoned last week and checked everything was the same, the chef, the staff, the look of the place. That's when Danka told me about the other Winners.

Danka came to Beaulieu eight years ago. She lived next to Jacky Lelu, the chef and main owner, whose daughter Aurore works in the kitchen with him. "I used to go shopping, now I'm serving plates," explained Danka, "instead of having menopause I became junior partner in Les Agaves."

I started dinner with a superb foie gras, apparently their speciality. Geraldine had it warm. Then I had ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and a very good sauce.

My main course was a local Provencal dish, salt cod with a lot of vegetables. I wouldn't order it again, but it was an experience. Then a mixture of desserts including floating island, a chocolate mousse, a chocolate cake and something called opera, which was striped. Also a mango mousse plus raspberries and strawberries. All were excellent.

I checked out the display of customer photographs. There were Clint Eastwood, Kevin Kline, Gary Player and Prince Albert of Monaco. "He had his Christmas party with us," said Danka, adding: "Maybe we shouldn't talk about the prince, they're so funny here."

"You've got a photo of him up," I said, "it's hardly a secret!" As I left, I asked Danka where she was from. "Belgrade," she said, "but don't say that."

"Why not?" I asked. "People don't like Belgrade," she replied. I've got nothing against it. But then I've never been there.

  • Back in London the dreaded habit of receptionists asking what you want to speak to the restaurant manager about is spreading. It happened when I called that nice Michael West at the Boxwood Cafe. I declined to audition.

    To the reader who suggested my PA surely vets my calls, I say most people ring me direct on my private line. It's the least private number ever. I've had it for 30 years. Even journalists know it. So what? I'm quite capable of putting the phone down on someone I don't require.

    Restaurant managers, generally the most miserable group of all time, should be happy anyone wants to talk to them.

    As I'm writing of the Boxwood, I'll mention I had there one of the worst main courses I've ever eaten. It was seared tuna with some ghastly sauce. It was so salty I drank water for hours afterwards. It was like a minor starter gone wrong.

    My receptionist, Mrs Lagoudakos, who comes from the north, was equally appalled. The chef, Stuart Gillies, is a sweet fellow and normally does very well. I suppose everyone has an off moment. Except me.

    Winner's letters

    What a delightful picture last week featuring our beloved leader! Tony Blair looked quite good in it, too.
    Colin Drury, Glamorgan

    Who was it actually pictured with Tony Blair last week? Please bring back the Barbara Cartland reincarnation we all hate as soon as possible.
    Alan Webster, Merseyside

    I don't believe that was Michael Winner in last week’s picture with Tony Blair; far too suave, elegant and slim. I suspect it was a Madame Tussaud's effigy or even a Winner lookalike. Is there no end to the Blair spin?
    Dennis Pallis, East Sussex

    It is Howard Cohen (letters, last week) who has clearly not been to many Jewish weddings if he thinks there are never any leftovers. My grandmother made hers last for 35 years.
    David Miller, Hertfordshire

    Michael Winner is not the only person to have complained at Cliveden (letters, last week). I was so bold that I sent my main course back not once but twice, resulting in a very angry chef storming into the restaurant. I stuck to my guns and was offered a complimentary dinner for two on a future occasion.
    Ruth Wood, Buckinghamshire

    I agree with Michael Jefferson (letters, July 13). MW's nose-thumbing and rudeness are unsurpassed - with his wretched manners, his Coke and his pizza, he is certainly no gentleman. But I shall continue to reach for Winner's Dinners. His awfulness fascinates me.
    Polly Simpson, Yorkshire

    Isn't it about time we saw the lovely Geraldine Lynton-Edwards posing in a photo with the featured restaurants proprietors for a change, with the picture credit to a certain Mr Michael Winner? I'm sure she'd show you which button to press.
    Geoff Knox, Luton

    On a recent visit to the Peartree Bridge Inn, Milton Keynes, I was required to settle my bill before so much as raising a knife and fork! Is this demand a new trend, and if so could you enlighten me as to the skill required to predict which dessert would be appropriate and paid for before the soup has even left the kitchen?
    John O'Donnell, Buckinghamshire

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