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Surprising two nice ladies in the pub with my sauce

Published 19 October 2003
News Review
536th article

Lunch meeting: Winner with Yvonne Ricard and her daughter Lindy (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I had an excellent lunch of ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach followed by bolito misto, mixed boiled meats to you, at San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge. It was full of unbelievably chic people and run with immense warmth by Mara Berni, the greatest restaurant hostess ever.

Then I drove round north London photographing cul-de-sacs. The next day, Sunday, I resumed cul-de-sac exploration in Shepperton, Walton-on-Thames, Richmond, Chessington and New Malden. This is the high life.

Around lunchtime we were in New Malden. "Now for a dreadful meal," I muttered. "It could be very good. We'll go to a pub and have some nice shepherd's pie." said Geraldine, in her role of Little Mary Sunshine. "I can't remember when I last saw shepherd's pie in a pub," I sighed.

Geraldine spotted the Royal Oak in Coombe Road. A notice outside read: "Family Lunch". A Union Jack was waving from an intricately detailed Edwardian building. "It looks quite dreadful to me," I said into my tape recorder, "but I'm going to risk it."

It was very busy. "If you wait at the bar, I'll get you a table in 10 minutes," said the manager, Sean Doyle. "I don't wait. I'll sit there," I responded. pointing to two people sitting at a table for four. "You'll lunch with the Scots couple, will you?" said Sean.

Then I spotted an old lady on a banquette with a younger lady opposite. They had two spare places. "Could we please join you?" I asked, polite as ever. And then, when the ladies said they'd be delighted, I added: "It's very kind of you."

The younger one, Lindy, was lunching with her mum, who's blind. "She calls herself Lady Ricard," explained Lindy. "She's not Lady Ricard. Her real name is Yvonne Ricard."

Mum lives in nearby Wimbledon village. "She can't eat any foreign food and this is typically English," explained Lindy in a very posh voice, adding: "You mustn't quote my surname."

"Why?" I asked. "My husband may be very upset," was the reply. "You mean he'll be upset you're having lunch with me?" I said. "I've upset lots of people by having lunch with them."

Lindy restores broken china. Her mother told me: "She goes into people's homes and drops vases so she can get the job of repairing them. Don't ask her to your place."

I wasn’t surprised to learn Lindy and Yvonne had been extras in movies. They had the patter. Lindy assured me she'd been in some of my films. She'd stood in for Vanessa Redgrave. Mum had been in Countess from Hong Kong, directed by Charles Chaplin with Brando and Sophia Loren.

Sunday lunch consisted of roast beef, chicken. lamb or a vegetarian option. I chose lamb, Geraldine the chicken. "I hear you plonk the packet of mint sauce right on the gravy, Sean," I said. "Could I have mine in a saucer, please." They didn't have Coke, only Pepsi. Black mark.

Mum had a white stick. She explained: "I can only see lights, not people."

"It's just as well you can't see me, dear," I said. "The taxis know I can't see, so they charge more," said mum. "The buses are wonderful. Minicabs - they'd have you alive!"

Geraldine gave back her first glass of wine. She told them to use it for cooking. She liked the wine that followed. "Michael's looking for cul-de-sacs for his esure home insurance commercial," Geraldine told them. Mum said: "He can have my flat." "It's not a cul-de-sac," explained Lindy.

My food arrived. Lindy said: "You do realise you're the first person that's ever been waited on. And they've taken your order. You have to go round the corner, pay in advance and bring your own knife and fork from the counter. And you've got your mint sauce in a little bowl with a spoon."

"Less than I deserve," I replied.

We got a truly superb Yorkshire pudding with both the chicken and the lamb. The roast potatoes were very good. The cabbage, peas and carrots okay. So was the lamb. It was a perfectly respectable meal.

To finish I had ice cream supplied by Brakes. That wasn't wonderful, nor was the chocolate sauce. But I ate it all because I'm a pig.

There was crockery displayed on ledges above the windows. "It's a neglected collection of Victoriana," said Lindy. "They're mainly transfer-printed plates and china."

I said to Sean: "I'll pay for these ladies."

"We've already paid," said Lindy. "I can't give you cash, can I?" I said. "It might look a bit odd." They were an exceptionally nice couple and it was a lovely event. So my dire predictions were wrong. That makes a change.

Winner's letters

Nice to witness those two old prune tarts, Winner and Conran, polishing each others cutlery alter being so long engaged in tablecloth tantrums (Winner's Dinners, last week). Someone, probably not a chef, said that one should always take one's work seriously but not oneself. Seems they've both taken that on board at long last.
John Ransley, East Sussex

We recently experienced the same tepid food, poor food quality, lack of service and sheer indifference of staff at Le Pont de la Tour as you did 12 years ago (Winner's Dinners, last week).How on earth does Conran still getaway with it? I've complained to the restaurant, but do not realistically expect a response. Have you got Sir Terence's address? Perhaps a direct approach might work.
Rod Baker, Surrey

I think there's a touch of Emperors New Clothes in the Michelin ratings. At the three-star Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, the food was a hodgepodge of conflicting tastes, reminding one of the lady cook in The Vicar of Dibley. Her sardine cake found a rival here in caramelised bacon. The starter bonnes mouches were sweet, not savoury. Crab on lime was too sour to eat. A small piece of lamb was excellent but swamped by two other accompanying meat plates. A side dish sauce tasted of bleach. The price for four with two bottles of modest wine and no desserts was £714. My brother left his charcuterie starter (£62) and his "strange" red mullet. His wife, our birthday girl, loved it. But then she's from Los Angeles.
Alvin Rakotf, London

Dr Vohra wrote last week about the bad behaviour of Brits on the Grande Corniche. My wife and I have seen many examples of uncivilised behaviour in hotels and restaurants in France and Italy. The worst have been perpetrated by Americans. Too much money, coupled with a sense of inadequacy or discomfort in alien surroundings, is usually responsible. As Michael Winner must know.
Bruce Finlaison, Jersey

Having recommended Barry McCanna consult his quotation book last week, Victor Huntrods Brown then misquoted Masefield. The opening words of Sea Fever are "I must down to the seas again". Maybe you should attach a poetry corner to your articles.
Tony Shellim, Hertfordshire

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