Published 22 February 2004 News Review 554th article
From left, Michael Winner, Arun Harnal and Adi Modi (Dinah May)
I've had ups and downs with the Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington. It's been around for 21 years. Some time ago they expanded the conservatory I regularly sat in and made it worse. The food also took a dive. I remained loyal.
One Sunday I was due to lunch at the Ivy, but the West End was closed for some absurd demonstration. I couldn't get there. I called the Bombay Brasserie restaurant manager, Arun Harnal. "We'll have your usual table ready," he said.
You may think that very nice of him. It wasn't. When I arrived there was an enormous buffet display I'd never seen before. My spot, which was usually quiet, was now adjacent to the end of the buffet. Punters walking along, stuffing their plates with as much as they could for the all-in price, arrived at the end of their journey to face me! This caused them considerable distress.
Nor was I amused to be ogled by plate-bearing people. I walked out, asking Mr Harnal why he failed to tell me everything would be different. And why was my table in that ridiculous position anyway?
Then, more aggravation. Normally they have a man to park your car. Sunday is his day off. Mr Harnal escorted me to a hotel where he'd parked my old Bentley. It was resplendent, considerably upgrading the forecourt. But the keys weren't in it and the doorman had vanished. Standing around waiting for a doorman to let me enjoy the privilege of driving my own car is not my idea of fun.
It happened recently, and does so frequently, at the Dorchester in Mayfair. I wrote to Ricci Obertelli, director of operations, saying they had two doormen on duty at Sunday lunchtime. One was on his lunch break, the other getting a car from the hotel's underground garage. So I had to stand around in the freezing cold for quite a while. I'm sure you are as one in commiserating with me.
I also told Mr Obertelli that his hotel manager informed me that he intended to "improve" one of London's great, preserved dining rooms. The Dorchester Grill is an immaculate, camp, kitsch 1930s masterpiece.
It's comfortable. It's well lit. Everything about it is terrific. Any change would be for the worse, as it has been with every other major London hotel that destroyed original architecture and decor. It works, Ricci. Please don't fix it.
I now return to the Bombay Brasserie. After my "buffet" experience I stayed away. Then my friend John Gold, ex-owner of Tramp, and his lovely Indian wife Jan, told me the food was again excellent.
I went for Sunday lunch. Thankfully Mr Harnal gave me a table clear of the buffet. If I say I had palak pakodi chaat, shrimps bezule, chicken tikka makhani, lacha paratha and bhindi jaipuri followed by seviyan kheer you'd be little the wiser. "He's showing off again!" I hear you mutter. I may be, but it was delicious.
During the week, with no buffet, the Bombay Brasserie is severely diminished by many groups of businessmen. I pointed out to Mr Harnal's boss, Adi Modi, they should get more girls. Give them a discount. Mr Modi is in charge of "strategic planning". What better than to plan for mixed diners?
I particularly recommend the Bombay Brasserie because of their terrific kindness to my staff when I gave them a Christmas dinner there. The maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, secretaries, masseurs, receptionists and thumbscrew operatives were all treated with marvellous courtesy and efficiency.
I was unbelievably impressed with the bacon chef Richard Ekkebus offered at Sandy Lane. It was beautifully crisp, tasted great. My bacon crisping is a disaster. Timothy Ferres of Belfast advised I try Marks & Spencer Thin and Crispy Bacon Rashers. Rolf Soderlind of Thames Ditton said Duchy Originals bacon was better than any he'd had in America. I added Tesco's Unsmoked Wiltshire Streaky Bacon Rashers.
Making a bacon sandwich isn't easy. You have to get the bacon out when it’s crisp, just before it burns. The toast has to be right at exactly the same time. My first attempt was disastrous. The Duchy stuff burnt. The instructions said put under a hot grill for two or three minutes. How hot is hot?
Then I did the Tesco. That was a bit better. The M & S tasted best, but not as good as the Sandy Lane bacon from Jones Dairy Farm in Wisconsin.
I spoke to their chief executive, Philip Jones. He's the sixth generation to run the company. "It's very difficult getting bacon into the UK," he told me. So they don't have an outlet here. This did not make my day. But then, what does?
I left a dream lifestyle in Barbados to return to Ireland to escape the red-faced, saggy lumps of lard that frequent the beaches, bars and restaurants of the island. By praising Groots on February 8, you've managed to attract your type to one of the only down-to-earth establishments out there.
Conall Mac Eochagein, Ireland
If you think, as you wrote recently, that the Lone Star in Barbados does a good curry, then you know very little. The one I had there was flavourless and overly mild. I'd give it 5 out of 10 at a push. I suggest you get yourself to Bradford to taste some real Indian food.
Richard Burhouse, Yorkshire
Week after week digestion of Sunday breakfast is unsettled by your photograph. You are looking increasingly like an overcooked brussels sprout. I'm glad the photo is black and white as I'm sure your complexion would resemble butternut squash. Does this come with the job? Kind regards.
Justin Jones, Saurat, France
It's come to my attention that some people may be using your column just to let their friends know they've been to Sandy Lane for a nosh. Even their snotty kids (Oscar and Aimee, last week) are getting involved. Don't let these twits hijack valuable inches in your letters corner!
L Enin, Surrey
Imagine our surprise when walking through the old market in Antibes last Sunday, we saw you diving into the local bureau de change. What the world coming to? Michael Winner caught short? Surely your credit is still good enough that you don't need to resort to cash? We were so stunned we didn't stop you to ask for a recommendation!
Jackie and Michael Carr London
Sadly the bank manager forbids following many of recommendations, but how nice it was to dine in London at the Wolseley - and at Lancaster prices too! With helpful staff, a superb menu and an affordable wine list this was one of the greats unpretentious eating experiences that I can remember. I was surprised we got in so easily. But then you weren't there to pinch our table! So thanks for the recommendation - and your absence.
Duncan Woodcock, Lancaster
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